Ok, ok, ok. Hands up. Who here has heard of Eurovision?
If you’re European then you definitely will have. If you’re not but are on the queer blogging/ twitter-verse then you probably will too, simply because of the act that won on Saturday night. But first, an explanation.
The Eurovision is a song contest that has been going for nearly 50 years, and is watched by an annual audience of well over 100 MILLION people. It is run by the European Broadcasting Union and according to Wikipedia:
Each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and radio and then casts votes for the other countries’ songs to determine the most popular song in the competition. The contest has been broadcast every year since its inauguration in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programmes in the world. It is also one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, with audience figures having been quoted in recent years as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Eurovision has also been broadcast outside Europe to such places as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Suriname, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, although these countries do not compete.
It’s also been heartily adopted by the queers of Europe as an annual camp explosion and party of epic proportions. Seriously you guys, it’s immense. Acts in my memory include ice-skaters on a rink the size of a childs paddling pool, psychopathic looking sad clowns, a cowbell solo, multiple cake baking attempts, and more gayness than you could shake a stick at. Actually, to illustrate what I mean, I’m going to leave a video here. It’s from a YouTuber called SazzyAgain, who makes Star Trek: Voyager fan vids, usually slashing Captain Janeway and the glorious Seven of Nine together. Here, it helps you understand gay BOTH of these TV shows are.
I don’t just love Eurovision for it’s innate and unshakable queerness, either. I am Irish. And I grew up in 80’s & 90’s Ireland. Not, perhaps, the best environment for a baby gay (since homosexuality was only legalised here in 1993), but by GOD! Did we rule Eurovision. Johnny Logan. Linda Martin. More Johnny Logan, More Linda Martin. We’ve won the contest a record SEVEN times, with a classic winning streak in the mid-90’s, which incidentally also gave us Riverdance and Michael Flatly. (We’re sorry for Michael Flatly. Honest.)
So there’s the history of it. It’s a song contest. It’s like a family party where everyone does questionable karaoke and choreography after a few too many sherries. It’s camp as a row of tents. But it’s not really taken seriously by many people. Until this year, apparently, when a drag artist by the name of Conchita Wurst entered for Austria, and suddenly the world went mental. Why, I hear you cry? It’s not like there haven’t been gay people, or songs with gay undertones (and overtones!) before. A trans artist from Israel won in 1998, and went on to become one of Israels top recording artists (so Wikipedia tells me anyway). Surely drag, in this day and age, isn’t a big deal?
Well, it is if the drag queen has facial hair.
Behold! The magnificence of Conchita!
And my goodness, hasn’t she been causing a stir? The Russian politicians have been going MENTAL about her winning, with some of these lovely quotes coming from various sources (these quotes are taken from a article on The Journal, an Irish online news service. The full article is available here.):
“ (Conchita winning) showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl”
-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin
“There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’,”
– Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky
I mean, I get Russia not liking her performance. I’m pretty sure that by showing it, the national broadcaster probably broke their own laws! But- and this is important- the Russian televote gave her THIRD PLACE. The Russian public obviously had no problem with Conchita. In fact, they quite liked her. And here’s the point- she won. She was declared the winner before the final countries had voted. She consistently got points, usually high ones. Obviously, both the public and the national juries (made up of music industry experts in each country) liked her and the song. So why are some people freaking out about it?
I think (and here comes my completely unsubstantiated, purely from my own head opinion), that people are fine with drag, for the most part. It kind of makes sense to people. It’s a man dressed as a woman, and acting like one. That’s ok. It’s weird for some people, but they can understand it. But a drag queen with a beard? Is she male? Female? Is she acting? Is this how this person looks all the time? WHY ARE THERE NO BOUNDARIES?????? People dearly love putting other people in boxes, and doing it to themselves. Hell, just by calling myself “butch” I do it. every day. We all do. We all want to understand who we are, and most people like to label ourselves. Some of us like to label ourselves so much, that we label ourselves as “unlabel-able”.
I have lost track how may times I have heard someone say “But is it a man or a woman?” “Why doesn’t he shave off the beard if he wants to be a woman?” “What do I call it?” “It‘s just a man in a dress” in the last few days. The amount of “it’s” being thrown around is astonishing. The amount of vitriol that exists for someone like this who lives or performs outside the gender binary is astounding. An awful lot of people have no real idea of the differences between transvestism, transgenderism and drag. I have had to explain it to an awful lot of people. When I mention that most transvestite men are heterosexual I just get met with blank stares and crickets chirping.
When I was watching the voting on Saturday night, I felt something flicker inside me. A little jolt of recognition. Here was a person so proud of who they were, being themselves, being who they want to be, and doing it fabulously. Here was a very visible representation of what many of us feel like on this inside. I know my life would be easier if I had no boobs, or more facial hair. People would understand that. They’d read me as male. I can’t be read as male, not when I turn around. Oh yeah, from the back, and on a passing glance I get “sir”ed quite a lot. Then I get that delightful double-take, which many readers will probably be familiar with, either directed at themselves, or perhaps someone they love. The eye-flick down, to check the boob situation. The second look to see why the face and the hair and the clothes don’t really match the boobs. (To be honest, I don’t actually WANT to be read as male. But sometimes it would be preferable to being read as “weirdo freak”)
Each time a point was given to Conchita, it felt like I was getting a point. I started cheering her on. I’m not Austrian. I don’t speak German. I’ve only been to Vienna once. But on Saturday night, watching Conchita edge closer to winning, I felt part of a new, separate country. A Nation of Queers, all banded together by willing her on. Watching her stand up and get that trophy made me feel a bit more normal. A bit more like I could fit in.
Conchita seems, on paper, to be an exercise in contradictions. A beard and lipstick. Shaving and eyeliner. A masculine woman, or a feminine man? Or how about just a person. A talented, lovely person (by all accounts she won over legions of fans at all the Eurovision events), whose words in victory were not a “F*ck You!” to her detractors, but a rousing call for equality and unity.
“This night is dedicated to anyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity, and we are unstoppable.”
I really wanted to end this post with that quote, but I think it’s important to actually show you the song. It’s brilliant. The next Bond theme for sure. But listen to the lyrics- no-one’s been talking about them. To me, from start to finish, Conchita’s entry and participation in this contest has been about freedom, equality and being who you are. How can any of that be a bad thing?
Thank you, Conchita. Your win means more than you know.