The recent Eurovision victory of Conchita Wurst, the drag artist from Austria, whipped up a tabloid media frenzy and became the buzz of social media far beyond the end of the competition. Her performance even caused a small crisis in the Belarusian government amid calls for her performance to be unplugged by the regime broadcaster (I mean really, you’d expect better of Europe’s last remaining dictatorship! -Ed.). It’s commonly regarded that Eurovision is as much about politics as about the performers, but Conchita dominated the talk of both – especially in light of Russia’s ongoing crusade against LGBT+ people, as well as the wider media perception of both queerness and trans people. Here are 7 reflections:
1. Conchita didn’t only challenge perceptions about women with beards.
Conchita didn’t only challenge perceptions about women with beards, she also challenged people’s perception of other countries’ perceptions of about women with beards. Personally, I was trying to pre-process my grief of her not winning before the competition began, as I’d decided in my mind that those ‘other’ countries outside of the Western European liberal democracy bubbles wouldn’t ‘get it.’
2. Conchita’s win wasn’t a ‘fuck you’ in the face of Russia.
According to the tele-voting break down separated out from the jury votes, the UK voting public and the Russian voting public both put Conchita in third place. If we were using Conchita’s votes as a barometer for public attitudes to singing, bearded, drag artists – then the UK and Russia are on a pretty even footing. Which means that the smug narrative of “we’re so liberal and queer-friendly in the UK compared to those backwards Eastern European places” isn’t as cut and dry as people might make out. And her track topped the Russian download charts afterwards.
3. Conchita’s victory was a people’s victory rather than an elite victory.
An academic from Reading University mapped out the combined voting for Conchita – the tele-voting and the jury voting – and showed that across Europe Conchita did much better on the popular vote, while it was the jury vote that brought her score down. Again, as an indicator of European attitudes to gender bending, the people are way ahead of the cultural elites.
4. Should we expect a drop in violence and intimidation against trans community any time soon?
Not necessarily. Sometimes exceptions in ‘tolerance’ are made for performers and entertainers – good to remember that Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Junior were made into multi-millionaire superstars in the US at a time when lynching was still routinely happening. Cis people have often been fine with queerness on a stage in the context of entertainment as long as it stays there.
5. Was Conchita’s victory hailed as a good thing in terms of visible gender-fucking?
Conchita doesn’t self-identify as trans, but as a man who plays a character who is a woman. Lots of people were pleased that a visibly queer person had won Eurovision, however they pointed out that while it now would seem acceptable to present as a femme with a beard, the reality is that trans women still risk violence for the slightest bit of stubble.
6. “Children of the Universe was a cracker of a song but never stood a chance because everyone hates the UK and never votes for them.”
OMG, get a grip on your Faragian persecution complex! Modelling the votes using a Bayesian hierarchical model has shown no evidence of negative bias, although mild positive bias does seem to emerge systematically, linking voters to performers. Molly either needed a better song or needed to up her gender-fucking game.
7. Conchita is rude in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world.
Conchita (little shell) is slang for vagina in Argentina and a few other Spanish-speaking countries. Wurst, apart from sausage, has a number of idiomatic connotations in Austria. The Conchita persona is supposed to be Colombian, which has led to accusations of racism in doing ‘racialised drag’.
The author wishes to express his thanks to the many people who made comments and took part in debates which informed this article.