THE BEAUTY OF ANDROGYNY
FRENCH POP STAR HÉLOISE LETISSIER ON REDEFINING WHAT SEXINESS MEANS TO HER
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.