You’d have needed a heart of stone to resist whooping with joy when Austria’s Eurovision entry, a bearded drag queen called Conchita Wurst, snatched the tiara on Saturday night. Wurst’s version of “Rise Like A Phoenix” is what would happen if a talented Mariah Carey drag act landed a Bond theme… in other words, ethereal, theatrical perfection. But one thing it wasn’t, as some people are supposing, was a victory for “transgender acceptance”._
That’s not just because Britain didn’t, in fact, vote for her. (U.K. voters preferred the Polish girls with the big boobs and lascivious smirks.) It’s because catty, absurd, melodramatic drag queens like Wurst have next to nothing in common with transsexuals — that is, people who believe they were born with the wrong genitals — and if there’s one thing transgender campaigners can’t stand, it’s someone else hogging the limelight.
What you might not realise is that Conchita’s victory was the latest turn in a burgeoning war that threatens to rip apart the gay Left, pitting gay men in dresses against self-appointed tranny spokeswomen in a savage spectacle of back-stabbing and hair-pulling. And I’m setting my stall out now on the side of the drag queens, who stand for liberation, free expression and a glorious “fuck-you” attitude to which I think readers of this website will relate.
A few weeks ago, runaway hit RuPaul’s Drag Race, now in its sixth season, was forced to censor a weekly feature called “she-mail.” Transsexual rights campaigners said the show was perpetuating transphobia with this innocent bit of wordplay.
Once you get over the obvious, self-defeating absurdity of this ally-on-ally carping — Lefty campaigners like nothing so much as defecating where they dine — you start to realise how fundamentally unalike these two groups of people are.
It had most likely never even occurred to the producers of Drag Race that the phrase “she-mail” might be offensive. Drag queens are encouraged to be sexually and socially fearless. Self-effacing humour is central to drag culture because it’s only when you can laugh at yourself that you are able to come to terms with deep private grief. Drag performers are clowns with souls._
But that attitude is antithetical to the hair-triggered, censorious instincts of today’s trans campaigners, who see in every throwaway line about “bed-wetters in bad wigs” deep-seated fear and loathing of gender dysmorphia. The slow clapping from some transsexual campaigners on Saturday night was a thing to behold. (I should say at this point that there are plenty of normal transgender people embarrassed by the antics of those who claim to represent them.)
Many were outright disappointed with Wurst’s win — which is almost clinically absurd when you think about it. Who else in the public eye has so triumphantly disrupted gender stereotypes in recent years, and on so grand a scale? Wurst, the bearded babe who won Eurovision, ought to be celebrated as the face of the progressive, omnisexual Left. Surely only a hateful, zealous bigot would look such a gift horse in the mouth?
Witness too, the poor chap who operates the Sunday People‘s Twitter account, who was forced to apologise for pointing out the obvious truth that Conchita Wurst is not a woman — a “she” — but a bearded man in a dress. The nominally “tolerant” professional offence brigade grabbed their pitchforks and started running.
There’s a perfectly respectable argument — one that some feminist campaigners make — that even post-op transsexuals aren’t really women. But with so much in the air and so much personal tragedy involved, it’s only transgender activists who assume certainty enough to persecute other people for their attitudes and lifestyle choices._
The truth is, most people don’t give a stuff about your personal struggles with sexual identity. No offence, but your private life simply isn’t that interesting. Folks are pretty relaxed these days — especially ideological allies like gays and drag queens. What people do object to is frothing, insistent demands for off-the-wall pronouns (or else!) and the angry denunciation of anyone who dares crack a joke about a subject that is — and this is an unavoidable truth — very funny in certain circumstances.
But today’s public transsexual campaigners and their journalistic shock troops… well, I don’t mean to be unkind, but they seem permanently furious and irredeemably humourless. They don’t seem to realise that if you want to garner sympathy and understanding, being angry and annoying isn’t the way to do it. It’s the self-effacing quirkiness and the charisma of drag culture that people warm to — and even admire._
Is there anything more annoying than “male feminists” policing language on the internet and bleating about “everyday sexism?” The same is true of feminist writers who have suddenly discovered that transgender people exist. With all the fervour of converts, they now go about regulating the language and lifestyles of those around them. (Feminists, like gay rights campaigners, have been struggling to find things to get angry about for nearly a decade.)_
To my mind, this war is a bit like the skirmish between The X Factor and The Voice: one encourages brassy, courageous triumphs over adversity; the other panders to victimhood and special pleading. No prizes for guessing which one produces the global megastars.
Drag queens deal with their trauma in a way we can all relate to and admire. Kicked out of the house for nicking their sisters’ frocks or powdering their faces with the Chanel mum saves for special occasions, they respond with electrifying levels of defiance. Trans activists, on the other hand, claim a uniquely privileged status while denying the tolerance they demand for themselves, even to ideological allies, and making a thorough nuisance of themselves with spurious, disingenuous complaints.
You’ll forgive me for rubbing my hands together. I don’t want it to seem as though I’m enjoying what will be painful for some people. But the coming war between Left-wing rent-a-quotes (most of whom, as I say, aren’t even transsexual) demanding censorship of phrases such as “she-mail” versus the towering stilettos and opalescent lippy of the drag army is going to make for compulsive viewing.
In the blue corner, the wigs and wit of battle-hardened superstars of the stage, who will bring the most powerful weapon of all to the skirmish: white-hot, waspish ridicule. In the red corner, trans activists and their Guardian allies, banging on about pronoun use until people give them what they want, just for a quiet life.
Drag opens the world up: its humour knows no limits of taste or propriety. No subject is taboo. Trans campaigners, as we know them today, want to shut the world down: to restrict language and to punish transgressors with threats and public humiliation. Where trannies seek to oppress and police, drag culture liberates and empowers. Is it any wonder we cheer Conchita, but roll our eyes at Chelsea Manning?