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The Difference That Conchita Wurst Will Make At Eurovision Written by on October 14, 2013 | 12 Comments

Sometimes you come across a Eurovision article that makes you stop and think about the wider impact that our Song Contest can have. One such article was Garrett Mulhall’s editorial on Eurovision Ireland today, “How Conchita Wurst At Eurovision 2014 is Life Saving“. We felt it deserved a wider audience, so with Mulhall’s permission, we’re reprinting it here for ESC Insight readers.

The selection of Conchita Wurst for Eurovision 2014 by Austria is more than just another singer at the contest. An act like Conchita at Eurovision 2014 will be life saving for hundreds if not thousands of lives by just being seen on a Global platform for 3 minutes singing a song.

I make that statement from personal experience and an overwhelming sense of loss. Please indulge me for 5 minutes and let me tell you of a man I knew called “Pat”. Pat was a very dear friend of mine back in the 1990′s when we became neighbours in our Dublin Townhouses. Pat was the first person to land on my doorstep with a freshly made Black Forest Gateaux – and he insisted on calling it a “Gateaux” – and a “larger than life” welcome to the neighbourhood.

As the years past, Pat and I shared many a laugh, and as friends do, the more trusting you become the more you reveal of yourself. For me it was my undying love of all things Eurovision and for Pat it was so much more. He confided in me that he wanted to dress in women’s clothes but had never had the courage to do so. This was all discussed over many a Black Forest Gateaux.

For Pat it was not a sexual fetish. It was him just feeling comfortable in women’s clothes. Back then in Ireland – and I am sure across many parts of the world – this was just not discussed. Pat felt tortured and conflicted in his feelings. There were no role models for him to look up to for courage and inspiration in the mass media. So we went on many a covert shopping spree for Pat over the years. You have no imagination how terrified we were shopping for his ladies clothing. Trying to deduce which sales assistant would be the most accepting – and nearly all the time we went for the more mature sales assistant who had the motherly quality to her appearance.

Only once were we asked to leave a store but the rest of the time it was secret excitement for Pat and the Motherly sales assistant. As the years went by Pat so desperately wanted to go out in Public as his alter ego “Patricia”, but society was not ready for that and Pat was confined to the 4 walls of his apartment to be Patricia. It was clear to me that not having his freedom to fully express himself and the person that he was – and that person would lay down their life for you, give you his last penny and always put out the hand of friendship to anyone who needed it – was key to him leading a happy life.

No matter how much I went on covert shopping trips with Pat or ate countless slices of Black Forest Gateaux – it was never ever going to be enough for Pat as he wanted to share “Patricia” with the world and just live his life in the skin that he was comfortable in. On a sad day in 1997 this struggle for Pat became a battle that had worn him down and in a dark moment the loving, friendly and brightest star I have ever known, could not take the confinement of his life any mare, and sadly took his own life. I will always remember that day and that feeling of “What if” – What if I had said this, What if I had walked down the street with him as Patricia, “what if” will ring in my mind for ever and that hopeless feeling that I wish I had done more! That hopeless feeling of wishing there were role models for Pat and Patricia to look up to.

1998 saw the explosion of Dana International onto the Eurovision Stage which certainly would have been a help to Pat. However he did always like to make it obvious that he was a man. Just like Conchita Wurst.

Since the announcement that Conchita Wurst would be appearing at Eurovision 2014, I have not stopped thinking of how this single act would have been a momentous event in Pat’s life and had it come in 1997 it could have been life saving for him. Through my work on Eurovision Ireland, I have read thousands of fan posts out there across the world. What truly saddens me is that there are so many people, who in this modern age, still feel it necessary to ridicule anyone who is different or breaks the mold of what is deemed as “Normal”. I truly think that the word “normal” should be removed from the dictionary as it is the most decisive word in any language. There is no such thing as normal which makes us all unique and life so enjoying!

Conchita on her official website refers to herself as a “woman”. Why do people feel it necessary to dispute that? Why do they feel it necessary to write posts with such hatred and defiance that they will call Conchita “Him” and urge other people that they do the same? I have seen Facebook Pages and Websites created to deny Conchita her moment to be whom she is and wants to be. Others use the time old excuse for their attitudes on Conchita as –  it is all just a “gimmick to make money”. Let me tell you that all the money in the world is not enough to counteract the comments and threats that Conchita has received on-line or to give someone like my friend Pat the courage to walk down the street as the person they wanted to be.

For me, the performance of Conchita in Copenhagen at Eurovision 2014, will be one of the most socially pivotal moments in the contest’s and tv’s history. With several hundred million people looking at the show, there will be millions of children asking their parents questions on Conchita, her appearance and why she is acting like that? This is a social awakening that will spark many a household, pub, party and mass media debate. It is good to get people’s prejudices and lack of understanding out in the open so we can discuss them and show people that they are not a threat to anyone.

There will be people of all ages watching Conchita’s performance at Eurovision and feel that they are no longer alone. They are no longer the only person with these feelings and forms of expression locked up inside of them. They will no longer feel isolated and feel that the only way to escape these feelings and negative words from others is through taking their lives. I for one would have loved to have had Conchita Wurst at Eurovision 1997 and my dear friend Pat could still be here enjoying Eurovision with me.

All I ask is that before anyone feels the need to write a derogatory comment on Conchita and people like her – just take a minute and really think if it is necessary and how you might be harming someone? You don’t have to vote for her – you just have to judge her on her song and performance. You have the power to save a life too by not joining the mob mentality and joining the Witch Hunt.

Maybe just sharing this post might save a life too.

One final word for my dearly departed friend Pat,  “Anyone for Black Forest Gateaux?”

Garrett Mulhall (Eurovision Ireland).

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12 responses to “The Difference That Conchita Wurst Will Make At Eurovision”

  1. Thanks Ewan for posting. I hope that people will just give a second thought to their actions in what they say when behind their PC screens. At the end of the day Eurovision was created to foster relations with people over Europe after WWII. That sentiment should still ring through today and celebrate our differences and not ridicule them.

    Thanks Again for posting

  2. Stephen Colville says:

    As a trans woman I feel like Conchita on stage will do more harm than good for us. Conchita is a character that is basically a mockery of trans folk and I can imagine nothing good coming from this.

    As far as I can tell, Conchita is merely a creation of Tom Neuwirth. Simply a drag character whose gimmick is a woman with a beard. It’s pathetic, desperate attention seeking, and while the story in the article is touching, I don’t see what it has to do with Conchita at ESC.

  3. Peter says:

    Even though the article was a great read and I understand what Garrett is saying, I unfortunately agree with Stephen, and believe it will have no more of a positive effect than Lily Savage.

    I admit that I don’t know how much about the issues at hand, or how much Stephen is correct about Conchita just being a character, but a large proportion of the ESC TV audience will see her as a comic drag character with a painted beard and write her off as just another one of those wacky Eurovision novelty acts – can you even imagine Graham Norton introducing Austria without making a snarky comment? I doubt the word “trans” will even enter the conversation, and it will be more “let’s all laugh at the bloke in drag!” And I don’t see how this can be a positive effect for anyone apart from other drag artists?

  4. Well, the story might be touching, and give food for thoughts. And yeah, we shoulkd be tolerant, liberal, accepting and all that jazz…Yes, we should actually. I’m not ironcal!

    Yet – I HATE the idea of CW representing Austria in ESC! Was so overjoyed when she (yep, it’s a she!) failed to win the Austrian final of 2012…and now this. Well, as the saying goes. Personal progress is a bliss, but other people’s failure is quite nice too! 🙂

    Not that I wish her (or anyone really….) “failure” as such. Or have anything AGAINST her. Nor do I have anything against transgenders (or drags…or for that sake gays / lesbians / bisexuals) in general.

    I have one single point to make – but it’s certainly valid enough. This is JUST what gives fuel to the silly myths / stereotypes around ESC. That it’s a “gay thing”, only “gays” love ESC, it’s a gay contest for gay singers etc…Gay or not. ESC does not benefit from it. I don’t mind that many male fans are gay – by far not all though. Fair enough. But I think ESC should be INCLUSIVE. Which some would consider a contradiction, given my generally negative view on CW for Austria. But not really! 🙂 It just sort of confirms rather stale and undeveloping stereotypes as ESC as “something gay”. OK – maybe I’m paranoid – BUT my “fear” is that in the end people will almost think that “if you are male and love ESC, you are gay”, “thanks” to such acts. It’s a stupid prejudice of course, but I think that what suchs acts do.

    And seriously – with all respect how seriously can we expect voters to take a singer with a female voice / looks with a beard? Honestly…I think there have not been a more certain non-qualifier BEFORE we even know the song EVER. Juries will not like it, and many televoters might laugh at it. Sorry….for those holding their hopes high. Of course, it might be it’s a cracker of a song, and it’s the song that counts. But – esp. as she will probably go for some crappy “selfdefending” lyrics as well! – , I strongly feel my wooden spoon for 2014 is resvered for the land of Sachertorte and Gregor Schlirenzauer….

  5. Garrett, thank you so much for sharing your words with us, as well as your bittersweet memories of Pat, who I’m sure would have been touched by all of this.

    I’m still unclear about whether Conchita is a character played by Tom Neuwirth or if she is how the person who was born as Tom now lives her life, but in all honesty, I don’t even think it matters. Just as sexuality isn’t a binary, neither is gender expression. There are many people on the trans* spectrum who express their gender outside of a specifically masculine or feminine mold, whether it’s to make a statement or simply to express themselves. Who am I, as a cisgender, heterosexual female, to judge?

    And in that same vein, who am I (and who is anyone else, really) to judge what resonates emotionally with an individual? For Pat, seeing Dana International or Sestre or Conchita might have been a godsend. In my case, I entered the year 2011 in a rough state, having just lost a job, a relationship, and a grandfather. When the songs for Düsseldorf came rolling in, I found a huge amount of solace and comfort in a song that most other fans seemed to vociferously pan, making me feel almost guilty for loving it. I knew that song wasn’t going to win, and wasn’t even likely to qualify, but to this day, every time I hear Homens da Luta, I know that even during the cruddiest of times, I can find joy in the struggle simply putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

    So what if a song is tongue-in-cheek, or somehow different from what people expect? Music is about transmitting emotion through art, and if it touches someone’s heart, what’s the difference between “That’s What I Am”, “A Luta é Alegria”, “Suus”, “Quédate Conmigo”, or “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”?

  6. Shevek says:

    This article surely made people comment fiercely. I must agree with what Samantha has written. Yes, people will talk about her looks. Yes, she may be trying to get the spotlights on her (as many others who look “normal” do by showing up on stage scantily clad – too many – or revealing generous cleavage – Armenia 2010 anyone? for instance). I am a fairly conservative white man who loves ESC. I will be focusing on her song and its live performance. I did not like ‘That’s what I am’ at all and I am hoping to hear a much better effort. I enjoyed her singing voice though. Good luck.

    P.S. – try not show so well disguised hate and fear, fellow fans. ESC will carry on.

  7. Chris says:

    I want to start by saying thank you to Garrett for writing such a heartfelt piece on his friend. I’m sure you wrote it with a heavy heart and she is watching you from above.

    I don’t consider the presence of Conchita Wurst the slightest bit damaging to anyone. You must remember that Dana International did with the song contest in 1998, and there have been Sestre competing as well. Let’s look at something else though – Marie N started the presentation of her song dressed like a man. She also won the song contest – no one seemed to comment on this or be slightly offended by her androgynous presentation and threaten to go to a commercial break.

    I think people need to lighten up.

  8. Rafael says:

    Great article. I guess CW will just be great fun to watch and will probably score very highly, as expected of an act that stands out from other songs just by their mere appearance. The problem is, I take Eurovision seriously and I don’t think CW sings particularly well. If her song is amazing then I will vote for her, just like I celebrated Dana I’s victory. But I will be very surprised if CW has the same effect on the audience as DI, who was just fascinating and attractive, as well as singing a great track.

  9. Heike says:

    Thank you Garrett for sharing your touching thoughts. I am delighted especially about that someone from Ireland is putting this out in such a mindful way – as I was myself living in the West of Ireland for five years. Heike from Germany

  10. Phil Armond says:

    I think this person Conchita is wonderful and a great singer also. I do not agree with trans people’s opinions on here because they have missed the point. Most transexuals desperately wish to be accepted once they have made the change, so much so that they effectively hide behind their new self and hope eventually no one will notice or know. Conchita is making a statement…man/woman it makes no difference, as his song says “This is what I am”, the beard makes it absolutely clear something is different to the “norm stereotype”. When the world can accept “gender neutral” without behaving like school children, we will all be accepted whatever we look like, without labels. I am british but I would be proud to be Austrian tonight.

  11. Michelle says:

    Just spotted this article weeks after Eurovision is over and Conchita was crowned the ultimate winner (way to go, girl!).

    Thanks Garrett for writing this. You are and will always remain one of my most favorite ever interviewers, as you always treat the person you’re interviewing like a ‘person’ and not like a celebrity to be prodded and poked at for everyone else’s pleasure.

    Your interviews with Conchita, of course, are legendary 🙂

    Thanks again for supporting Conchita and for your lovely stories about Pat. He sounds like he was a man who gave so much, yet got so little from so many people around him. Sadder than i can possibly explain, and a huge reason why Conchita’s win is so incredibly important.

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