On a Friday night, drag artist Ella Lamoureux is on stage in front of a full house, wearing a long blonde wig and black sequined gown that sparkles in the light. Tonight’s performance at the Friends of Dorothy Lounge on syilx territory includes a bit of friendly roasting of people in the crowd. Raunchy comedy and being abrasive on the mic is her speciality — but it’s all in good fun.
“I like shock humour. I like making people feel uncomfortable,” she says. “I’ve lived in a white world long enough where they made me feel uncomfortable, so let’s give it back to them!”
Throughout the night, Lamoureux keeps the crowd laughing in between lip sync and dance routines to various pop songs. She never leaves her home for gigs without at least two outfits — including matching hair and accessories — which she switches between as the night progresses. After all, she’s got about 80 styled wigs and more than 150 pairs of heels to choose from.
Lamoureux has been doing drag for more than a decade and is a fixture — and trailblazer — in Kelowna’s vibrant drag scene. Recently, she was propelled into the national spotlight by appearing on the OutTV drag competition show Call Me Mother. Without drag, Lamoureux said she can’t imagine life being nearly as colourful.
“It’s been such an integral part of my life for so long now,” she says.
Getting to where she is now has been a journey of self-acceptance and self-love for Lamoureux — who also goes by Dustin Dufault. Lamoureux is Kaska Dena and grew up on her homelands, in the small community of Ross River, Yukon.
Growing up in the conservative northern town with a population of only a few hundred, she wasn’t able to comfortably embrace her Indigeneity or her femininity for much of her younger years.
“I stopped doing little micro things that I noticed Natives would do and white people wouldn’t. I quickly realized that the more white I acted, the more respect I got,” says Lamoureux.
“If you showed any feminine qualities, you were easily made a target,” she adds. “I pushed it all aside. I didn’t focus on it or embrace it.”
Now, as she skillfully applies eye makeup in front of a wall of glittering jewelry before her Friday night performance, it’s hard to imagine Lamoureaux as anything but the confident queen she is today.
The now 38-year-old recalls going to drag shows at 19 and falling love with the art, but her past conditioning prevented her from dipping her toes into the drag world.
“The shame of presenting feminine kept me from doing it for so long,” she says.
Things began to shift soon after she moved to Kelowna in 2007 and met her future husband Robin. One night they went to a drag party hosted by a mutual friend.
“We all did drag at their party,” she says. “I really enjoyed myself and I told my husband that I wanted to do it more often. ‘How do you feel about that?’ I asked him, and he told me to go for it.”
With the support of her partner and her close friends, the then-24-year-old Lamoureux began to explore and embody her identity through performance. It took a couple of years to find her footing. She began experimenting with performances that made statements about discrimination, identity and culture.
“I do say that my drag helped me reconnect with my culture, because it has. It all started with me doing cultural numbers when I was younger,” she said. “That was the reason when I first started delving into my cultural identity.”
As she reconnected with her identity through drag, she found that she identified with the term Two-Spirit, which refers to an Indigenous person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit.
“Two-Spirit, for myself, just means essentially embodying the femininity and the masculinity in myself and accepting that,” she says. “It stems from re-falling in love with my culture.”
“Two-Spirit made me realize that there is these two sides of myself where I can bridge into the masculine, bridge into the feminine if I wanted to,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that I’m losing one side of me when I do that.
“They are both there consistently at the same time – all the time.”
While one may wear more makeup and don a colourful wig, Dustin and Ella, she continues, are not two different people – they’re one and the same.
“When I tried to put on an act with Ella, it was inauthentic because Ella was not an act, she’s a part of me and part of who I was. I quickly realized that I shouldn’t separate the two,” she says. “I should embrace them both as one being, and ever since then, my drag has gotten better. My identity has gotten better.”
Now, Lamoureux wants to use her platform as a drag queen to be a Two-Spirit advocate and spokesperson to inspire others.
“If I didn’t love my culture, I wouldn’t have identified with Two-Spirit,” she says.
“I want to show young, Indigenous queer people that you can be successful and love your culture and be who you want to be.”