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Living as a man / World Press Photo Project & Book

Pashke Ograja, a woman who made an irreversible choice to lead the life of a celibate man

I first met Pashke at a wedding in Okol in Northern Albania in l993, she was about 50 years old. Although I had read about ‘sworn virgins’ some years earlier, Pashke was the first one I met.
I studied the phenomenon through a variety of literature:
1. Travel writers who met them in the past 
2. Anthropologists describing similar phenomena in other countries and 
3. Genderists mostly in the US who always try to relate this kind of phenomenon to a sexual preference, something that I refute, even if with changing times it may become merged with homosexuality.
This is a gender change, not a sexual change.
I later met more than l0 other Albanian women living lives as men. Of these, only two were aware of having met others leading a similar lifestyle, yet each of them acknowledged having heard of others at least in the past, if not in the present, and, like those around them, did not consider their way of life to be abnormal.
Of all the ‘sworn virgins’ I have met, Pashke is the only one to admit to any regrets concerning her life choice. Despite this she sees no other honorable alternative, either that she could have made, or that she can make now there is no turning back.
This may account for the fact that in none of these photographs do we see Pashke smile. She has had a hard life, made a hard decision, and does not look forward to much respite in old age. Although her decision allowed her to inherit her home (which would not have been possible as a woman: a nearest male relative would have moved in with his family, to her house), she has no direct descendants to care for her as she grows old.
Bevis Fusha’s fascinating series of photographs of Pashke are extremely informative concerning Pashke’s present life situation. She has lived through severe changes in Albania, first with the Communist takeover when she was very young, and its increasingly severe forms, then the abrupt changes from l990 onwards which brought huge upheavals to what must have been a very mundane existence in the remote valley where she had lived all her life in Northern Albania. The arrival of foreigners exacerbated the changes, and an interest in her life in particular must have accentuated her sense of difference. What strikes us strongly is her extreme dignity her neat (masculine) attire, and her concern to live an honorable life, where it is honor which guides her behavior.

Text for “Living as a Man” was written exclusively by Antonia Young. Sociologist/Anthropologist, Colgate University, Bradford. England.

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