It can be difficult to know where Héloïse Letissier ends and her on-stage persona Christine and the Queens begins. She’s happy to clarify. “It’s really the same thing,” she says. “Christine is just me, Héloïse, without the boundaries.”

The Nantes-born performer, 28, is part of a new genre of musicians eschewing the explicit femininity often associated with pop music and instead embracing fluid notions of gender through performance, lyrics and attire; Letissier’s go-to outfit is an androgynous two-piece tailored suit.

The release of her catchy synth-pop debut album Chaleur Humaine (‘Human Warmth’) has made her a star in Europe, where she has performed alongside such luminaries as Madonna and Elton John. In October she begins her first, much-anticipated U.S. headline tour, accompanied by male dancers, her ‘Queens’.

It’s a lot of attention for someone who says she was a loner as a child. Letissier remembers unsuccessfully trying to fit in with her peers, being far more comfortable reading than socialising. She was bullied, but found solace in a love of words. “Because I was always writing, people would ask me to help them write love letters, like Cyrano de Bergerac.”

French singer Héloïse Letissier, a solo artist who performs as Christine and the Queens photographed in London, UK. Sept. 12, 2016. (Laura Pannack for TIME)
French singer Héloïse Letissier, a solo artist who performs as Christine and the Queens photographed in London, UK. Sept. 12, 2016.
Laura Pannack for TIME

It wasn’t until she reached the age of 22 that the character of Christine was born. “My whole life had always felt queer,” she says. “I was never sure of how to be a man or a woman; even wearing dresses felt parodic.” She became obsessed with subverting gender boundaries and dreamt up Christine in a London burlesque club. “Because I felt that being a woman was an obstacle, I wanted to become gender-neutral. It became my way of tricking the system.”

Through her powerful LGBTQ-anthems and proud pansexual identity, Letissier has become an inspiration to others who feel they don’t fit into cultural or social norms. “It’s a beautiful thing when people tell me they relate to Christine and it makes them feel stronger.”

The persona makes her feel stronger, too. Although you’d never guess it from her wild, un-self-conscious performances, Letissier is fearful of meeting her fans and shies away from selfies. “Christine is my superhero costume and when people see Héloïse it’s like meeting Peter Parker.” Even so, she’s optimistic about others of her generation. “I believe in the energy, the fire of young people,” she says. “We need them to find solutions.”

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