(10-05) 08:00 PDT SHKODRA, Albania (AP) –
Drene Markgjoni spent 12 years in a hard-labor camp, punished for her fiance’s attempt to flee Albania’s regime, then one of the world’s most repressive and isolationist. She swore she would never suffer like that for somebody else again.
She pledged to forgo sex and marriage for the rest of her life, and declared herself a man.
That was six decades ago. Now 85, with close-cropped white hair, dressed in a man’s blue striped shirt and black trousers, she greets visitors with a manly handshake. The way she walks, her confident gestures, everything about her is masculine.
Only her voice — soft and feminine — reveals her to be one of the last sworn virgins in Albania: Women who dress, act and are treated as men.
“I am happier like this,” she says. “I don’t regret it at all. Not a hair on my head does.”
In this strongly patriarchal society where for centuries women had virtually no standing, sworn virgins enjoyed the same rights and respect as men. They could inherit property, work for a living and sit on the village council, although without the right to vote.
The privileges came at a price. They took an oath of celibacy and could never have sexual relations. And they could never go back to being women.
Read more at the San Francisco Chronicle.