Austria’s contestant for this year’s Eurovision competition (which is like American Idol but not American and came first) is causing a bit of controversy over her appearance, which is ludicrous but also expected. Conchita Wurst is the female alter ego of 24-year-old Tom Neuwirth, and presents as female along with Neuwirth’s full beard.
This isn’t Neuwirth’s first appearance on televised talent competitions–he was on a talent show called Star Mania in 2006 but disappeared soon after. He found himself back in the spotlight in 2011 when he began performing as Conchita. To be clear: Neuwirth isn’t trans–we aren’t misgendering him. Wurst is an alter ego, and coexists with Neuwirth. He says that he feels “two hearts beating in his chest,” and accesses Neuwirth or Wurst by dressing the part.
Wurst wears flashy dresses, heavy makeup, is somehow Colombian, and shares Neuwrith’s dark facial hair, which seems to perplex a lot of Eurovisison fans and homophobes. The idea that someone would use gender as a tool for self-expression seems foreign, and Neuwirth/Wurst have faced a good deal of backlash:
Someone created a Facebook page called “No to Conchita Wurst at the song contest”, which currently has over 38,500 fans, more than the artist’s fan page, while others posted homophobic messages on the popular social network. There is also a petition against her representing Austria in Copenhagen, next year.
But Neuwirth/Wurst aren’t backing down, and take the negativity as a call to fight harder for marginalized people. Wurst issued a statement responding to the backlash against her appearance:
“How would you feel if your friends, relatives, children, colleagues, etc. were abused in this way? I am sure that in your local area there are also people who are ‘different.’ I continue to fight AGAINST discrimination and FOR tolerance. For I am convinced that in the 21st Century EVERY person has the right to live as they want, as long as no one else is injured or their freedom is limited in any way. And as far as I know I did not hurt anyone.”
Conchita is a great expression of a different side of Tom’s personality, and is clearly a talented performer. It’s a shame that some people still aren’t ready to accept that people come in all forms, including fabulous women with facial hair.