Eurovision Song Contest's bearded lady Conchita Wurst hits back
Agence France-Presse in Copenhagen
Austria's bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst has hogged the limelight ahead of tomorrow's Eurovision Song Contest final.
But things have become a little hairy for her among socially conservative Europeans and even gay rights campaigners.
Wurst, the drag persona of 25-year-old Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth, said in Copenhagen: "I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want. If you're not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life."
Wurst's ballad Rise Like A Phoenix was widely expected to make it through yesterday's semi-final in the Danish capital, but few pundits believe she will take the Eurovision crown.
However, comments by Armenian Eurovision hopeful Aram MP3 - one of the bookies' favourites - that Wurst's lifestyle was "not natural" have boosted her profile, even though the stand-up comedian later claimed his comments were a joke.
"He apologised by saying his comments were a joke and badly translated," Wurst said. "I have to say that if it's a joke it's not funny ... but he apologised and that's fine for me," she added.
There have also been petitions to have her removed from the competition in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where a law banning "gay propaganda" was signed by President Vladimir Putin last year.
St Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov reportedly asked his country's Eurovision selection committee not to send any Russian musicians to the event, which he accused of being "blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay".
Although much of the controversy over her appearance has centred on eastern Europe, it hasn't always been smooth sailing in her home country.
The leader of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, called her "ridiculous" and threw his support behind another singer, Alf Poier, who suggested she needed psychiatric help.
"If someone doesn't know if they're a man or a woman, they should go to a psychotherapist rather than to the song contest," Poier said.
A German-language Facebook page protesting about the decision to send her to the contest has garnered 38,500 "likes".
There has also been concern among some members of the gay community that her hirsute drag persona could "scare" people coming to terms with their own sexuality.
But Wurst said: "I don't want to scare them. I just want to show them that they can be accepted in any way."