A KALTBLUT exclusive. Belle de Loin is the 19 years old artist from Paris who performs as a drag queen at night to experiment with his own identity and to break gender roles. The Parisian photographer Pierre-Antoine Gillouin captured the essence of the artist in a fully analogue photo shoot on film. Interview by Martin Rybak. Second photographer on set Moana Logique.
Who are you and how would you describe what you are doing?
I am Théo Leconte, my stage name is Belle de Loin (Good from Afar) and I’m a Club Kid, meaning I live to perform and perform to stay mentally stable.
What was the main idea behind the photoshoot?
With that photoshoot, I really wanted to create visuals of what I can’t describe with words, every costume I present is in the same time a garment and a proposition, an experiment that I want to share with the viewer.
How did you experience your first performance?
My first performance was a really big stake for me at the time, as I am a very shy person it was kind of a test. Even if there were about 30 people in the room, it was very stressful but the congratulations and the joy you can receive after such a performance and especially in this community is way beyond any kind of anxiety, that’s why I keep going.
During a performance, do you feel like yourself or more like playing a role?
That is the main question I’m trying to answer at the moment. Of course, it is me, because I still feel the stress, I still feel like I’m doing the action, it’s still me performing, and most importantly, my performances are the reflection of my feelings as the « human » me but when I perform, and that’s one of the reasons why I have a mask on, I am free of my daily life fears, morals and I don’t have to worry about the consequences. It’s not exactly a role I’m giving myself, it’s more a freedom I’m allowing myself to have.
Did you also have any negative feedback from people, friends, or family because of what you do in general or for your first performance? If yes, how did you deal with it?
My friends are very supportive, and that’s why they are still my friends. My close family is supportive as they want me to be happy, but they don’t understand the depths of why am I doing this, that it’s not just a job, that it’s not just a reason to go out. Sometimes I can work a month on a project and not being able to share it with them because it treats of subjects we don’t have discussed of before such as my sexuality, my gender, my relationships or my mental issues. There is not a lot of negative feedback from people of the LGBTQ+ community, but it is an everyday job to live along heteronormativity and society as an all.
What do you want the viewer of the photos or your performances to feel?
The reason why I’m doing drag is to push my limits and explore what I can’t do or feel like I can’t do in my daily life, so when someone is confronted to my work I’d like them to feel the same way, I want to interrogate people, I want to make them react, either in a good or a bad way but I want them to get out of their comfort zone for a moment and make them wonder what is possible or not, what is acceptable or not, what is happening in our society today.
Do you think there is still a negative stigma of boys being feminine and wearing dresses, long hair and makeup? How do you deal with that?
Of course, there is a negative stigma surrounding feminine boys, in the same way, you can’t be butch if you’re a girl, because society is ruled by peer pressure and even if most people wouldn’t mind a boy in a dress, some feel like society is attacked when someone doesn’t act like they « should ». I don’t feel like I deal with this stigma a lot. All the people I know are very accepting and I stopped caring about stranger’s opinions about this. If we’re talking about physical aggression, I think that my most useful defensive technique in the street are paranoïa and running fast.
What as a society can we do to improve the negative stigma?
If you are a girly boy or a butch girl or anything in between that is perceived as extreme or threatening to some people, the best thing you can do is to be yourself, that’s the first step to feel good about yourself and to fight for your rights because while you simply live your life you would give a good representation of your freedom, maybe inspiring others to go out in public feeling free as well. And if you’re not someone that suffers from this stigma, I want you, not only to defend us when you see us in a bad situation but also to think about including us, even when you’re not trying to show diversity.
Is there anything you want to add?
In the words of Aretha Franklin, respect. Even if you don’t agree with what I do, even if you don’t understand it, the minimum you have to do is to respect what is presented to you. Art is a very often a sensitive subject for the artist, performance is maybe the most personal of all the art fields as it is the one that engages the body the most and drag and gender performance is maybe the most self-giving type of performance, so you have to respect that. We don’t do this for fame or for the status, we do this because we need to express ourselves. and you need to understand that we give a lot; drag is expensive, every show I did I lost money to do, it’s time-consuming, it’s physically demanding so you have to respect that.