Thursday 19 June saw Carlotta the movie win the ratings for the most watched program in its timeslot on Australian TV that evening. It’s not surprising as many Australians, and covering a very broad age range, are fascinated and fans of Australia’s ‘queen of drag’.
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It’s a given that the Eurovision Song Contest is the campest show on earth but who would have thought it could deliver one of the strongest messages of diversity and difference to the world - all wrapped up in the wonderful drag persona Conchita Wurst.
Conchita Wurst was born Tom Neuwirth on 6 November 1988 in Gmunden/Austria. The young artist had always dreamed of a career in showbiz. It all really started in 2006 when he took part in the talent show Starmania. In 2007, he joined the boy band jetzt anders which however only survived for less than one year.
Tom graduated from the Graz School of Fashion in 2011 and created his drag persona Conchita Wurst who came second in the Austrian preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. Conchita uses the she when in drag and has recoded three singles so far including Rise Like a Phoenix. A modest journey – till now!
Winning Eurovision this week ensures Conchita a place in the GLBT pages of history and deserves all of our respect and thanks. She was faced with some protests before the competition, highlighting a rift between Europe’s progressive liberal side and the traditional values and nationalist rhetoric of Russia and some other nations taking part.
She wasn't concerned with the controversy surrounding her. "Hey, I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard” Conchita said. But behind all of the campness she must have felt enormous pressure to both do well in the competition and remain true to her belief that she could make a difference.
Conchita deserved to win, Rise Like a Phoenix is a classic Eurovision song the type that has mass appeal amongst many different cultures, it was performed well and hey she looked the epitome of young modern glamour. Watching the win here in Sydney at an annual Eurovision party with cheering and screaming friends, I could imagine the same excited scene played out in Europe & Australia and that for some the moment would be liberating.
After her victory, Conchita told reporters she hopes gay, lesbian, bi and transgender people around the world are getting stronger in their fight for human rights. Taking to the stage for her winners performance she said: "This night is dedicated to anyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable."
The numbers suggest that Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is the most watched of the series, and the benefits of course are incredible. It can educate, enlighten and enlist a whole new world of support for the drag industry. Yes that’s what Drag Race is - an avenue of entertainment featuring Drag!
The problem is when the joke backfires or causes controversy it attracts the kind of attention that can have unreasonable consequences. Here amongst all the fun and glamour of Season 6 we have the perfect example of one bad taste segment affecting the whole show profile.
In a recent episode they had a mini challenge, a game called Female or Shemale, pitting the contestants against each other in a quest to determine whether they were being shown a picture of — as RuPaul phrased it — ‘a biological woman or a psychological woman.’
The contestants laughed as they guessed whether or not the body part they're being shown belonged to a cisgender (nontrans) woman. The problem was it stepped out of its remit of showcasing drag queens and brought transgender women into the mix as a source of ridicule – it was in bad taste and totally unnecessary.
The following morning, a number of trans individuals who had long criticized the show's use of transphobic language voiced their concerns on Twitter. They were supported by the US organisation GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) who argued that Shemale is defamatory and only serves to dehumanize transgender people.
Whilst I find myself in a stage of life where names don’t dint my surface – I have never experienced the term shemale from a place of respect or understanding, and it’s disappointing when used by my sister tribes.
Each week on Drag Race the weekly challenges are announced by RuPaul via a TV monitor as the contestants receiving She-mail a play on email – not a play on Shemale. For five and half seasons it’s been witty, amusing and not offensive: but in preforming one short tactless segment this aspect has got caught in the net – crazy!
The outcome is that Logo, the TV network, has announced it has decided to remove the term ‘she-mail’ from future episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Logo wants to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term ‘she-mail’ on Drag Race,” said a network spokesperson. “The episode has been pulled from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again. Furthermore, we are removing the ‘You’ve Got She-Mail’ intro from new episodes of the series. We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We at the network sincerely apologize”.
Yes the Female or Shemale segmentwas a moment of poor judgement, and I can understand some being offended, but surely we can see the joke in she-mail in the context used. The problem is the two terms became entwined and seemingly impossible to then separate.
The executive producers (including RuPaul Charles) released a statement saying “We delight in celebrating every colour in the LGBT rainbow. When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding”. I believe them. Let’s give them the opportunity to dust themselves down and continue to deliver what is after all the only high profile drag show reaching the masses.
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