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Most of Saturday and yesterday my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with Eurovision hashtags; there was jubilation with talk of tolerance, acceptance, the bearded-lady, drag acts, gender-bending and a few ‘Fuck you Putins’. All of which made me smile, both inside and out. Amidst the glitz and glamour, and the usual high-campery of Eurovision on Saturday night it did feel like we had won a battle. Then yesterday in the cold light of day, it was clear that the war itself is not over

It may be confusing, or seem silly, to some that a man with a beard dressed as a woman winning Eurovision is such a big deal.

Let me demonstrate in one tweet why it matters!

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“I can’t believe IT won Eurovision…what is the world coming to…disgusting!!”

This; a very real tweet and a very real opinion, from a very real, very British man. If this kind of hatred, prejudice and undisguised homophobia exists in this country, where being gay has been ‘acceptable’ for a comparably long time to some parts of eastern Europe (and Russia of course); then, yes, Conchita Wurst’s victory in a continent-wide competition was, and is, a big deal.

Of course, there was a small Twitter backlash for this bigot,  he deleted the offensive post and delivered a not very convincing apology; you know the ‘sorrynotsorry’ kind – one where he blamed us for being so sensitive and not getting his ‘joke’.  Yep, great joke, mate! We’re LOLing all the way to the bank of Hate, as you speak!

Is gender black and white?

I do understand why a bearded lady, or a bearded drag act, must be confusing to the more simple minds amongst us. After all, gender, to most people is black and white, or to be more precise, male and female. Some people have barely got their pretty little heads around the concept that some people are not heterosexual. When you throw bisexuality, transgender women, transgender men, transvestites, drag acts, straight men that sleep with men, lesbians, gay men, gay women, the third gender and a myriad of other labels we often attach to ourselves for other people’s peace of mind, it is little wonder that those black and white thinkers practically explode with rage. This brave new world is a very confusing place… especially to those who are already confused.

The person at heart of this latest controversy (and that’s the important thing to remember, she is a person first and foremost) has said herself that she wants to show people that as long as they are not hurting anyone ‘they can be anything they want to be’.

I have no doubt that some people are upset / outraged / confused that I’m using the female pronoun, ‘she’, when the person behind the persona is a man. The notion that Conchita Wurst and Thomas Neuwirth are not the same seems to confuse some; especially one columnist at The Telegraph who has today written at great length, and with great vitriol, on the matter. Now there’s a surprise!

Prejudice; Pre-judging

Before the competition even took place last week her act had come under a lot of fire from some quarters, and not just the obvious places like the old Eastern Bloc countries either. Some in her own country suggested she should be seeking psychological help as opposed to Eurovision glory. Whilst petitions were created in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to try and stop her performance being broadcast there. Conservative politicians denounced her as evidence of social decay within Europe, complaining that she risked turning the contest into “a hotbed of sodomy”. I’m afraid you may have already missed the boat on that one, folks!

The Armenian Joke

It wasn’t just politicians with the small minds though; a fellow Eurovision entry also put the boot in before the big night too. One of the bookies’ favourites, Armenia’s Aram MP3, is on record as saying Conchita should decide whether she is a man or woman and declared her lifestyle as “not natural”!

Afterwards, the stand-up comedian turned singer backpedalled saying (this old chestnut again), it was “a joke”. Albeit, this time, one that was “badly translated”!

It seems that this is the get-out clause of choice for the closeted bigot these days. I can, at least, muster a modicum of respect for the honesty of the consistently narrow-minded, right-winged assholes, but not those who say shitty things but then try and retract them, or squirm out of taking responsibility for them, once they get a whiff of negative feedback from those more compassionate and understanding than themselves. Especially as it’s usually done with some commercial interest in mind rather than genuine remorse or contrition.

Conchita’s response to the joke, that was cunningly disguised as a homophobic comment, was blunt enough;

“I have to say that if it’s a joke it’s not funny … but he apologised and that’s fine for me”

The Jury’s Out

Many of us were surprised that Austria gained so many high scores (8s, 10s or 12s) from countries that we consider to be a little bit behind western Europe on the ‘tolerance’ front; Lithuania (10), Ukraine (8), Romania (8); and it’s not that much of a surprise that the UK and Ireland gave Conchita the full ‘douze points’, after all, we’re much more forward thinking than those cold, repressive, eastern countries! Aren’t we?

Well, when you break down the voting figures you get some very interesting distinctions (well, interesting to me, at least):

In the UK and Ireland, where it is widely assumed that the only people watching Eurovision these days are gay men and women, in the public vote the act that garnered the most votes was actually the slutty-milkmaid tit-fest that was Poland’s entry this year.

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(Maybe the UN ranking us as one of the worst countries for sexism and gender inequality wasn’t a mistake after all!)

Luckily for us and Austria but, alas, not Poland, the jury of industry professionals did not rate the song at all and we gave them ‘nil point’. Whereas Austria was the third choice of both the jury and the public resulting in them receiving the top score of twelve points from us.

In Belarus, where the population and jury both agreed that Russia was their favourite giving them the twelve points, they differed greatly on the Austrian front. The jury thought ‘Rise like a Phoenix’ was only the 23rd best song out of 26. However, the nation did not agree; scoring it 4th, which translated into Conchita getting a big, fat ‘nil point’ from Belarus. (Encouraging to know by looking at the public vote that this was not due to any prejudice though!).

And what about the source of much the anger that was audible in the auditorium on the night; the new home of homophobia; the poster girl for hatred and intolerance itself; Russia? Well, Conchita received 5 points, but actually would have got more had it been based on the public vote alone, as the nation voted her the 3rd best song in the competition. So it would seem that the people of Russia are not quite as homophobic as the autocrat and cronies making the backward laws there; an idea currently being confirmed by the fact that ‘Rise like a Phoenix’ is currently number one in the Russian iTunes chart.

I won’t go through all of the results country by country with you (although I have) but it’s safe to say that when it came to the public vote Conchita Wurst was extremely well received, scoring no lower than fifth place in all but one of the 33 public votes (in Estonia she was 8th, and San Marino and Albania have Jury only scoring), and top 3 in 25 countries!

An Acceptance Speech About Acceptance

It may just be a silly song competition where border politics play a more important role than most of us would like, but at least this year it seems sexual politics, and the politics of freedom and acceptance played a much bigger role than anyone had bargained for.

I am not ashamed to admit that as the teary-eyed winner took to the stage to accept her trophy and to close the show singing the winning song about triumphing over adversity, I too had a tear in my eye, and a smile in my heart.

This weekend I felt proud be European!

It is only fair that the closing words to this piece should be hers and not mine:

‘This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom,’

‘You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable!’

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