What do you do when you’re a conservative Christian, you’re as good as Austrian as to make no real difference, and this wins the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest?
Obviously Conchita Wurst divides opinion, but what she represents is more than just a bloke who forgot to shave dressed up as a woman. Conchita (the stage persona of Thomas Neuwirth, an Austrian cabaret /drag artist) is queer, and according to some queer is fine and we should all just accept diversity and move on. This of course is what some people simply don’t want to do and they can’t understand why anyone would want to defy gender norms in this way, let alone why others flock to support her and showcase her as an icon for “otherness”.
Queer isn’t a unified notion of course. Although it is a term that can be used of those who deviate from the heteronormative gender distinctions that have shaped Western society for the past few centuries, how and why some of us are “queer” is a matter of some debate (and indeed some teleological controversy for Christians). There are a huge number of assumptions and judgements present on all sides of the debate. Why is someone different from the norm? Is that reason why a good thing? Should the difference be encouraged / tolerated / discouraged in our society? Take for example the issue of homosexuality – even when (some) conservatives and revisionists can agree that homosexuality has some form of biological basis, we can still utterly disagree as to the source and “goodness” of the variety. For some who accept a biological basis, being gay is part of the divinely ordained variety of life, for others it is an example of how the Fall corrupts ideal humanity. Same biological acceptance, different teleology, all essentially assumptions dressed up as facts and used to batter one another in the debate.
Queer is also confused by bringing together the different forms of societal expectation non-conformity into one amorphous conglomeration of diversity. So far the best acronym I’ve found is LGBTTIQQ2SA (go and look it up) which starts to make a mockery of the different experiences of non-heteronormativity. For example, just the phrase LGBT captures two utterly different experiences (same-sex attraction and transgenderism) and combines them into an alliance that loses all the distinction between the differing situations. It’s perfectly possible to be a conservative Christian, come to an open and cautiously accepting position on transgender issues and yet be opposed to same-sex activity. And even then when you separate out LGB you run into problems – you can be quite affirming of LGB people (and work to make sure they are not discriminated against) and yet still not accept that sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman is moral. Is this form of tolerance acceptable or is “tolerance” actually a demand for endorsement?
You see, diversity is also often a curiously self-contradictory thing. Those who clamour for it often become incredibly conservative when they don’t want to extend the same demand for tolerance (and endorsement) to other queer behaviours they don’t approve of. For example, if we were to extend LGBT to become LGBTN (N for consensual adult incest), what now do we think? Is one person’s rejection of heteronormativity simply unacceptable because we don’t approve of their choices (you do what with your brother)? If acceptance is all about diversity and freedom, why restrict freedom in this way? Let’s include polyamoury while we’re at it – why should I not be allowed to be married to the two people that I love? Often, rather than engaging with these philosophical concerns, advocates of diversity will simply batten down the hatches and accuse those questioning of trying to conflate and make equivalent two different things. Which is curious coming from those who insist on using an acronym like LGBT which does exactly that very same thing.
Back to Conchita. Her song is actually rather disturbing when you look at the lyrics. Have you actually read the chorus?
Rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once Iâ€™m reborn
You know I will rise like a phoenix
But youâ€™re my flame
You were warned…. warned about what? Do you understand what Conchita is saying to you? She will rise and you, you who have denied her the right to be exactly who she wants to be (which is not necessarily in any way connected with who she biologically is, simply what she chooses to be), you will be the flame. That is the retribution, that is the transformation. You who stood in the way of queer being what it wants to be regardless of societal expectations, norms, dare I even say needs, you will become ash.
You were warned.
By all means celebrate diversity and tolerance. Certainly oppose discrimination and persecution. Definitely seek to understand and help. But stop and reflect for a moment as well. Are we truly creating a more open and accepting society, or are we replacing one normativity (a normativity that seeks to govern society by certain expectations and rules) with another? Is this new normativity of “inclusion” really any better than the paradigm it replaces? Is it in any way inclusive if it will not grant to other queer expressions (consensual incest, polyamoury) the same rights it fights for? Is it really diverse if it silences, nay threatens to burn, those who believe that an acceptance and legal empowering of all forms of behaviour is actually harmful for society?
If Conchita is signing about resurrection, what exactly are we bringing to rebirth?
Good song though. Great song. Next James Bond theme.