Maxence Garneau’s star is rising in the Montreal television scene. It’s a small world that gives him a proverbial stage to fulfill his destiny: being fabulous. Maxence – who you may know from the Céline-Dion-inspired looks he created during the pandemic – hasn’t always belonged to such an inclusive community though. How do you define your identity when the most authentic expression of your masculinity is outside the norm? Here’s what Maxence had to say.
“I’m a proud Montrealer born in Lac Saint-Jean and totally attached to my hometown, even though there was a time when I didn’t feel like I could be myself there. I’m a guy who likes to have fun. Who likes people. And who likes to talk. More than anything, I’m a guy who learned to love the person he really is over the years. Today, I feel free. I really feel like I’ve achieved freedom.”
Maxence has gorgeous, impeccably styled long hair and an enviable sense of style. And people call him “ma’am.” A lot.
“I’ve always loved clothes. I was a quiet kid, but as soon as I stepped into a store, I lost my mind – it was enough to drive my mother crazy! I was raised with two sisters, my mother, my grandmother, and my babysitter. Strong women. I always found women’s clothing incredible – even though my mother was more into activewear. These days, I’m the girliest one in the family!”
However, Maxence only gave himself permission to browse through the women’s section in his 20s.
The catalyst: a just-for-fun video he created for no particular reason. ”During the pandemic, I noticed that my curtains looked just like one of Céline’s outfits. So I recreated it. After that, I started seeing Céline’s looks all over my house, so I started recreating them with curtains, comforters, garbage bags…and it just so happens that Céline wears dresses. I didn’t think twice about it. Then, after sharing a few of my recreations, I started receiving messages from people who thought I was bold and brave to be posting photos of myself in a dress on social media. From there, I gave myself the right to bend the rules. Man or woman, I don’t want to limit myself. I rock any piece my own way.”
The Maxence we know today radiates contagious confidence. He’s someone who loves himself unconditionally and has a deep love for other people. Even if he doesn’t always receive the same in return.
“Being at a bar and seeing a unisex bathroom makes my night. It takes the pressure off. I always used to use the men’s washroom. But I never felt safe, because that’s where I was bullied as a teenager. Today, at best, someone will say, ma’am, this is the men’s washroom. Some back away, thinking they went through the wrong door by accident. Some take it further. They follow me in and make comments to each other. Check it out, there’s a chick using the urinal.”
“Because my hair is long (and well-styled!), even if I wear basic clothes, people get confused about my gender. These concepts are so superficial, but they’re also deeply ingrained in our society. We want to put people in little boxes. I tear down those boxes and that bugs people. I don’t hold it against people who say Have a nice day, ma’am! It’s the debate that happens afterwards that’s a bit heavy: I’m a guy. Oh, really? Yes, really. My friend is trans too, but she’s too muscular. You look more natural. Nope, I’m just a guy – that’s it.”
“People don’t want to understand. They put me in a box and I can’t even explain that they’re wrong. There’s nothing more I can do.”
“The more we are ourselves, the more likely we are to shine in our own right.” That’s one of Maxence’s guiding principles. “We can be men AND wear what we want, take care of our appearance, be vulnerable, cry. We are so much more than our gender! Being a man is something you should define for yourself, instead of looking to others to define it for you.”
Maxence has shaped his own version of masculinity without any role models – ”Except for Céline!” He told us that he truly discovered his inner self when he stopped caring about what other people thought. And at 27, he’s proud of it. “I’m bang-on. Exactly the person who I wanted to be.”
When we asked Maxence where all of this confidence came from, he didn’t hesitate for a second: his friends. “I recently realized that, and it makes me emotional. I’ve found my core friends. The ones who give me the strength to build myself up and express my true colours. I’ve met so many beautiful people along my journey. But it took a while for me to create deeper connections.”
“In my close friend group, I’m one of the only queer people. Always a minority. But these people accept me 100% as I am. Even if some of them are the type of hetero who walks around in a Canadiens jersey. On paper, we shouldn’t click. But despite society’s stereotypes, we accept each other. With their help, I found the confidence to go back to my hometown wearing a skirt, a beaded bag, and a top that looked like a doily your grandmother would put on the dinner table. I walked around town like that. And I felt totally safe thanks to these incredible people.”
Challenging norms comes with its fair share of judgment. Like many others, Maxence fights this battle on a daily basis. “Calling me ma’am isn’t an insult. Strong independent women raised me! But I’ve still needed to learn to let go of other people’s judgment so that it doesn’t hold me back from expressing my identity.”
How can we get there? “EXPRESS YOURSELF!!!” said Maxence, laughing. “No, but really, the freedom to be yourself is so much more satisfying than fitting the mold.”
“People have told me, We’re going to make you more masculine. We’re going to hit the gym, you’ll build muscle, and people will know you’re a guy. Thanks, but no thanks! I’m not the problem. It makes me sad for them because it means these people have shaped their lives by making choices – whether consciously or subconsciously – that fit the mold.”
And when the mold fits like a glove? “Welcome people who are different with an open heart. Stop questioning someone’s identity because it doesn’t look like yours. All identities are valid.”
“And, for all you Karens out there, stop asking this question: So, is that your friend? Not only does it remind me that I’m single, but it also invalidates the legitimacy of gay couples. Two guys who love each other are boyfriends. It gets on my nerves – just had to say it.”
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