Rising Like A Phoenix — Conchita Wurst

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Conchita Wurst will certainly dominate many conversations today… and rightfully so.

Usually not a big fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, I have to confess, as soon as Austria’s gender-bending bearded drag artist, Conchita Wurst blasted onto the scene, I was all eyes and ears.

Conchita at the Lifeball Charity Event, in Austria, 2013 - ©VR/exposurephotos.com

Conchita at the Lifeball Charity Event, in Austria, 2013 – ©VR/exposurephotos.com

From the onset, Conchita’s Eurovision entry caused an uproar and major division between Europe’s progressive liberal side and the traditional values and nationalist rhetoric of countries on the ‘other side of the fence.’ Amid growing tensions over the Ukraine crisis, Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita Wurst as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

In the build-up to the competition’s Finale, vehement protestors launched a Facebook petition demanding Conchita’s removal from the contest. Activists in Belarus had even urged the country’s state television network to bypass the live broadcasting rules by editing Conchita’s performance out of its Eurovision transmission.

Despite this barrage of homophobic and transphobic attacks, Conchita said shortly before the semi-final in Copenhagen: “Hey, I’m just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard… I have to add that 80 per cent of the autograph requests that I get are from Russia and Eastern Europe — and that’s what is important to me.”

As this storm in a tea cup became more and more ridiculous, I smiled and thought: ‘The zeitgeist around sexuality is about to be turned on its little flat head.’

It’s a thought that excites me, because apart from the political and religious furore surrounding Conchita Wurst, many have also been left confused about what she is: Is she a transvestite, a drag queen, a bearded lady, a transgender woman or what? (I can hear my grandmother despairing in the kitchen, saying: What does all of this mean?!)

Enter the world of gender fluidity. Cochita explains that “She” is actually a 25 year old boy, called Thomas Neuwirth — he is just ‘tucking’. As a drag artist, Conchita is his lady persona. So, as soon as those luscious lashes are stuck on, we use female pronouns, please. But when they come off, we’re back to male pronouns.

So Bubbe (and the mainstream media who still mistakenly refers to her as a transgender women), there’s nothing to be confused about… It’s the same as when I used to ran around in grandma’s wedding dress and pretended that I am Rosita Pedro from a small Spanish village… only thing is, Thomas is a big boy now who still loves dressing up in fabulous dresses. And the beard? Well, it’s there to mess with the small mindedness of those who still believe we should all fit into tiny little pigeon holes…

Conchita knows no such boxes and she clearly was not going to allow radicals, Russians or right-wingers tell her who she is or how she is supposed to behave… and she had tens of thousands of supporters voting for her on Saturday night’s Eurovision Finale, many of whom painted on fake beards to show their solidarity. It was therefore no surprise when she secured a victory with her power ballad, Rise Like a Phoenix, with 290 points. (Immediately after her victory was announced, Twitter activity spiked at 47,136 tweets per minute.)

Conchita’s victory @ Eurovision, 2014 – ©Keld Navntoft/EPA/Corbis

As she accepted her trophy from Denmark’s Emmelie de Forrest, who won the contest last year, a visibly shocked and tearful Conchita said: “This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. We are unity.” When asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who introduced a law last year prohibiting so-called gay propaganda, she said, “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”

After her victory, Cochita Wurst told reporters in her delicate and naturally feminine voice she hopes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world are getting stronger in their fight for equal rights. She added: “For me, my dream came true… it [her Eurovision victory] just showed me that there are people out there who want to go into the future and go on, you know, not stepping back or thinking in the past.”

Conchita Wurst is not the first LGBT performer to win Eurovision. In 1998, Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel, won the contest with her song Diva. At the time, Orthodox Jews and others with conservative views were opposed to her participation at the contest and tried to void her place in the competition.

Dana International performing as a guest on  the Romanian version of the hit TV competition show “The Voice”, 2013

Dana International performing as a guest on the Romanian version of the hit TV competition show “The Voice”, 2013

However, in May 1998, Dana (of Yemenite Jewish and Romanian Jewish ancestry) performed Diva at the Eurovision Finale and won the contest with 172 points. Her victory catapulted her to international stardom. Since then, she has released eight albums and three additional compilation albums, positioning her as one of Israel’s most successful musical acts.

When asked about her Eurovision victory, Dana said: “My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.”

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About Author

Editor - Francois is a full-time writer & editor based in London. He is actively (and passionately) involved in the LGBT community, promoting equality and acceptance for all. In 2012, he published the book ‘Love Me As I Am – gay men reflect on their lives’. All profits gained through sales of the book are donated to Diversity Role Models — a UK charity tackling homophobia through education.

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