“I have to reclaim it because my ancestors didn’t have that right.”
“I always describe drag as a microphone,” says Chelazon Leroux over a video call. “It’s something that amplifies your voice.” Leroux, whose offstage name is Layten Byhette, is calling from Vancouver the day after attending British Columbia’s second-annual Two-Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQIA+ Celebration and Awareness Day. “It was a long day and a lot of hard work, but it was the best — celebrating with a bunch of Two-Spirit people.” “Two-Spirit” refers to an Indigenous person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. “It’s like the bridge between the two worlds,” explains Leroux.
Growing up in Saskatchewan, Leroux moved around a lot due to her parents’ teaching jobs. “We lived on different reserves and in different communities, but none of them were my home reserve, so I never really had a connection to what my identity was supposed to be as an Indigenous person,” she says. Simultaneously, when it came to gender identity, Leroux was taught from a young age that boys should stay away from traits and hobbies that could be perceived as “feminine,” like dressing up or speaking in a high voice. “Even dressed in a Halloween costume at four years old, I saw that disapproval from my dad,” she recalls.
So when it came to exploring her own identity, Leroux had her “aha” moment after watching season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014. “I grew up in small towns and on small reserves, so I don’t think I had an understanding of queerness,” she says. “Even if there were Two-Spirit people on reserves, it wasn’t openly talked about, so Drag Race was the first time I saw someone I could identify with; I saw people who were unafraid of being themselves and expressing their femininity, and something just clicked inside of me.”
Often during conversations about queerness, the focus is on propelling things forward or moving past certain outdated concepts. However, Leroux explains that because of her Two-Spirit identity and Indigenous roots, her goal is to go back to a place of understanding and respect: “All these things we’re fighting for today are not anything new. In pre-colonial society, respect and understanding were a given.”
She believes that her ancestors didn’t share the same narrow views of gender and identity that exist today. “I think you were just accepted as you were,” she says. “Everyone had a purpose, and your journey was to discover what that purpose was. My ancestors believed that everyone had a right to be here; we’re just trying to restore that way of thinking. So while it’s exhausting to have to fight for this, I don’t think it’s impossible to get back to a society that has respect for everyone.”
Other than appearing on the third season of Canada’s Drag Race, Leroux has been busy building her following on social media. She regularly shares her love of drag, comedy and makeup tutorials with her 500,000+ followers. “I see makeup as an expression of an inner experience,” she says. “Through makeup and drag, I’m expressing my thoughts, my experiences and my pain.”
These days, she describes herself as being “unapologetically Indigenous.” Take, for example, the fact that Leroux often uses the colour red in her makeup looks. “It’s a symbol of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit movement,” she explains. “It’s significant for our bloodlines, our relatives, our power and our strength.”
Leroux has made it her mission to continue being “unapologetically Indigenous” in everything she creates: “I’ve found a way to do content creation and comedy from an Indigenous point of view, and sometimes people ask ‘Why do you rely on that?’ But it’s my lived experience. I have to reclaim it because my ancestors didn’t have that right. So I can’t take this freedom and ability to express myself for granted. When I tell my stories through drag, it’s not that Indigeneity is just one part of my drag — it’s the whole thing.”
Below are Chelazon Leroux’s tried-and-true makeup essentials (onstage and offstage!).
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Summer 2023 issue. Find out more here.
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