Albanian Sworn Virgins

Until recently, in Albania and other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, cultural traditions allowed women the choice to become a “sworn virgin,” meaning that they live out their lives as men. According to an article by Dan Bilefsky for the New York Times, at any age, an Albanian woman could swear an oath to forgo the duties associated with women, including marriage, sex and children, and identify with the male gender. People who choose to become sworn virgins do so for a number of reasons, including economic necessity, to gain legal rights, or to evade cultural expectations such as arranged marriage. In some cases, but not all, sworn virgins identify themselves as being male regardless of their vow. Today, this practice is nearly eradicated, as the cultural motivations for Albanian women to change their gender are disappearing with gender inequality and economic trouble in Albania.

Women who take the oath to become a sworn virgin cross boundaries of class, gender and sexuality. Sworn virgins are designated female as birth, and often indentify as female, but choose to live as men due to cultural or economic necessity rather than personal necessity. Since they swear to abstain from sex, and are ostracized for breaking this vow, their sexuality is not often taken into account by the surrounding culture. However, it would be difficult to classify the entire group as “queer,” despite their similarities to Western trans men, considering that many sworn virgins are motivated to take the oath not because they identify as men, but for economic or cultural reasons, such as caring for their family during times of war. The Donald Hall reading “Can we Teach Transnational Queer Studies?” addresses this issue in transnational queer studies, as the cultural context surrounding Albanian sworn virgins may not have them identify within the Western queer community.


Transnational Sexuality: Hijra


In the United States, we use many terms to describe those who identify as transgender. Some might be offensive, some might be more politically correct. It is hard to imagine that terminology in other languages for the trans community may not be able to translate. In India, many use the word “Hijra” to refer to those who are transsexual or transgender. It is often used to describe the Indian “third gender”. Men are able to transition at ceremonies where they are “rebirthed”.

            Somewhat different from any word in English, Hijras play a very unique part of Indian culture. They are considered to be low class; the word itself can be used in a derogatory manner. Few people will hire a hijra, which forces many of them to become prostitutes. For this reason, as of 2008, 27.6% of hijra sex workers were HIV positive. Because society treats them so unequally, they are forced to work these dangerous, low-end jobs. Few have the ability to move up in India’s social chain of class. From the three transsexuals that I know personally in the United States, they did not transition until they were comfortable financially. But it seems like these Indian hijra are unable to do so.

            According to Donald E. Hall, many people are learning about the Anglo-American queer studies and know very little about what else is happening in the world. When researching the hijra people of India, it was clear that Hall speaks the truth. Many Americans have no idea what type of risks people take when transitioning to a new gender. In India specifically, very few people understand what it means to become a completely new gender. Not only are these people sacrificing their safety (as there have been many violence crimes against them), they are putting themselves at a social disadvantage.


Madagascar, a large island off Africa’s eastern coast is home to several tribal communities in which a third sexual identity is recognized. Two of these clan like subgroups, the Antandroy and the Hova, refer to effeminate men as “Sekrata.” These biological men take on a role in society that mirrors the role of women. Young boys who are believed to exhibit feminine characteristics are considered Sekrata from early on. Once this identity is assigned to them, they are raised wearing their hair in traditional women’s styles, wearing dresses and jewelry, and even adapting ladylike voices. Some say that sekrata individuals eventually forget that they were born male.

Unlike some transnational sexual identities, Sekrata receive a great deal of respect from the general populace. They are believed to carry special spiritual souls that are protected by supernatural powers. This belief makes them a sacred group who nobody seeks to harm for fear of punishment. During major tribal events Sekrata dancers are admired for their talent and beauty. They would often receive lavish gifts from visiting chieftains as payment for their highly anticipated performances.In addition to receiving gifts for their public services, sekrata are also said to  accept money or other token items for sexually pleasing men in authoritative positions. In their role as entities for entertainment they are similar to the Bakla of the Philipinnes as described by Martin Manalansan.

While they may  be seen as free spirited, happy people known to exist specifically for lighthearted purposes like dance and song, they are in no way lower class citizens. The Sekrata enjoy an existence less troubled than Non homo-normative beings in other parts of the world.

Beijing Opera

The old China has always been a society of patriarchy, where men during that time had a lot of privileges compare to women, such as only men were allowed to obtain a position as a government official. Women on the other hand were not allowed to step out of the household. This kind of social phenomenon created an awkward situation for stage show, were men and women characters had to both presented for some show (Cross-dressing in Opera).

China has a long history of people performing opera, a kind of stage show consisted with rich Chinese culture, and folktale. Almost all the opera shows need to have women character in it, but during the old time of China women were not allowed to go outside, never mind of performing. That forces male opera singers had to play female roles in order to keep the story alive. I think people in China see it as an ordinary thing is because it is socially constructed, and patriarchal society was overpowering the idea of cross-dressing might be weird. But it also occurred to me that a male plays a female role might contradicting the idea of masculinity and their sexuality.

Opera singers were also seem as lower class people, because becoming an opera singer did not need to be educated. This could be parallel to the West culture’s drag queen, and gay men, because they are also part of the society and socially constructed. “In The Shadows of Stonewall” we learned that homosexuality is the minority and people often treated them differently. That’s why they have protest and gay pride, wanted to show people that they also have their own community and a place in the society.

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Transnational Sexuality: Homosexual in China

Same-Sex marriages are still prohibited in China, but being homosexuality is not illegal in China. The LGBT’s in China are still not being accepted and most of the pressures are from the family. Most of the gay men in China will succumb to the social and families pressure and marry woman, and most of them tries to suicide because of their sexualities. There are 30 percent of Chinese homosexual have attempted suicide. This is a huge number of people that needed to be saved. Here is a parent that came out and stand in front of the public, and her name is Wu Youjian.

“Mama Wu” is the first parent that defends her homosexual son in public. She has become very famous because she had come out to tell the parents that it is ok that your children are homosexual. She has a great influence in the homosexual community and convinced some parent to accepted the sexuality of their children. Many families still carries a tradition that family line is the most important, and to do that the children needs to get marry and continue the line by giving birth. The most important things that is said is that “It doesn’t matter if our children are gay or straight – just like it doesn’t matter if they are left-handed or right-handed, they are always our children.” This point that she is trying to make is that to let the children to be happy is to respect them and listen to their hearts. They best way is to let them be themselves and give them freedom. “Mama Wu” challenges race, class, gender, and sexuality in the Chinese culture, which shows that being homosexual is not out of the norm. The people who don’t accept the LGBT community are because of the pressure from the society and the culture of family lines.

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“Cochonas” of Nicaragua

In his article, Shadows of Stonewall, Martin F. Manalansan IV, describes perfectly why it is of great importance to analyze queer studies transnationally and not solely from the Western perspective; in the article Manalansan criticizes the rhetoric of certain works such as The Pink Book, which he feels imply “simplistic descriptions of social norms and attitudes” and “impose a modern, Eurocentric, and universal subjectivity.” In other words, Manalansan’s issue is that this one-dimensional perspective uses a “one size fits all” approach to nonheterosexuality. That “one size fits all approach” is ineffective because, essentially, it’s the same as comparing apples to oranges.
When studying what “queer” is we must understand that the term varies from location to location and, much like Manalansan is suggesting, it is a disservice to consider it a universal term that every nonheterosexual can identify with. For example, in the Nicaraguan community, the term “cochonas” is used as a derogatory term and is most directly translated to the English slur “dyke.” The cochona blurs the norms of gender, race, and sexuality because unlike the stereotypical “white male” image of “gayness,” she is a Latin woman who does not necessarily identify as being “gay” at all. Since Nicaragua, like many Latin American countries, is heavily influenced by “el machismo” or male chauvinism, she is fiercely passionate about women’s rights and will refer to herself as a “feminist” before taking on any sexual identity label. Given the deep-rooted nature of patriarchy in the society, many women are “accused” of being a cochona, regardless of their sexual preference, simply for not conforming to the stereotypical subservient woman. In Nicaragua they do not use the term “closeted,” but instead prefer the term “masked” because it is not that they feel like they can’t “come out,” it’s that they feel like they shouldn’t have to take their “mask” off to prove their “queerness.”

-Karina Gonzalez


The Indonesian term waria comes from the words wanita, meaning woman, and pria, meaning man. The waria are a transgender community in Indonesia that have been faced with stereotyping and discrimination. Many people view the waria as cross-dressing prostitutes on the fringes of society; this picture of the waria is what is most easily seen by the straight community. Even gay activists have a misunderstanding of the waria, as Dede Oetomo shows by defining waria as men “who imitate women in their clothing styles or mannerisms ‘while retaining a masculine identity’” (Inside Indonesia).

The waria community is in actuality incredibly diverse in personal identity, socioeconomic background, education level, and profession. They cannot be narrowly defined by someone from outside of the community. “Only a waria knows what it means to be a waria. We have to define ourselves,” says Shuniyya, a waria interviewed for Inside Indonesia. Just as in the Sedgwick reading queer as an identity is powerful only when it is self-identified, the title of waria is only able to be defined is by those people who identify as waria. Some waria are men who cross-dress for performance value, and others live as close to being a woman as they are capable of. Despite many waria identifying as women and physically appearing to be women, there is little precedent for waria to legally be recognized as women, which leads to job discrimination as legal documents assert that waria, even post-operative transsexuals, are male. The stereotype of waria as prostitute comes from the inability to get jobs, as obtaining a professional, respected job is unfortunately unusual, and many waria turn to sex work at least occasionally. The waria are a varied group separate from men but not able to be fully recognized as women in Indonesia.