Growing up, Ella Lamoureux always had a fascination with drag – she described it as an escapism that allowed her to experiment more with her femininity.
“But I never wanted to do drag because I had this sense of shame of femininity because I always dressed a bit feminine,” said Lamoureux, whose “colonial name” is Dustin Dufault.
“My father essentially was like, ‘This is who you can’t be.’ So, anytime I wanted to do drag, I just pushed it aside – this isn’t something that I want to do.”
Originally from Ross River, Yukon, Lamoureux is a member of the Kaska Dena First Nation and identifies as Two-Spirit, a term that refers to an Indigenous person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit.
“I separated Dustin and Ella quite strongly when I was younger. One’s the feminine side of me; one’s the more masculine side of me,” she said.
“As I became more accepting of myself and my culture, I realized that they’re one and the same.”
When she was 19, Lamoureux watched a performance by Two-Spirit drag queen Argentina Hailey in Calgary, with whom she recently performed at Banff’s Indigiqueer Drag Show on Oct. 9.
“A lot of my journey is because of seeing him,” said Lamoureux.
In 2012, Lamoureux created a drag scene in Kelowna alongside her friend and fellow drag queen Sasha Zamolodchikova. Drag at first, Lamoureux said, was a way for her to explore and figure out who she was.
“What I learned about myself is that I can embrace my femininity; there’s no shame in it. There is power in obviously both sides of the spectrum – masculine and feminine,” she said. “But what I’ve learned is just knowledge of myself.”
Now, she said drag is a continuing example of who she is and who she can inspire.
“I like to inspire people,” she said. “Seeing a healthy Two-Spirit person excelling – that’s what I want other Two-Spirit people to see.”
There are now around 30 drag performers – both kings and queens – in Kelowna who thrive off of the scene that Lamoureux helped create. One of them is fellow Indigenous drag queen Jenna Telz, who’s also known as Grayson Nordgren.
In her debut performance in 2016, Telz won Kelowna’s Next Drag Superstar, a competition that Lamoureux created. But in the summer of 2015, Telz, a queer person raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household, was kicked out of her house by her parents at the age of 20.
“I basically started trying to do drag six months after I got kicked out. It was the thing that saved my life,” said Telz.
“Being kicked out by my parents, I was so suicidal. I lost everything overnight – I lost my family, my friends, my job, my home. It was really hard to build back from that. It was through drag that I was able to figure that out.”
Similar to what Lamoureux had done, Telz further established a name for herself by organizing and hosting her own drag shows in town, which not only gave her the opportunity to perform but gave other queens a stage as well.
“Ella created a platform for so many people to start drag, and eventually, those people created a space and an environment that I was able to start drag in,” said Telz. “I went and did the same thing.”
Born in Quesnel, Telz is Cree from the Papaschase First Nation in Edmonton, Alta. And while she said that she identifies as gay “in white terms,” she also identifies as Two-Spirit.
“But that term means something different for everyone. It’s easiest for me to describe it as I identify as a gay man who dresses up in drag,” said Telz.
Drag not only gave Telz control over her life, but she said that it gave her the confidence that she lost after being kicked out of her home.
“Growing up, being a Jehovah’s Witness, there was a lot of things you can’t do because the religion says it’s a no-no,” she said. “Drag, to me, was the complete opposite of that. That was embracing who I was for the first time and being able to express myself however I wanted to.”
Both Telz and Lamoureux, the top-performing drag queens in Kelowna, are drag “mothers” running their own drag “houses.” The terms refer to pocket communities within drag, in which a drag mother takes a budding drag queen under their wing and mentors them.
“You teach them etiquette, teach them manners or you help them with makeup. You help them along their drag journey,” said Lamoureux.
“I have people that are under my belt that I help get into drag to help finesse their art, just like (Telz) has a lot of drag children under hers – double what I have.”
And while she dreams of being an internationally renowned drag queen someday, Lamoureux said that her goal is to become a Two-Spirit spokesperson in Canada in the future.
“But I never wanted my drag to do that part. I do feel like my drag will eventually let me get to being a Two-Spirit talker across Canada, which I’m hoping is,” she said. “But what I mean when I say I don’t want to get my drag involved is I don’t want to have to get into drag to have a Two-Spirit talk with someone. I want to be able to go as myself.”
For Telz, she said that her favourite thing about being a drag queen is the platform it provides her to educate people on several topics that she’s passionate about, including politics, Indigenous issues and the history of colonization.
Before the pandemic, she said she would meet with youth groups or high schools and share her experiences with them.
“I’m someone with some pretty passionate views on things. I feel like, because I’m a drag queen, people listen to me and it gives me an opportunity to use my voice and help impact the world around me,” said Telz.
And as a drag queen, she said that she’s accomplished her biggest goal of making an impact. She described having 13 drag children and watching them do what they do as one of her biggest joys.
“I just honestly want to do this for as long as I can,” she said. “I think now, I’m more focused on myself and where I want to take my drag. I think my goal is the journey itself.”
She added that it’s when people tell her that she’s made a difference in their lives that makes her cry.
“It’s why I do it. This is why I do it. It’s for those moments,” she said.
“It’s the moments where I’ve been able to empower someone or help someone else. Those are the moments I care about.”