In traditional cultures in which our modern notions of gender identity have not become political and social touch stones, trans identity (although not named as such) has been an accepted identity. Photographer Jill Peters recently released a series of photos that she hopes to turn into a documentary film on the the virgjinesha, "sworn virgins" of Albania. These are biological females who have chosen to live their lives as men.
Their choice often comes at an early age and they "swear" before twelve town elders to a life of "chastity" at which point they go on to assume male identities. As in most patriarchal societies women have very little rights, so as men these virgjineshas can hold property, own guns, smoke, become heads of house holds and enjoy all the other privileges of being a man. The catch, no sex or marriage.
This traditional practice, which began in the Balkans in 14th century, is believed to be the only one of its kind in Europe. The practice lost currency in many parts of the region, with the onset of communism, where women gained equal along side men. The northern region of Albania, which maintained its traditional patriarchal culture is the only area that recognizes the practice.
Jill and her film making partner Alix Lambert have funded their project back in 2010 to document other cultures with similar practices. We look forward to seeing the full documentary soon.