Sunday, May 11, 2014

Open-mindedness rose like a phoenix with Conchita Wurst

Already days before Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest last night, there were petitions circulating for the singer to be removed from the competition. The reason: the singer, a 25 year old man from Austria, performs dressed like a drag queen wearing a dress and a sporting a beard. This combination of typical female and male attributes on one single person apparently causes uneasiness.

This uneasiness stems from a deeply rooted and specific type of fear of “what’s different from us” (xenophobia). Conchita Wurst is different from most of us because she doesn’t fit into the basic sexual categories in terms of which we perceive and interpret our world. These categories are: can we have babies together and perpetuate our DNA (category 1) or not (category 2)? The combination of a beautiful female appearance with a beard instantly blurs this basic dividing line thereby causing some uneasiness.

Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean that we perceive every person, young or old, as a potential partner for sex to start a family. These are just basic perceptual categories that help our psyche quickly understand the world around it, just like it spontaneously perceives trees and pianos as things “my body cannot move” and books and laptops as “things my body can move”. In other words: there is nothing wrong with or immoral about these perceptual reflexes, nor with the uneasiness they cause when they don’t “work”.

The problems start when this uneasiness is translated into homophobic laws. This is the case in some countries in Eastern Europe, from which come 80 per cent of the autograph requests Conchita receives. These laws are the official face of homophobia, which is just as gruesome as the unofficial face of homophobia which I discovered in the French newspapers in April last year. We will continue to see gruesome faces like this if laws like this continue to violate the commitment made by all members of the United Nations to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

Conchita confidently says she has an elephant skin and that for her “everything happens for a bigger reason”. Whatever its reason may be, her artistic victory is also a victory of Europe’s open-mindedness. I wish she continues to “Rise Like a Phoenix” for LBGT rights, strengthened by her positivism and 25 years of life experience she sang about in her winning autobiographic song:

Waking in the rubble
Walking over glass
Neighbors say we’re trouble
Well that time has passed

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