Drag queen? Transgender? Conchita’s an ambassador and that’s what matters

By Paris Lees

It’s always great when someone from our side wins, and by “our side” I of course mean everyone who isn’t Jeremy Clarkson. The gay boys and girls; the trans people; the downtrodden. Conchita Wurst got up on that stage on Saturday and sang for everyone who has ever been made to feel ashamed or afraid for being different. And with 290 points she didn’t just win Eurovision, she absolutely stormed it. I salute her. If I thought it would please her I’d cut off my hair and offer it up to her as a gift for a goddess. She clearly can’t get enough of the stuff.

But what does it all mean, this hair and that beard and those lashes? Conchita has been crowned queen of Europe, but is she a transvestite, a drag queen, a bearded lady, a transgender woman or what? And does it even matter? Facebook recently introduced more than 50 gender options in the US, and if you’re puzzled about what all those terms mean, Conchita is a clue as to what this gender diversity might look like in practice. “She” is actually a boy called Tom. Conchita is his lady persona, a strangely compelling mix of Katy Perry and Jesus, but it’s female pronouns, please, when the lashes are on – and male ones when they come off. Confused? This is gender fluidity and you’d better get used to it.

Radical feminists claim that they’ve been trying to dismantle gender for the past 40-or-so years, but I’m yet to see evidence of their success. Some seem more preoccupied with insisting that people like me are really men. They say trans people reinforce gender roles while simultaneously they try to push us back into neat little “boy” or “girl” boxes. Conchita knows no such box – and she won’t let radicals, Russians or rightwingers tell her who she is supposed to be. She’s Conchita, not the greatest singer of all time, let’s be honest, but a perfectly good phoenix.

I am obviously friends with pretty much half the gay people in Britain on Facebook, not to mention every transgender person and a respectable showing of drag queens, and from what I can tell we were all Team Conchita. She’s become a sort of bearded Beyonce; adoring her is now compulsory, and rightly so. A few people might have wasted time trying to define Conchita’s identity or worrying if she is one of “us”, but the majority saw her for what she is: an ambassador for diversity, and a beacon of light – no doubt – to our queer cousins on the continent.

Let’s not forget Dana International, the transgender woman who enjoyed her own Eurovision victory back in the 1990s. I didn’t know just how significant that was as a kid, but looking back I really think it was the start of something. She was your typical 90s trans woman: big hair, beautiful face, fancy dresses. That’s all well and good, but Conchita brings us something new. She feels contemporary; a mascot for an increasingly large section of society that has little time for other people’s ideas of who we are supposed to be. Her success doesn’t surprise me at all.

Ten years ago this summer, trans woman Nadia Almada won Big Brother. Luke Anderson followed her lead in 2012 to become the show’s first male trans winner. All of which seems to suggest that people aren’t quite so hostile towards gender diversity as we might think. Indeed, given the chance to actually get to know a trans person, the public can’t seem to get enough. This is why, at All About Trans, in a bid to improve media portrayals of trans people, we take journalists and television producers for coffee and cake with young trans people. It looks like it might be working, too. Conchita coverage hasn’t been as bad as I’d feared; certainly better than what ensued when a trans woman nearly died after being attacked by a stag earlier this year. “Transphobic” even seems to have entered the lexicon at the Daily Mail, which is quite something. Half the battle when I first became an activist three years ago was getting people to acknowledge that discrimination against trans people was even a thing.

Across Europe, gay, lesbian, bi and trans people are disowned by their families, often to be beaten, humiliated and locked away by society. Write Conchita’s victory off as novelty nonsense if you like, but you’ll be sniffing at the millions of people now finding inspiration in her Eurovision ashes.

Read more by Paris Lees at The Guardian.

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