The way Desmond walks into the room is reminiscent of a supermodel strutting down a runway. The stiletto heels give the young boy an extra couple of inches of height, but he isn’t that much taller than a 13-year-old in middle school.
When he turns around and poses for each camera shot, a sense of professionalism and fierceness permeates the air, and you can’t help but smile and laugh with a kid who is more confident than most adults. At RuPaul’s DragCon in New York City last year, a delighted RuPaul told Desmond, that day sashaying magnificently in a diaphanous hot-pink dress, that he was the “future of America.”
Video by Max Toomey and Alex Brook Lynn
Desmond Napoles is a 10-year-old drag kid who is taking the world by storm in 6-inch heels. Going by the drag name “Desmond is Amazing,” Napoles rose to fame in 2015 when a video of him at New York City’s Pride March went viral.
During the event, Desmond was dressed in a rainbow tutu, and was recorded voguing down the street in the middle of the parade. Since then, Desmond has made numerous appearances all over media, and both he and his parents have faced their fair share of criticism from the public.
“I did seven death drops in front of Bianca Del Rio and Dina Delicious at Pride of 2016,” Desmond said proudly, in his elongated black button-down dress with comic-book heroes and heroines coming out of the sleeves and collar. “And this year I vogued the whole way till I got to Greenwich Village.”
Desmond’s self-assurance is extremely rare for a child his age, overshadowing any doubt or negativity his “haters” throw his way.
This is especially reflected in his club kid drag aesthetic, a type of androgynous drag style known for its outrageous costumes that goes against typical glamour style of drag. He also made it very clear that his drag, photoshoots, and agreements to interviews are all his doing.
“My parents are not forcing me at all,” Desmond said. “This is what I wanted to do, and this is what I always want to do for the rest of my life. I just love their support, it’s fabulous.”
Desmond’s parents, Andrew and Wendylou Napoles, from New York City, have been fully aware of Desmond’s fierce attitude and persona since he was 2 years old.
It was at this age when Desmond would take his mother’s towels and bedsheets, put them over his head, wrap them around his body, and pretend he had a wig and gown on. He would also “steal” his mother’s heels and walk up and down the hallway as if it were a runway.
“I mean we accepted it because we would rather he feel comfortable with himself,” Wendylou explained. “If someone has such a deep interest, you’re just going to indulge them in it. Like if your kid was so crazy about football, you’d take them to the game.”
The equivalent of watching football on TV for Desmond would be watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, where most of his drag inspirations come from. Desmond has been watching the show since an early age, favoring queens from the show’s many seasons. RuPaul, Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska, Tammie Brown, Mrs. Kasha Davis, and Courtney Act are just a few of his favorite queens.
Although the family does not have access to a television at the moment, Desmond is very much still excited to see who will win this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.
“My favorite contestant for All Stars 3 is Milk!” Desmond said excitedly. “He’s a total club kid!”
Despite being so ebullient during photoshoots and with his parents, Desmond is actually very quiet about his drag life at school.
Although the students do know of Desmond’s alter-ego, Wendylou explained that “you’d never know” unless you really knew him personally. She also does not seem to have any issues with balancing Desmond’s personal life with school, and his glamorous life as a social media icon with a following of 19,000+ fans on Instagram.
“It’s really what he’s comfortable with,” Wendylou explained. “If he wants to talk about school, that’s up to him. Other than that, when he wants to be any other kid, he can be any other kid. When he wants to be a drag kid, he can be a drag kid.”
Desmond is not the biggest fan of school. While the other students do not bother him about his drag, the actual act of going to school and learning is something he is not entirely interested in.
When asked if he had any favorite subjects, he responded with “none.” His mood completely changed once he got into drag and the lights came on for The Daily Beast photoshoot.
“It is really amazing being in the spotlight because I get so much support and I’m an inspiration to so many people, which is one of my number one goals,” Desmond said. “I like all the fame, and helping the LGBT community fight for our rights.”
Desmond has actually come out twice—the first time was when he was 5 years old. His parents were accepting and later took him to the 2015 NYC Pride. The second time he came out—at the age of 9—was when he actually began to seriously talk about it with his parents.
“It’s not like a big deal,” Wendylou said, smiling. “If that’s the way he feels, that’s the way he feels.”
His father, Andrew, shared the same sentiment and felt that it did not matter. “We’d be more worried making him hide something he shouldn’t have to hide,” Andrew said. When Desmond is not trying out new makeup techniques, he is actually playing with toy trains.
“Fortunately we don’t have to sneak him into the train-yard at night so he can drive the trains,” Andrew joked.
Desmond also has a deep fascination with documentaries—especially those that relate to LGBT issues. Wendylou will sit with Desmond and watch them too. They recently watched Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a documentary that discusses the life and violent death of Matthew Shepard, the gay student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998, and whose death became international news.
“He just sits there, just straight-faced and fascinated,” Wendylou said. “I must’ve used the whole box of tissues. He watched it, just getting so upset that people would bully somebody like that, and end up killing them. He’ll get angry and then want to do more advocacy work.”
Desmond is not the only drag kid pushing to make a difference. Among the many pre-teens experimenting with drag, Katastrophe Jest, a 15-year-old AFAB (assigned female at birth) drag queen from New York City, is advocating for more genderqueer representation in the drag world.
With a “high fashion meets Monster High” aesthetic, Katastrophe is a part of Desmond’s “Haus of Amazing,” a drag community that is made up entirely of drag kids under the age of 20.
Suzan Bee Anthony, a 9-year-old queen and member of the Haus of Amazing, has a similar story to Desmond. According to Victoria Bailey-Kerr, her son, Jason, has worn “his sister’s hand-me-down Halloween costumes, wigs, and makeup” since the age of 2.
In 2016, Jason’s parents took him to Greater Ozarks Pridefest in Missouri, where another queen, Ruby Diamond, brought him on stage and introduced him to the crowd. The next year, Suzan Bee made her first appearance and performed “Material Girl” by Madonna for the crowd.
“Ruby has become a drag granny to Jason,” Victoria wrote in an email. “He has plenty of support and mentors in our community. His school is also very supportive.”
Parents like Victoria and Wendylou have been extremely supportive of their children’s self-expression, allowing them to freely explore fashion and the world of drag.
Desmond, for example, has appeared in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 winner, Jinkx Monsoon’s music video, “The Bacon Shake” in 2014, and gave a speech during New York City’s Pride last year, explaining what pride meant to him.
Despite the love and support Desmond receives from both his parents and other LGBTQ members, there are people on the internet who believe Desmond’s parents are negatively affecting his childhood.
Some commenters have accused them of abusing Desmond, even going so far as to attack Desmond himself online.
“I don’t engage with it,” Wendylou said. “It hurts because you have these people coming in and just saying the worst things, or saying things about your child like, ‘Burn it with fire.’ You just have to realize that it’s them and not you. If you’re going to go and put hate on a kid’s social media, all you want is attention, and I’m not going to give it to them.”
Taking the role of manager, or as Desmond likes to put it, “drag-ager,” Wendylou has to be both the boss and the parent.
“We have Stephanie, our PR agent,” Wendylou said. “She comes from a more professional angle. Since I’m Desmond’s mom, I tend to automatically look at things from an emotional angle. It’s good that we have her so she can flip through offers and be like, ‘Well, this offer will be better because you have an audience that won’t give you as much hate.’”
While Desmond’s parents and PR agent are managing his growing career, Desmond always gets the final say in all decisions. “Money does not go into [my parents’] mouths from me,” Desmond said, as if he’s been asked this question many times before. “We do not earn money.”
Despite how dedicated Desmond and his family are to drag, things do cost money. Although Wendylou makes all of Desmond’s outfits, sometimes from her own clothing, she has been unemployed for a few months. Because of this, the family has suffered from financial hardship.
The family’s financial struggle was detailed on a GoFundMe page created by brothers Jonathan and Matthew Martin on Dec. 10, 2017. In an effort to help the family have a proper Christmas, and to keep them afloat, the brothers created the page after being inspired by the family’s story. The brothers were able to raise a total of $1,925 for the family in one month.
“We know that Wendylou doesn’t like to ask for help,” Jonathan wrote on the page. “The campaign was not her idea—we came up with it this morning. It’s hard for all of us to ask for help when we’re struggling. It must be horribly embarrassing for her. But we hope that she will see this as a way for people to support them during this difficult time, not just financially but emotionally, so she sees that there are many people out there who admire and respect their family and what they stand for.”
Any appearances Desmond makes are driven by his love for the art, he said. The only thing that he wishes he could do is perform. Most places where drag queens perform are in night clubs or have age restrictions in place, leaving Desmond unable to show off his fabulous voguing skills in front of audiences.
“He kind of longed for that performance aspect of it,” Wendylou said. “But he’s always coming up with ideas and little projects that he has on his mind. So he’s absolutely focused on it in so many different ways.”
Despite not being able to perform, Desmond’s drive and confidence have continued to push him forward in his career—even through all the hurtful comments.
Although he has no problem telling the haters to “sashay away,” the comments hinder what Desmond and his parents call the “drag kid movement.” The Haus of Amazing originally began as a Facebook group, but when “the haters” found out about it, Wendylou was locked out of Facebook twice.
“I was banned from doing anything and I realized that was a big security risk because these are minors,” Wendylou said. “So now we have to rethink the whole thing. Now we’re actually going to set up our own social network. We’re still figuring out how we’re going to make this government-level security to protect these minors.”
Haus of Amazing came under fire from alt-right media outlets that claimed the still-to-debut website was going to be a “dating website” for transgender children.
Wendylou refutes the claim and said multiple measures to prevent any “haters” or pedophiles from entering the site will also be put into place. Desmond is also at the helm of this ship, hoping to further inspire and connect with LGBTQ youth.
“My idea is that the Haus of Amazing will have trading cards of all the drag kids,” Desmond said. “I have 27 members as of Jan. 24. I also want to do a magazine. Each magazine will have all of the drag kids inside them, and have a lot positive messages for LGBTQ youth.”
Desmond and his parents are not the only ones who have dealt with online bullying and backlash.
Brandon Hilton, a fashion designer and the founder of the online clothing and underwear shop House of Mann, has received his fair share of hate for featuring 9-year-old drag kid Lactatia in a sequin onesie on his website.
“It was constant,” Hilton said. “Like every time I refreshed my Twitter, there were eight new tweets either calling me a pedophile or telling me to kill myself for three days straight.”
The image that was being criticized showed Lactatia posing in a custom-made, golden sequin onesie, with purple eyeshadow and red lipstick.
Hilton created the outfit for Lactatia after the child looked around the store and fell in love with onesie. Afterward, Lactatia and their mother did a photoshoot in their home and sent the pictures to Hilton to post on the site. Lactatia and their mother, Jessica, did not return requests for comment.
After receiving a slew of negative reactions online, Hilton began to question whether had done anything wrong. His intention, he says, was to showcase Lactatia to spread awareness of this new kind of drag movement.
“I don’t think these people know that Lactatia is already an established celebrity,” Hilton said. “I mean, Lactatia has been doing things since he was 7. He’s 9 now. I get that this is new to a lot of people, but it’s not ‘new,’ you know? I didn’t create Lactatia.”
The recurring argument is whether it’s “too early” for a kid to experiment with drag.
As drag starts to become more mainstream with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, audiences outside the LGBTQ community are being exposed to this art form—including children and teens. Desmond’s parents are also fully aware of Desmond’s involvement in what many would consider to be an “adult world.”
“One thing that I’m big on is Desmond being age-appropriate,” Wendylou said. “We don’t want him to have this adult image. That’s where I draw the line.”
Making the Haus of Amazing an exclusive kids/teens-only club would ideally erase the worry of being age-inappropriate.
Desmond is a firm believer that the trend will continue as drag continues to become more mainstream. His own personal goals and ambitions are also centered around building up his club kid aesthetic and taking whatever “gig” comes his way.
He also hopes that if the drag kid movement continues to move forward, “people could stop yelling at me because I’m wearing heels.” Wendylou believes that drag is Desmond’s calling, and will continue to propel him forward in life.
“Whenever people ask him what he wants to do, he’s always like, ‘The same thing I’m doing now!’” Wendylou said.
Desmond and his parents hope the drag kid movement will continue, and continue to inspire others.
As Desmond puts it, “You should always be yourself, always, no matter what anybody tells you.”