Gender Trouble in Karanovic's Virgina

Kevin Moss, Middlebury College

Srdjan Karanovic's Virgina (Virdzina, 1992), is about a girl raised as a boy in the early 1900s--a sworn virgin. I will examine the tradition of sworn virgins (virdzina, tobelije, muskobanja) who lived and live in the mountainous regions of Northern Albania and neighboring Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro through the literature, including Young's recent Women Who Become Men and sources from Yugoslavia. In the West we usually think of transvestites and transgendered people as going against societal norms to perform their desired identities, but in the case of sworn virgins, it is the patriarchal society that forces the women to live as men. The phenomenon thus refutes Judith Butler's claim that performance of another gender, transvestism, somehow subverts hegemonic assumptions about the essential nature of gender.

I will also examine Karanovic's portrayal of the virgina in his film and place the film in the context of Yugoslavia on the eve of disintegration. Karanovic's book, Virgina: Diary of a Film (Dnevnik jednog filma: Virdzina 1981-1991) will allow me to discuss the origins of the film and the early version of the screenplay, which was never shot, as well as the final film in context. Most significantly, the film breaks with the authentic sworn virgin tradition to show a heroine who expresses her inner, essential desires to live life as a woman, escaping the patriarchal oppression of life as a sworn virgin. The film is thus less about the transvestite figure causing gender trouble than about reaffirming essential gender difference.