Desmond Napoles

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Desmond Napoles
Desmond is amazing in gypsy sports outfit.jpg
Desmond is Amazing, at age ten, made his fashion runway debut June 2017 at Gypsy Sport (Fall 2018 show) in an androgynous outfit by Rio Uribe
BornJune 2007 (age 12)
ResidenceNew York City
NationalityAmerican
Known forDrag,
Drag performance,
LGBT activism,
Fashion modeling
Parent(s)Andrew Napoles and Wendy Napoles[1]
Websitedesmondisamazing.com

Desmond "Desi" Napoles (born June 2007) is a child drag performer, fashion model, actor, and LGBT activist, known by the stage name Desmond Is Amazing.[2][3][4][5]

When he was two, he was inspired by and began imitating the drag queens on RuPaul's Drag Race by fashioning household items into dresses and wigs.[6] He identifies as genderfluid and has been described as androgynous.[7][8] He also identifies as gay and states that he has been out since a very early age. In 2014, when he was six, he made his professional debut in a Jinkx Monsoon music video. He now has a manager and Child Performer's Permit. He came to wider attention in 2015 when videos of him voguing through the entire NYC Pride March went viral. In February 2018, he made his fashion runway debut, and was in the accompanying campaign. He has since done high fashion shoots, runways, and campaigns for numerous brands, and was named a spokesperson for Converse and NYC Pride.

He has also become a public speaker on LGBT issues: his public appearances include both traditional drag performance and LGBT advocacy. He has been recognized for his work; in 2017 he was honored with the Marsha P. Johnson 'Don't be Outraged, Be Outrageous' Award, in 2018 he was named to the Dazed100 most influential people shaping youth culture, and named to the Out100, as one of "the most influential LGBTQIA figures," and in 2019 he served as grand marshal of Brooklyn's pride parade. His doing drag has raised criticism from social conservatives for the perceived sexualization of a child, resulting in harassment and death threats.[9] Out magazine has described these criticisms and attacks as "blatant homophobia and transphobia".[9]

Biography[edit]

Early childhood[edit]

Desmond Napoles was born in June 2007 in Manhattan, New York City.[10] When he was two, he watched RuPaul's Drag Race with his mother and was captivated by the show's drag queens.[11][12] Napoles began to play dress-up by fashioning household items into dresses and wigs.[11] His parents early on thought he might be transgender because of his preference for girls' clothing.[13] They stated that at the age of two or three, they thought that he was "likely gay" and they exposed him to a variety of gay culture, including showing him drag performances and taking him to pride parades starting at age four or five.[1][14] He identifies as gay and states that he has been out since a very early age.[13] When he was six, the family saw a therapist concerned that letting him wear dresses was okay, they were told not to force the issue either way but “to let it happen naturally.”[15] Around the same time he got his first non-homemade drag clothing: a Halloween costume of Queen Elsa of Arendelle from the film Frozen.[16] His stage name came from a friend of his mother who created a 'Desmond is Amazing' Facebook fan page.[17] In December 2017, Napoles' mother stated that he is autistic and drag and performing help him cope with the symptoms.[18][19]

2014–2016[edit]

In 2014, when Napoles was six, his first drag performance ever was appearing in Jinkx Monsoon's music video for The Bacon Shake as a flapper alongside Fred Schneider of The B-52's, who wrote the song.[20][21] Soon after he became interested in drag ball culture, an underground LGBT subculture of mainly young black and Latino people structured in competing "houses" popularized by the 1990 film Paris Is Burning.[22][23] Napoles admired two of the film's stars, Pepper LaBeija and Willi Ninja.[23] He started voguing, and later took lessons from choreographer Leiomy Maldonado.[22] In the June 2015 New York City Pride March, his first time in the annual event, he vogued the entire route, videos of which went viral.[14][22][24][a] At a NYC Legacy Ball his mother was encouraged to expand his social media presence to include Instagram where pictures of his looks could easily be shared. In June 2018 he had nearly 60,000 followers, by August 2019 that increased to 181,000 followers.[23][25][b] The New York Times estimates that as of September 2019 there are more than a hundred public drag kids in the U.S.; Desmond has the biggest following.[26]

2017–2018[edit]

In June 2017 Napoles was presented the Marsha P. Johnson 'Don't be Outraged, Be Outrageous' Award by Heritage of Pride, producers of New York City's Pride Week events.[27][28] By July 2017 he had done two high fashion model shoots with fashion photographer Aaron Williams for Out magazine with clothing from designers including Moschino, Nicopanda, David Dalrymple, and Patricia Field.[29][30] In September 2017 Napoles joined drag performer RuPaul to cut the ceremonial ribbon opening the inaugural RuPaul's DragCon NYC.[31][32] He also hosted "a children's walk off on the runway".[33] In October 2017, Napoles announced the "Haus of Amazing", the first drag club for children and young adults under the age of 20.[34][35][c]

In February 2018, Napoles made his runway debut at the fall 2018 Gypsy Sport show.[37] He liked his provided outfit because it was androgynous.[37][d] Later that spring, he was named lead spokesperson for NYC Pride Parade and Festival’s advertising campaign.[39] NYC Pride Media Director said: "he is the embodiment of our 'Defiantly Different' theme this year".[39] In June 2018, Pride month in New York City, he performed at a number of events including Upright Citizens Brigade, NYC Pride's youth event, NYC Pride's PrideFest, and the Phluid Project,[17] as well as the Tyler Clementi Foundation benefit "Sing for Pride" to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.[40] During the summer he acted in the independent film Pageant Material, a teen drag film about drag pageants, in which he portrays Young Rodney alongside Mayhem Miller.[41] That August, he posted a series of Instagram selfies channeling LGBT icons: Madonna from her "Papa Don't Preach" video, Gloria Swanson portraying Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and Divine as Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble.[42] On September 1, 2018, he performed at the rebooted Wigstock festival celebrating drag performance.[43][44] He also appeared in the associated HBO documentary Wig.[45] In September 2018, Napoles walked the runway in The Blonds' Disney villain-themed 2019 Spring/Summer collection; he portrayed Maleficent.[46] Also during New York Fashion Week, he took part with Gays Against Guns protesting gun violence in schools.[47] In November 2018, he was named to Out magazine's Out100, "founded to celebrate and honor some of the most influential LGBTQIA figures".[48] Later that month, he appeared on the television program GMA Day alongside drag performers Hedda Lettuce, Alyssa Edwards, and Shannel.[49] He also did a fashion campaign for SPKTRM Beauty.[50] And he was featured in gender neutral makeup brand Fluide's campaigns.[51] In 2018 Dazed named him #27 of the Dazed100, a list of the hundred most influential people shaping youth culture.[3]

2019[edit]

In 2019 Napoles became one of a group of LGBT activists to be named spokespeople for Converse.[52][e] In March 2019 he acted in Marti Gould Cummings' parody video of "Baby Shark".[53] In March 2019 Napoles was a featured speaker and performer at "This Is Me", the 26th Our True Colors youth conference for sexual minority youth and families at University of Connecticut-Storrs. He led a workshop, "Desmond is Amazing: A Drag retrospective".[54] In spring of 2019 Desmond was runner up for the Queerties Up & Coming award for "the best in LGBTQ culture and media".[55][dead link] In early June 2019 he served as Grand Marshal of the 23rd Annual Brooklyn Pride Parade.[56][50] He also returned to the Children's Museum of the Arts as an ambassador for their 3rd annual Pride Cultural Festival.[57] In June 2019 he also appeared in Broadway Sings for Pride's concert "Fearless" benefiting New York City area LGBT organizations.[58] As of June 2019, he has appeared in Vogue four times.[59] In June 2019 he was featured in Advocate's pictorial fashion shoot commemorating NYC Pride.[60] In summer 2019 he was nominated for the 11th annual Shorty Awards, to "honor the best people and organizations on social media", in the category of LGBTQ+ Account.[61] In September 2019, Desmond was named as one of the headliners of Drag Expo taking place in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) in August 2020.[62] El Periódico de Catalunya, and The Feed, states Desmond is the most famous drag kid in the world,[63][64] Los Replicantes states he is the youngest professional drag queen in the world.[65]

Public image[edit]

In 2019 when asked about his drag inspirations Napoles replied:

"My make-up looks are inspired by the Blitz Kids of the 1980s, like Boy George and Steve Strange. I also love the make-up and fashion of the Club Kids of 1990s New York City. Some of my favourite (fashion) designers are Alexander McQueen, Betsey Johnson, Heatherette, Anna Sui, The Blonds (David and Phillipe Blond), and Thierry Mugler. I am also inspired by art. My favorite artists are Keith Haring, (Jean-Michel) Basquiat, and (Andy) Warhol. I am inspired by all the art and murals around New York City. Of course, I am inspired by a lot of drag queens as well, especially RuPaul. I love the Dragula drag queens too."[15]

He describes his drag aesthetic as androgynous, avant-garde, club kid, and colorful.[17][6]

Napoles' status as a child drag performer has drawn criticism from social conservatives for the perceived sexualization of a child.[39][66] Following his performance at age eight during the 2015 NYC Pride Parade,[67] Napoles and his parents were defended by psychotherapist Michael LaSala, who rejected the notion that his performance was due to parental influence. LaSala stated that children that young were unlikely to act contrary to social norms simply due to parental instruction.[68]

Napoles has a manager and a Child Performer's Permit from the New York State Department of Labor, and is registered in California as a child actor.[9][f][69] Napoles' youth limits his opportunities to perform: most drag events are held in nightclubs or other age-restricted venues.[35] He prefers to be called a 'drag kid' rather than 'drag queen' saying the latter should be reserved for adults.[20][g]

In December 2018, during an appearance at the 3 Dollar Bill, a gay nightclub, Napoles removed an outer layer of clothing to reveal a crop-top and accepted tips from the audience. Conservative and pro-life websites characterized the performance as stripping.[16][9] According to his mother, the performance prompted more than a hundred reports of child abuse filed with child protective services agencies, and the Napoles family has received death threats.[72] Napoles' mother stated that, as of August 2019, his is the "most investigated case [the agencies] had ever received. It even went to the governor's office."[69][h] She said that it took government resources away from abused children that needed help.[69] His mother said the criticism was "blatant homophobia" and a "display of the grossly outdated belief that gay men are pedophiles".[73][74]

In February 2019, BBC Minute reported on Napoles and interviewed his manager mother who stated "as a parent, if your child wants to do drag, that's fine" and said drag kids are "not doing adult drag... they're doing a more kid appropriate version of drag."[75] When pressed about the nightclub performance, she said that he was "carefully supervised" and "in accordance with the Dept. for Labor's regulations for child performers."[75] Charles Dunst in The Atlantic posited that the fierce reaction against Napoles and other non-heteronormative kids was due to U.S. culture only accepting queerness in legal adults.[25] Dunst stated that "society presumes queerness to be inherently sexual, adults think that a preteen who plays up his gender nonconformity could not possibly be doing so voluntarily".[25] According to Dunst, there are very few safe spaces for LGBT children to express themselves.[25]

Napoles has spoken publicly on LGBT issues at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teen Vogue's 2018 Summit, GLSEN Respect Awards, Children's Museum of the Arts, and the New York City Commission on Human Rights.[11]

Notable drag performances[edit]

Other notable performances include participating in the June 2015 New York City Pride March, his first time in the annual event.[76] He vogued the entire route.[77] This performance brought him wide public attention when a video of him went viral.[78]

In June 2017 he competed in the NYC Legacy Ball hosted by Sydney UltraOmni; although he didn't win, they asked him to join their house.[23] From this performance his mother was encouraged to share his drag on the social media website Instagram. By July 2017 he had done two high fashion model shoots with fashion photographer Aaron Williams for Out magazine with clothing from designers including Moschino, Nicopanda, David Dalrymple, and Patricia Field.[79]

In June 2018 he made his runway debut in the 2018 New York Fashion Week Gypsy Sport show runway.[80] Also in June 2018, Pride month in New York City, he performed at a number of events including Upright Citizens Brigade, NYC Pride's youth event, NYC Pride's PrideFest, and the Phluid Project.[81]

In June 2018, Napoles performed at a Pride cultural event at the Children's Museum of the Arts in New York City.[82] In the same month he performed in the Tyler Clementi Foundation benefit "Sing for Pride" to prevent suicide among LGBT youth,[40] and in that summer, he acted in the Independent film Pageant Material, a teen drag film about drag pageants, in which he portrays Young Rodney alongside Mayhem Miller.[83]

In September 2018, he performed at the rebooted Wigstock festival celebrating drag performance. He is also part of the Wig documentary of the event which aired on HBO.[44] He also walked the runway in The Blonds (David and Phillipe Blond) 2018 Spring/Summer collection, a collaboration with Disney, with the theme of Disney villain characters walking as Maleficent, from the dark fantasy film Maleficent.[46]

In March 2019 he acted in Marti Gould Cummings' parody video of "Baby Shark".[53] Napoles was a featured speaker and performer at "This Is Me", the 26th Our True Colors youth conference for sexual minority youth and families at University of Connecticut-Storrs. He also led a workshop, "Desmond is Amazing: A Drag retrospective".[54]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 2017: Marsha P. Johnson Award from Heritage of Pride[84][3]
  • 2018: Shorty Awards nomination[85][86]
  • 2018: Named #27 to Dazed's Dazed100, a list of the hundred most influential people shaping youth culture[3]
  • November 2018: He was named to Out magazine's Out100, "founded to celebrate and honor some of the most influential LGBTQIA figures."[87]
  • Spring 2019: Desmond was runner up for the Queerties Up & Coming award for "the best in LGBTQ culture and media".[55]
  • June 2019: Named grand marshal of Brooklyn's pride parade.[50][88]
  • In summer 2019 he was nominated for the 11th annual Shorty Awards, to “honor the best people and organizations on social media”, in the category of LGBTQ+ Account.[61]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In June 2017 he competed in the NYC Legacy Ball hosted by Sydney UltraOmni. Afterwards, they asked him to join their house.[23] As of 2019, Napoles is the youngest member of the vogue troupe "Iconic House of UltraOmni", founded by Kevin Burrus. In the voguing world he is known as Desmond UltraOmni.[23]
  2. ^ His mother overviews his social media accounts to report and block harassment, bullying, and hate speech.[20]
  3. ^ He established the club as an online safe space "just for kids so that they could...express themselves as fully as possible."[34] In part the decision to start the Haus of Amazing was to facilitate group chats as Instagram capped the number at fifteen participants.[36]
  4. ^ Gypsy Sport's designer Rio Uribe also included him in the accompanying campaign.[38]
  5. ^ The company released a collection of shoes to honor Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots.[52]
  6. ^ Any payments he receives are put into a trust fund,[16] although he is allowed to keep cash tips commonly given to drag performers, which he usually spends on drag and toys.[9]
  7. ^ His usage of the term in this way is distinct from the preexisting usage in LGBT slang to refer to novice performers being mentored by more experienced drag queens.[70][71]
  8. ^ Each complaint requires a sixty-day investigation although multiple cases can be combined.

References[edit]

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