Liminality is a concept that intrigues the anthropologist.
It has been the topic of much anthropological and social research in the last 100 or so years. It was first explored extensively by the European ethnographer Arnold van Gennep when he proposed the three stages of the rite of passage; separation, marginalization, and aggregation (van Gennep 1960, Turner 1979). However, his work was unknown to many British and American scholars until after the 60’s when his pivotal book The Rites of Passage, was translated into English. It is after this that American Anthropologist Victor Turner stumbled upon the book, fortuitously some may say, and the rest, well that is history…or anthropology (Vizedom 1976).
So what is liminality? The literal definition means “threshold.” According to van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1967, 1979), in a period of liminality, one is at the threshold between two social identities, being neither one or the other wholly. The period of liminality is often marked by a feeling of disassociation while the individual is “betwixt and between” (Turner 1967). The end of the transition or the end of the phase of liminality is marked by the end of the rite of passage, and a re-entering into society with a new status. Coming of age ceremonies are an example of a rite of passage, which are present in multiple societies around the world.
Many scholars, (Barry and Yilmaz 2019, Howard-Grenville et al. 2011, Thomassen, Underwood and Rhodes 2018, Wimark 2019, Ybema et al. 2011) are now using the concept to refer to multiple aspects of everyday life, not just the passing of important milestones. Broadening our understanding of the concept to include processes like immigration, migration, and personal identity. It has been incorporated into the teaching philosophies, theoretical critiques (of anthropology in particular), and even in the medical field when it comes to things like patient care and visitor experience (Underwood and Rhodes 20118).
Ok, so how does this relate to the queer community in Albania. In all the ways. And I am not the first to make this argument, many other’s like Wimark (2019) have specifically tied the concept of liminality and queer individuals. However, in his article, he refers to refugees and asylum seekers specifically. However, in general, scholars who use liminality as a concept outline two important points, first that the concept of liminality does not apply to just the in-between phase of a rite of passage. And second, more critically, that an important part of the liminal theory as argued by Turner, is the end of the transition. Theoretically, there is a point where the transition is complete, and you re-enter society.
But what if you never reach that point? What if you live your life in perpetual liminality (Thomassen 2012, Ybemer et al . 2014). If the process of liminality is meant to be a short one when the actor remains “betwixt and between” two existential phases of social life, then what happens when they never make that transition? How does this affect an individual’s sense of identity? (Thomassen, Ybemer et al. 2014, Wels et al. 2011) How do they navigate their society? Because for whatever reason, there is no “category” for them on the other side. I know I am using terms like “they,” which implies some sort of shared, universal experience. And I want to state that I acknowledge that this is not the case. There is no overarching shared identity of what it means to be both part of the LGBTQ+ community and Albanian. But the reality stands that there is some overlap in experience and that for many, this clash of identities leads to marginalization (prejudice, bullying, abuse, stigma, etc.). This can manifest in several ways, from the scale of the individual to their family to their community (Telliti 2015). This is the reality for many members of the LGBTQ+ community who live in countries where it is illegal to be gay, or if it is not illegal on paper it is not socially accepted. Where being yourself means losing your family, or the very right to make a living. The right to safety, work, shelter, and dignity.
If you have read my previous posts or know anything about Albanian culture, you will know that as a people we are traditionally…well traditional. This is the first point made by all the authors of the suite of articles discussing LGBTQ+ rights in Albania (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014, Hazizaj 2013, Telliti 2015, Shtylla 2013, Peshkopia et al. 2018, Rexhepi 2016). This adherence to a traditional way of life leaves no place for many “new” things like homosexuality or women’s rights. As mentioned in previous posts, it is as if being Albanian excludes certain other identities and beliefs; you cannot be both because they fundamentally oppose each other.
Having written essays for the last decade of my life, I can’t help but feel the need to structure my posts similarly. So having introduced the concept of liminality and making an argument of why it is an important one to consider when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community in Albania (and any country where LGBTQ+ individuals are marginalized, really) I will provide a brief overview of LGBTQ+ legislation in Albania and conclude why liminality is an important (yet, one of many) lens (es) to view the situation.
When looking at changes in the Albanian legislature regarding LGBTQ+ rights the year 1995 is one of the first landmarks so to say, as this is the year that homosexuality was decriminalized. Until then, specifically under Hoxha’s regime, homosexuality was punishable by law and convicted individuals were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. However, decriminalization does not ensure equality, something that many scholars have touched upon. Changing the law is one thing, changing public opinion is another. This is something that I will comeback to later. It is interesting however to note that homosexuality was decriminalized once before under the Ottoman regime, while the practice itself remained unpopular in public opinion (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014).
The next big year that stands out is 2010. It is then that the constitution was amended to state that discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is prohibited. This amendment extends to workplace discrimination. But again, this does not mean that these laws are enforced. It is very commonplace from someone who is LGBTQ+ to be refused a job, a house, or even help from the police when reporting abuse. Of course, this is changing, but there have been cases where individuals have gone to the police to report abuse and were not only ridiculed by the police but abused by them as well (Çuri 2018)
And even to this day, with a much altered and amended constitution, LGBTQ+ individuals fall through the cracks when it comes to ensuring basic human rights because of terminology or loopholes in the constitution. Gay marriage is still illegal and not recognized before the state for example, even though the previous Prime Minister Berisha stated in 2009 that it would be made legal. The clause was dropped from the 2016 amendments under Rama a few years later (Peshkopia et al.2018). In the same vein, LGBTQ+ individuals also do not have legal rights to form a family (Çuri 2014, Peshkopia et al. 2018)
2012 is the next stop in our tour so to say. This year marks Albania’s first Pride Parade, which despite being approved by then Prime minister Berisha, was met with heavy backlash by the general public, with protesters hurling objects at the organizers (Koleka 2012). The organization of the parade in 2012 and subsequent years, despite the backlash, is important for several reasons. As Rexhepi (2020) states, the parade itself is not just an event, but a form of resistance. You can read his recent article on PRIDE in the Balkans and what it means for LGBTQ+ activism in the region here.
While legislative changes in regards to LGBTQ+ rights seem to be moving at a snail’s pace, this does not mean that nothing is happening. This is quite the opposite, a lot is happening, thanks to the multiple NGO’s that have been created over the years to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and provide support, shelter, and information to members of the community and its allies. Examples of these organizations include STREHA, Historia Ime, and AleancaLGBT. While sharing a common cause, these organizations address different needs within the community.
Where the government fails, the community does not. Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to observe as multiple organizations and activists as they prepared for Tirana Pride, which was held on May 15th, online (again, you can read more about the parade in Rexhepi’s article, linked above). Despite doing many things wrong, Albania did one thing right thanks to the hard work of these individuals, being one of the few countries in the world to hold a virtual pride. I have had the opportunity to listen to multiple LGBTQ+ and Feminist activists from Albania and it has been truly a humbling and inspiring experience. Seeing the hard work that these brilliant and resilaint individuals have poured into this cause truly makes my heart soar as an Albanian – there is hope after all.
Despite all odds, they are raising the banner for LGBTQ+ rights, and have been doing so for over a decade. They are creating a platform for people to share their stories, they are creating safe spaces for people to discuss and learn about human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights. They are starting a dialogue.
It is their work, specifically a project run by Historia Ime [My Story], called Queerantine Storytelling that inspired this post. The purpose of the project is to document how Albanian LGBTQ+ individuals are experiencing quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak. By doing so, you have before you the analogy of social isolation which applies to everyday life for members of the queer community who can never really be a part of society as they are. Many individuals worldwide have experienced feelings of isolation, depression, desolation due to the quarantine. Isolation is a difficult thing for many people. While some of us happily identify as introverts, many of us are not all too happy to have our choice to isolate ourselves taken away from us. We like to cancel plans on our own volition. So, imagine a life where you are always isolated. Where the choice is not yours to make. Where you have to keep on a mask all the time because who you are is not accepted. Where your parents would kick you out of the house, they might even beat you, they might even kill you. That is an extreme of course, but not unheard of.
When you live in a society where being LGBTQ+ is not accepted, you live a life of isolation. While some may be lucky enough to have understanding and supportive parents, many don’t. Coming out is not an option. So they are resigned to a life of pretend; their mask never comes off. They live in perpetual liminality.
I’m sorry if my last sentence was a bit grim, but I don’t see why I should sugarcoat the issue. As I have said before, I love my country and I love our culture. But the argument that we need to preserve our traditional ways at all expense is ridiculous… If you really think homosexuality is a phenomenon of the 21st century, I hate to break it to you, but for as long as people have existed, homosexuality has been a part of the human condition. If we are going to move forward as a country, into the EU or not, we need to make real tangible steps towards securing equality for all members of the Albanian community. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and social class (another topic for another time).
So where does this leave us in regards to the future? Continuing with the analogy of liminality, in order to move forward, we need to create a mechanism bring an end to this phase which is meant to be temporary. We can do this by legislative changes, to extends the same basic rights awarded to Albanian citizens to LGBTQ+ individuals. But more importantly, we need to work to change public opinion. As mentioned above, legislation is one thing, and practice is another. How can we change public opinion? Education. I’m starting to feel like I end all my posts with: education is the answer. But honestly, it is. We need to have open and frank discussions and engage with the general public. This where things like Pride and the internet come in. Again, where legislation fails, the community has stepped forward, organizing everything from public outreach, to talks about sexual health (Tabu.al), to events that increase visibility, to feminist theory reading groups. I understand not everyone can cry for equality from the rooftops so to say, but we can all do out part to help bring this cause forward. Even if it starts with educating yourself.
Whether you are part of the community or not, LGBTQ+ rights matter. If you believe in democracy, then you will understand that securing basic human rights for minority or marginalized groups is a basic fundamental building block of democracy. And more importantly, just because something may not affect you directly, it does not mean that the cause is not worth your while. Quite the opposite, if you have the privilege not to be affected by oppressive legislation, it is your duty to acknowledge that privilege and use it lobby equal treatment for others.
And I will leave it there for now. There were so many other things I wanted to talk about (EU incorporation and the politics of equality for one..), but for the sake of time, and a shorter article, I left it out.
If you are interested in the concept of liminality, the articles I references are found below, and many of the pivotal books can be found online.
If you would like to know more about LGBTQ+ rights in Albania, many of these articles are found online, as well as multiple other resources. Wikipedia has a surprisingly well-written page that provides a run-through of legislation regarding LGBTQ+ rights.
If you would like to know more about the NGO’s mentioned, the links to the websites are embedded in the post. A lot of them also have Facebook pages and Instagram’s.
And if you would like to discuss any of the things mentioned, I am always open to discourse. This post is not meant to be all-encompassing, it is just the tip of the iceberg. My goal, as always, is to entice a conversation.
Peace, love, and equality.
Barry, James and Ihsan Yilma 2019 Liminality and racial hazing of Muslim migrants: media framing of Albanians in Shepparton, Australia, 1930–1955, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42:7, 1168-1185.
Çuri, Urjana 2018 Legal Provisions, Discrimination and Uncertainty on LGBT community in Albania.” Academicus International Scientific Journal 17:111 121.
Hazizaj, Altin 2013 Legal Framework for the Protection of LGBT Adolescents from Violence a ndDiscrimination in the Pre-University Education System in Albania. Balkan Social Science Review 2:151-167.
Gennep, A. van. 1960 The rites of passage. [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.
Kadi, Xhensila 2014 The approach towards gay marriage in the Albanian legislation and society.
Koleka, Benet 2012. Albania gay activists cycle to call for rights. Reuters.
Howard-Grenville, Jennifer Karen Golden-Biddle, Jennifer Irwin and Jina Mao 2011 Liminality as Cultural Process for Cultural Change. Organization Science, Vol. 22, No. 2, Cultural Construction of Organizational Life pp. 522-539.
Ridvan Peshkopia, Drin Konjufca, Erblin Salihu & Jonida Lika 2018 EU membership conditionality in promoting acceptance of peremptory human rights norms: a case study in Albania considering public opinion, The International Journal of Human Rights, 22:10,1355-1376.
Rexhepi, Piro 2016 From Orientalism to Homonationalism: Queer Politics, Islamophobia, and Europeanisation in Kosovo in Bojan Bilic (ed.), LGBT Activism and Europeanisation in the Post-Yugoslav Space. Palgrave, Macmillion.
Rexhepi, Agron 2020 Vendet e Ballkanit me Parada Alternative te krenarise. Kosovotwopointzero. 05/27/2020
Shtylla, Albana 2013 Sexual orientation, gender identity and non-discrimination. The Albanian labor legislation and its effects on employment and vocational training potentials. Member of Central Electoral Commission of Albania.
Telliti, Adisa 2015 Sexual Prejudice and Stigma of LGBT People. European Scientific Journal 11: 1857 – 7881.
Thomassen, Bjørn 2012 Anthropology and its many modernities: when concepts matter. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,18(1) 160-178.
Bjørn Thomassen 2014. Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between. Taylor & Francis Group.
Turner, Victor 1967 The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press.
Turner, Victor 1979 Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. Reader in Comparative Religion 4:234-243
Underwood, Janet, and Rhodes, Christine 2018 A Qualitative Investigation of Hospital Visitors’ Experiences Using the Analytic Lens of Liminality: Informing Nursing Practice and Policy.” Nursing Inquiry, vol. 25, no. 3
Vizedom, Monika, 1976 Rites and relationships: rites of passage and contemporary anthropology. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.
Wels, Harry Kees van der Waal, Andrew Spiegel & Frans Kamsteeg 2011Victor Turner and liminality: An introduction, Anthropology Southern Africa, 34:1-2, 1-4
Wimark, Thomas 2019 Homemaking and perpetual liminality among queer refugees, Social & Cultural Geography, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2019.1619818