Now that people have had a few days to think about Eurovision a bit more, and the implications of Conchita Wurst’s act, some interesting debates are coming out. And rather than update my previous post again, I thought I would create a new one.
There seems to be some confusion as to who or what Conchita Wurst is. As far as I can tell from research on the internet, she is a drag act character created by Thomas ‘Tom’ Neuwirth. This is not a new thing – there have been many famous drag acts, not least Paul O’Grady’s “Lily Savage” and (perhaps most famously) Barry Humphries’ “Dame Edna Everage”. And let’s not forget Kenny Everett’s extremely tongue-in-cheek character “Cupid Stunt”.
I’m not yet sure whether Conchita is ‘just’ a drag act, or somewhere on the gender spectrum, and to be honest I don’t think it entirely matters.
In the lead-up to Eurovision, petitions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus unsuccessfully attempted to get Austria banned from their national broadcasts. And Conchita’s act has brought out a barrage of homophobic and transphobic diatribe. Some have referred to her as “it”, “that”, and “that thing” (as I mentioned in my previous post), and some have gone far further with some truly appalling things said and written. It makes me sick to my stomach.
So, why should Conchita be referred to with a feminine pronoun if she is played by a man? Even if you don’t accept transgenderism, Lily Savage and Dame Edna are always referred to as ‘she’. Very few people shout “but he’s a MAN because he’s played by a man!” when these characters come on stage or are mentioned in the media. So at the most superficial level, I would argue that the same applies for Conchita Wurst surely?
Many have expressed difficulty with the beard, pointing out that both Lily Savage and Dame Edna present as completely female, albeit with a larger than life personality. This is true. But, personally, I think the beard is deliberately provocative and is trying to force people to look beyond binary gender stereotypes and confront the idea of a gender spectrum. I’m 100% certain that many people aren’t able to cope with that concept yet, but at the very least it has provoked debate and I applaud that.
You only need to look at comments that she should “make her mind up”, and that she can’t be a woman unless she shaves off her beard and has gender reassignment surgery, to see how entrenched the idea of a gender binary is. If you are not one thing then you must be the other thing.
I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse here because I have said this many times, but society seems able to cope with the idea of being bisexual (ie. neither exclusively heterosexual nor exclusively homosexual) but can’t seem to cope with the idea of transgender.
But, transgender issues aside, there could also be the agenda of deliberately provoking homophobes. Clearly some men have struggled with looking at someone who looks like a rather slim and attractive woman, and yet has a lush beard, which makes it impossible for them to will suspension of disbelief (and a suspension of something else, to allude to BlackAdder) or kid themselves. What could be more confusing for someone not completely comfortable with their own sexuality than a ‘thing’ (sic) like that?
I think Sam Fraser on the Huffington Post summed it up perfectly for me:
“Around the world there are people who prefer to exist outside the male/female binary. This is an affront to the bigots, homophobes and religious ideologues whose beliefs in ‘traditional’ gender relations ensure that institutional sexism and homophobia, to say nothing of the criminalisation and ‘legal’ murder of LGBT people, continue in parts of the world both far away and closer to home.”
Conchita (and/or Tom) has won more than a song contest; she has got LGBT issues right out there, being discussed in public and in private, forcing some people to at least reassess their attitudes and address the subject, even if they ultimately don’t alter their opinion on the matter. Perhaps more has been achieved in a few days than years of lobbying and political debate ever could.