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Being Conchita: We Are Unstoppable

by Danielle Behrendt
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Sep 17, 2015
Being Conchita: We Are Unstoppable

The story of how one small town Austrian boy used secret spaces, confidence in himself, and an unwavering ability to see the silver lining of every obstacle he was presented with, "Being Conchita: We Are Unstoppable" by Conchita Wurst is like a literary drag mother; an encouraging and effervescent guide to using the best pieces of every bad experience to construct the future of one's dreams. While the authorship of the book is officially attributed to Conchita, due to the fact that the majority of the memoir details Neuwirth's creation of Conchita and how she has impacted his life, throughout this review I will refer to Neuwirth as the author and architect of both this book and Conchita herself. This decision is in no way intended to disregard Conchita or any of her many accomplishments, but rather to emphasize them by highlighting the incredible impact she was able to have on Neuwirth once he acknowledged her as a part of himself.

The bad pieces of Neuwirth's life that ultimately coalesced to form Conchita were plucked from a childhood of being singled out by his peers in the Salzkammergut region of Austria for being not quite like the other boys in class. Early on, Neuwirth notes both that he was unsure who was first to realize how different he was from everyone else, his peers or himself, and that he took advantage of their rejection to pursue other passions instead of their favor. Rather than letting his bullies get the best of him, Neuwirth devoted his attention to performing duets with his girl friends at festivals and fairs while wearing beautiful costumes that he would make while hiding out in a secret room at home.

At just fourteen years old, Neuwirth headed to the Graz School of Fashion to see what he could make of the lifelong talent with a needle and thread that he had honed for so many hours in his secret space. While classes were great, Neuwirth's time living in a gender segregated boarding house was anything but. With the initial financial support of his loving parents, Neuwirth began renting a small flat where he could feel more comfortable being himself. Still, "Being Conchita" relentlessly presents each of his trials and tribulations as character building experiences toward which Neuwirth appears to hold no ill will, saying instead that our worst enemies can be our best teachers and that when you don't get what you want, all you really have is the choice between finding an alternative that can work for you and giving up and going home. Whether applied to bullying, thriftily decorating an apartment, or becoming an internationally renowned drag superstar, this advice sums up both Neuwirth's entire outlook on life and the secret to his -- and Conchita's -- immense success.

After a few singing gigs here and there, a dramatic coming out conversation on a local radio show, and landing a role in a Vienna revue with a friend of his, Neuwirth was well on his way to creating the Conchita that would take the Eurovision Song Contest by storm in 2014, thrusting her into the spotlight she had, for so long, worked for and deserved; a spotlight from which her unique appearance has challenged convention and inspired fans to confidently be every part of themselves.

That's what's so great about Conchita. With her career she has broken boundaries not by transcending them, but by straddling and taking advantage of their liminal spaces. In a letter written by Neuwirth to Conchita (affectionately referred to as Conchy) in 2012, he explains the inclusion of his beard in her aesthetic in two ways. First, he says, she will have the beard "because no one gives a damn." This carefree attitude has defined and liberated Neuwirth throughout his life; one particularly resonant part of "Being Conchita" is its ruminations on coming out as "this bizarre term that really just expresses the idea that people are obliged to tell others about what or whom they like--[which] shows how far away we are from being a tolerant society." In actuality, everyone should be able to be themselves without giving a damn about others' perceptions or feeling any hesitation or fear.

Second, he notes that by making his facial hair part of her face, she will "open up a new reality to an insecure young boy and empower him to lead a life in which he can be what he wants to be and who he really is." This final sentiment, I believe, can itself be read in two separate ways, the first of which being that Tom has always wanted to be true to who he is and that drag and singing are immutable parts of him, and the second that Neuwirth's performance persona allows him to exist as Conchita (a hyperbolic version of who he wants to be) and Tom (who he really is) simultaneously. Conchita's meticulous makeup and flowing feminine hair, when combined with Tom's beard, effectively present to her audiences two faces at once; art and artist, performance and performer, one human and their humanity as they (both he and she) have always wanted to be seen.

"Being Conchita: We Are Unstoppable"
Conchita Wurst
John Blake
$15.90

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