ALBANIA: Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Albanian author Elvira Dones‘ personal story is sounds like a novel in its own right – she started her career with Albanian state television in the communist era, then used a filming trip to Switzerland in 1988 to defect. She was only reunited with her son after the fall of communism. She is both an author and a filmmaker, and she writes as much in Italian as Albanian.

Sworn Virgin is the story of Hana, a young woman who gives up her university studies in Tirana to return to her rural mountain town to take care of her dying uncle. She decides, both due to external and internal factors, to stay in the village and take the oath to become a sworn virgin. She lives as a man until a decade and a half later, where the slow decline of the village eventually pushes Hana to join her cousin who has emigrated to the US. She also decides at that point to return to living as a woman, and faces the uncertainty of her own feelings and identity.

Hana’s story is as much about the emigrants’ experience as it is about gender and identity, with Hana’s male existence deeply tied to her roots in the rural mountains, while her former and current female iterations are very much placed in Tirana and the States. Deep down, Hana navigates not just her family’s expectations, but her own expectations of herself.

As with my other post on sworn virgins, tagging it LGBTQ because of gender identity, but again noting that sworn virgins are women living as men, not trans men – it’s more transitioning your role in your community rather than yourself.

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