When the Bearded Lady Sings

The bearded Conchita Wurst.

Speculations by Stefan Stenudd

The winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest was the Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth in his alter ego of the bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst. We know drag, but millions of TV viewers wondered: what's with the beard?

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       It's not that Tom Neuwirth wouldn't manage to be just as seductive as the next drag queen with a clean shaven face and a makeup enhancing its feminine features. That also goes for his slender body and its language. Nor is his voice a dead give-away. So, he would do splendidly as a strict female impersonator, easily fooling us all.

       But he chooses to add a distinct dark beard to the Conchita Wurst attributes. It's quite provocative to the eye. A drag queen insisting on being a king as well. Not a man turned woman, but a raving hermaphrodite, combining the sexes into one character.

       There is an internet buzz about this figure, often descending into raging intolerance, even hatred. And they focus on the beard, as if its addition would be a most sinister case of blasphemy. As if changing from one gender to another might be Ok, but stopping in between them is an abomination.

       In our society, we foster all kinds of absurd ideas about the necessity of normality and illusions about deviating from the norm leading to mayhem. Nature just doesn't care, so why should we? A man dresses like a woman – so what? Nobody gets hurt. She grows a beard. How could that ever cause any damage to anyone or anything?

       Most of us know that, fortunately. But there are still many who react with aggression, even hatred, although they have a very hard time explaining why in any way that makes sense.

       They need to be provoked. Their prejudice must be revealed, or all sorts of really bad things happen. That's what Conchita Wurst is doing, very consciously.

       She is a drag queen reminding us blatantly of the fact that she is also a man. She refuses to be one or the other. And still she can sing us to tears.

       She makes it additionally obvious by having a beard that is very much like theatrical makeup. Her dress, her mascara and lipstick are joined by a beard that is to some extent as much fake – and not hiding it. The beard as well as the rest is a conscious choice. Part of the costume.

       And that hits the core of intolerance. Prejudiced people can accept deviation from the norm if it's involuntary. You are forgiven if you are unable to fit, but if you choose to be different there is no excuse.

       Our modern world has learned to accept gender bending as an expression of deep personal need, such as a man in a woman's body and vice versa. But Conchita Wurst's theatrical beard makes it obvious that this is a question of free will, a choice, even a statement. In our odd society, with its tendency to regard completely irrelevant things as vital, that statement is revolutionary.

       The beard is a particularly mighty symbol of masculinity. More so than the male genitals, since they are hidden whereas the beard is flaunted for all to see. I've written about the mythological significance of the beard in another speculation.

       Carl G. Jung would not have hesitated to regard the beard as a symbol of archetypical importance. Every society on earth associates it with masculinity and the male gender, and nothing else. A bearded woman is regarded as a freak, and a drag queen growing a beard around the glossy lips is a rebel, refusing to give one thing up for another.

       Conchita Wurst implies something that scares so many – that there is a man in every woman and a woman in every man. Otherwise, how could we learn empathy?

       By the way, the stage name Conchita Wurst, which has very much of a drag show flare to it, was not taken randomly by Tom Neuwirth. Wurst is used in the German language as an expression meaning something like “I don't care” and Conchita is a Latino name of a woman that everybody would love to... date. But also, Conchita is sort of a nickname for the female genitals – and wurst is, as can be guessed, the male counterpart.

       See this explained in an interview made by none other than the prestigious Wall Street Journal.


Here is another essay of mine about beards: What's With the Beard?

Stefan Stenudd
May 11, 2014

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Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd

About me
I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.