On Chonchita Wurst and how difference paves the way for love

Conchita Wurst wants to dress as a woman but she also wants to keep her beard. Is her victory a victory for freedom of expression, for the plurality of living modes and for the tolerance for diversity? Or should it also be heard as a “want for it all” (cf. also Conchita saying: “we are unstoppable”), and specifically, a want for being both man and woman – or more modestly, a wish for blurring the difference between men and women, and thus being neither man nor woman? There is a remarkable paradox in this outcry: it claims both the right to be different ànd the wish to abolish difference altogether. Of course, by definition, there can only be diversity thanks to the possibility of difference, and this difference ultimately implies the recognition of two poles, two positions, two items which at one point minimally are not each other’s equals.

The first difference which a developing child is challenged to process mentally is the difference between man and woman. There is no other difference that is both so binarily articulated and that is so existentially close to the proper stakes. Every child starts with the idea that all others are constituted as him- or herself. The most radical encounter, which forces the child to review his or her supposition, is the encounter with the sexual difference – and in this encounter the difference shows itself as a binary split over two poles, man and woman. Every single child reacts in his or her own way to this encounter, and there is a radical impossibility to judge these trajectories morally or otherwise. What remains nevertheless common is that the obligation to conceive difference is forced upon every child by the bipolar difference between man and woman, boy and girl.

This encounter might therefore be conceived of as the founding challenge for the developing human to process the notion of difference per se. It is a primary mental challenge, which we have of course forgotten since it is happening at an early age, but it has obliged us to do with the other, the other, who has something which I don’t have, who does not have what I have. And more particularly, which has confronted us with the following choice: shall I envy the difference or shall I cherish it? will it be a reason for interest or will it be a threat and a reason for rejection? The inaugural encounter with difference has much less to do with gender identity or with the homo-, hetero-, bi- or othersexual object choices, than it has to do with what Freud called the “exogamy rule”. This rule indicates one should not marry with a member of the proper group, but should marry a member of the other group. This law has, in the course of history, very concretely prevented us from smothering in within the proper gene pool ànd in within the proper pool of cultural products; and therefore it is a founding law for human civilization. This law is not prescribing nor excluding any kind of partner choice (so called “object choice”), rather does it fundamentally mean the following: welcome in the heart of your intimacy the radical difference of the other; accept intimately that the other will always remain, at least partially, out of reach, radically unknowable to you – but, and this is crucial, no less loveable.

The inaugural encounter with difference lays the foundations for the very basic acceptance of our limitation that we can not be both ourselves ànd the other. Dynamically this encounter will allow the crucial shift from wanting to be the other, which induces envy and aggression, to wanting to have the other (and thereby indirectly having what he or she has), which induces interest and attraction. For this shift to occur, of course, this requires the prior radical acceptance that we will never also be the other, i.e. that, once and for all, there is difference. Remarkably, the acceptance of difference, thus, is what simultaneously opens the way for interest in and desire for the other, precisely because of his/her difference. This also refers to the etymological roots of the word “sexual”, namely what has been cut, i.e. what puts us in the inescapable position of being cut off radically from part of the experience of what it is to be the other. The acceptance of the sexuated condition is called “castration” in psychoanalysis and reflects the acceptance of a constitutive limitation: we will never know pleasure both as a man and as a woman. Remember that, mythically, Tiresias, who did love both as a man and as a woman, was finally punished for it with blindness – so neither thus he, eventually, escapes castration. It is at this precise point, rather than at the issue of diversity, that Conchita Wurst-phenomena, are challenging society. But should we not forget, dear Conchita, that the fundamental bipolar man-woman difference, lays at the bottom of our ability to welcome diversity, and to love each other?

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