’I Hid Not My Face’: An Essay on Women, Their Beards, and the Promise of Isaiah 50:6

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In this paper I explore the theological potential of the trans*formation of the body in popular culture, more specifically, in the performance of drag artist Conchita Wurst (Tom Neuwirth) at the Eurovision Song Contest finale of 2014. Contrary to Dana International, the first (known) trans*woman to win Eurovision for Israel in 1998, Conchita did not 'pass' as either male or female. As a 'bearded lady', she operates on the borderline of the masculine and the feminine, combining the aesthetics of both as she performed the winning song Rise Like A Phoenix. In various media, Conchita was read as a contemporary Christ figure. With her parted long hair, kind eyes, dress and beard she does indeed resemble those representations of Jesus Christ that have become dominant in the 'religious imagery of visual piety' of Western popular culture. Both the performance of the song and Conchita as a stage character play with themes of misrecognition, suffering and resurrection. Read as a 'Christ-like figure' by Eastern Orthodox church leaders, moreover, Conchita was accused of blasphemy. I argue that if we take Conchita seriously as a contemporary Christ figure, she enables us to construct a liberationist theology of uncertainty, in particular the enduring uncertainty of gender-bending. To do so, I will attempt to understand current cross-dressing performances such as Conchita’s from a genealogy of the beard, focusing on the meaning of the beard in biblical times as well as the history of women with facial hair: the archive of the bearded lady. In the Old Testament and in Christian tradition, beards have often been simultaneously one of the most important markers of hegemonic masculinity as well as the site where this masculinity might be jeopardised. In the archive of the bearded lady we find women on the margins of society (funfair 'freaks', witches, old ladies from the countryside) as well as confident queer activists who publicly claim the beard, showing how it fails as the ultimate marker of masculinity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-80
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Beards
  • Theology
  • Conchita Wurst
  • Queer Theology
  • Isaiah
  • Gender
  • Queer


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