The winner of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest sparked a gender debate across the continent by stepping onto the stage in high heels and a carefully trimmed beard. Conchita Wurst, also known as Thomas Neuwirth is an Austrian singer who became internationally famous overnight after winning the singing contest in Copenhagen, Denmark this year with the song ‘Rise like a Phoenix’. Since this peculiar victory, he has continued to bring the subject of tolerance towards gay rights issues to light on numerous occasions, including his first ever public concert, performed in Vienna back in May 2014.

Wurst recently performed in Montpellier, France at la Fête de la musique on the 21st of June, an event that is celebrated across the whole of France in all cities. The event was also filmed by French television channel France 2 this year in the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Before the performance, Wurst expressed how her life has completely changed since her victory at the 59th edition of the Eurovision song contest, and that she had been prepared all her life for this change. Labelled as the bearded lady she is now the most famous transvestite in the whole of Europe. Wurst’s victory at the Eurovision has also been described as a victory for European diversity by many fans, who have showed support to the drag queen as she continues to perform around different countries across the continent.

The singer describes himself as a gay man and uses female pronouns to describe his Wurst character, but male pronouns when referring to himself. Neuwirth openly expressed that taking part in the singing contest was a political statement in terms of bringing the European people’s attention to current gay rights issues, particularly to the treatment of homosexuals in Russia, which is circulating the media ever since the ban on gay ‘propaganda’. But what makes Conchita Wurst such an interesting character? As French newspaper Le Monde painted the drag queen as the Eurovision’s mermaid, we can’t all but help to wonder who the real Conchita Wurst really is behind all of that make up and glamour.

As the drag queen’s beard has become quite symbolic, Wurst has received numerous discriminative reactions from the extreme right and homophobes alike. But why such a negative reaction? Could it be that what they find so repulsive is a bearded man singing in a dress? Or simply the fact that there is someone who is willing to stand up to those who oppose equal rights for gay and transgender people. Conchita is no different to you nor I, she is simply a performer expressing her life experiences through song while also trying to put an end to homophobic inequality in this world. Now it would be a tad extreme to go as far as calling her a martyr, but at least the singer is getting everyone talking about the subject of gay rights.

But could the beard also be her downfall? Would the criticisms, particular those made by the Orthodox church, have been less severe if she was simply a ‘normal looking’ drag queen, if such a thing even exists. Wurst herself has even confessed that ‘the problem is my beard’ after receiving such heavy criticism. However she pointed out the simple fact, which has been overlooked by so many, that it’s nothing more than a few hairs on her face. Regardless if the beard is fake or not, the point is that Wurst has brought originality to her act by bringing masculine and feminine qualities together to oppose all who believe we should be ruled by society’s norms.

What can be found most ironic is that Russian president Vladimir Putin sees himself as ‘liberal’, yet he was one of the first to criticise Wurst, proclaiming that the singer was putting her life up for show. This comment was made after the Russian Orthodox Church attacked Wurst by describing her as an ‘abomination’. Frankly each and every one of us has the right to live our lives how we want, and that gives no reason for either religion or politics to tell us otherwise. The reality is that we no longer live in a world that is run by traditional values, instead we are entering a more gay-friendly age, where same sex couples are finally being allowed to take their vows and marry.

Yet we still do not live in a prejudice-free world, where homosexual men and women can walk down the street hand in hand and not feel judged. This is why Wurst has been an inspiration to many, not only because of her uniqueness but because she represents one particular side of homophobic prejudice: how the transgender folk are tired of being suppressed by our society. It’s true to say that Wurst might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to be criticised as far as an ‘abomination’ truly reflects how some people are still living in the dark ages.

Conchita Wurst, the bearded lady who sang and finally had her voice heard throughout the whole of Europe. She may be addressed as a Diva or an ‘abomination’, but at least she has the European people’s attention and is raising awareness for gay rights issues. Although the gay community still faces prejudice to this day, a positive step forward has been made for gay rights by someone, regardless of their gender, dress sense or perhaps even the beard trimmer’s setting. 

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