By Héloïse Letissier as told to Romy Oltuski
Updated Sep 19, 2018 @ 9:00 am
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Credit: Courtesy Héloïse Letissier

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 agendered 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 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 I was 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.

Letissier’s second album, Chris, is available September 21.

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