Bearded Austrian diva Conchita Wurst is living her dream

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Conchita WurstAP

Conchita Wurst

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Born 25 years ago to innkeepers as Tom Neuwirth, Wurst was raised in the sleepy Austrian town of Bad Mittendorf, where conservative values were the norm – not a very comfortable place for someone who was different even as a child.

“I was constantly stressed, the target of the derisive glances of my school mates and their taunting,” she recounts in the book “Ich, Conchita.” (“I Conchita.”) Visits to the school toilet turned into nightmares with classmates seeking to find out “if the queer looks different.” And “each morning when I thought of school, my stomach wanted to turn.”

Neuwirth came out at 17. But instead of bringing release, the declaration backfired with his family – at least initially.

After several performances brought her some local fame, Neuwirth was asked by a reporter for a weekly if he was gay. Suddenly he realized that he had to stop lying to himself and those closest to him.

Yes, he blurted out. Then “I went home to my parents, and said, ‘listen, I’m gay.'”

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Neuwirth’s parents might well have suspected his sexual orientation – he loved dressing up in women’s clothes since childhood. Still he says that for them, the shock was “not the fact that I’m gay but (that) a week later a newspaper will come out and everybody will know it,” including the conservative clientele frequenting his parents’ inn.

Eight years on, Neuwirth calls that moment “one of the most important of my life … that second where I chose to be myself 100 percent.”

Neuwirth’s stage name is a play on the Austrian expression “it’s wurst to me,” meaning “I don’t care.” And the winning song “Rise Like a Phoenix” largely describes the transformation from a youth hurting under the taunts of peers to someone who is now totally comfortable being both Wurst and Neuwirth.

Still, she cautions others to think hard about when, and how to follow her example.

“Just take your time,” she said in near-flawless English.

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