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French pop star Héloïse Letissier ex­plains how her on­stage per­sonae have helped her fig­ure out her true self

Gen­der al­ways felt like a per­for­mance for me. As a teenager grow­ing up in France, I wanted to dis­ap­pear. I didn’t want to care about the body I was in, but it was im­pos­si­ble for me to feel pretty—ev­ery im­per­fec­tion on your body be­comes a tragedy when you’re sur­rounded by im­ages of god­desses. If you’re a queer woman who feels flawed to be­gin with, there are even more op­por­tu­ni­ties to not feel pretty.

Over­com­pen­sat­ing my look was a way to es­cape. I em­braced fem­i­nin­ity but in a campy way. When I was 15, I wore puffy skirts, white pow­der, and over­drawn lips. I looked like Marie An­toinette and felt like an out­sider.

I cre­ated my on­stage per­sona, Chris­tine and the Queens, when I started re­leas­ing mu­sic in 2011. The name pays tribute to a group of drag queens who em­braced me when I was at my low­est point, but it’s just me up there on­stage. By bring­ing Chris­tine to life ev­ery night, I was em­pow­ered as a young queer fe­male who named her­self and chose a way of ex­ist­ing. With this came a lesser need to dis­guise.

When I was con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing Chris­tine, I de­cided that wear­ing suits was one way to create an a gen­dered sil­hou­ette. But in the com­ments sec­tion of my videos, peo­ple still dis­cussed whether I was “fuck­able” or not. When you’re a fe­male, it’s the ques­tion you can­not es­cape. Be­com­ing a pow­er­ful woman is a rid­dle: You’re ei­ther too bossy, too bitchy, too lust­ful, too hun­gry, too an­gry, or too loud.

It made me think, “So how can I twist the nar­ra­tive?” I de­cided to make an al­bum about me lust­ing af­ter you be­fore you can ask if I’m fuck­able. It’s steal­ing mas­cu­line stereo­types and us­ing them as a woman.

With that came Chris, my new stage char­ac­ter, whom I con­sider to be a pow­er­ful, ma­cho woman. The body of Chris ap­peared be­fore I had the con­cept of the char­ac­ter. By tour­ing and sweat­ing a lot, I be­came like an ath­lete and saw mus­cles emerge. I play a con­struc­tion worker in the mu­sic video for my song “Girl­friend,” and I found sex­i­ness in mak­ing dif­fer­ent gen­der in­for­ma­tion co­habit in one body.

I had hair down to my shoul­ders; I cut it to be­come Chris. To me, long hair is like pro­tec­tion. Cut­ting your hair is ex­pos­ing your­self. You can’t re­ally hide things any­more. I also like the am­biva­lence of be­ing called Chris.

I had lots of peo­ple ask me, “Is Chris a way to tran­si­tion to be­come a man?” The an­swer is no. I’m a fe­male twist­ing the gen­der nar­ra­tive. The big dif­fer­ence between Chris­tine and Chris is this re­la­tion­ship to de­sire and con­fi­dence. As Chris, I ac­tu­ally be­came more com­fort­able be­ing sex­u­al­ized, show­ing more breast and the fem­i­nine shape of my body, be­cause I got to de­cide how I want to ex­ist. In the “Girl­friend” video, you see way more of my body than ever be­fore.

Madonna was a huge in­spi­ra­tion for this evo­lu­tion be­cause she’s the boss but also the lust­ing fe­male. She’s ev­ery­thing all at once, and it’s sexy and scary. The first time I met her was on­stage, when I per­formed with her dur­ing

Be­com­ing a pow­er­ful woman is a rid­dle: You’re ei­ther too bossy, too bitchy, too lust­ful, too hun­gry, too an­gry, or too loud.”

her 2015 Rebel Heart tour. My brain was on the verge of ex­plod­ing. On­stage you’re the sub­ject of her rules—and she spanked me, so I knew it.

I don’t know if it comes with the fact that I’m older—now, at 30, leav­ing be­hind the in­se­cu­ri­ties of my 20s—but there’s a new­found con­fi­dence and ac­cep­tance that I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. To me, beauty is im­per­fec­tion. I like emo­tions por­trayed through the skin—flawed skin, re­ac­tive skin. I wear less and less makeup, and the less I hide, the more I find my­self beau­ti­ful. I have a re­ally ex­pres­sive face. Some­times I love it, and some­times I hate it. But it’s part of who I am. When Iwas younger, I was try­ing to be beau­ti­ful. And by try­ing, I mean that I was try­ing to erase things that were ac­tu­ally my strength.

I feel the most beau­ti­ful when I’m hon­est, and that hap­pens on­stage. It’s like step­ping out of drag. Else­where, I some­times feel like I’m in drag, but on­stage it’s guts and pure in­stinct. It’s al­low­ing my­self to be naked. —AS TOLD TO ROMYOLTUSKI Letissier’s sec­ond al­bum, Chris, is avail­able Sep­tem­ber 21.

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