A tangle of multiple transgressions: The western gaze and the Tobelija (Balkan sworn-virgin-cross-dressers) in the 19th and 20th centuries


  • Aleksandra Djajic Horváth Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute, Florence, Italia




This paper focuses on travelogue representations of tobelija, Balkan sworn-virgin-cross-dressers, from the second half of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The tobelija, a socially approved female-to-male cross-dresser, takes centre stage in many of these accounts, epitomising all that is exotic, strange, and primeval about the remote and mountainous regions of the Western Balkans during this period. Under the controlling and classifying gaze of the western European traveller, the tobelija materializes in verbal and visual narrative as a strong, armed, and masculinized single woman. Salient to these accounts is the travellers’ mapping of Western understandings of gender onto the local peoples: by categorising them as women, the tobelija are disciplined into binary Western gender discourses.