Known for his exuberant personality, his sassy performances, and his exquisite style, Desmond the Amazing has taken the drag world by storm at all of 11 years old. His ability as a child, to express his identity without shame, and his authentic way of living are deeply admired by people he encounters both online and off.
But while Desmond is a rainbow of positivity, not many seem to agree with his avenue of expression.
Desmond, who hails from New York, has recently come under attack by conservatives who are convinced that his drag performances are a form of child abuse. These attacks against Desmond --an OUT100 alumnus who has won many accolades for his LGBTQ+ youth advocacy -- have recently escalated, particularly because of a recent December drag performance at a queer bar in New York. Conservative media has unleashed a firestorm of misleading and fabricated news articles claiming that Desmond's work as a drag performer is child abuse because, they claim, his performances are sexual and he receives tips. Furthermore, conservative figures and their followers have threatened to impede Desmond's career, have compromised his personal safety, and have repeatedly reported his family to Administrations of Child Services (ACS) and local police.
In early December, Desmond performed in drag at 3 Dollar Bill, a queer, multifunctional performance space in Brooklyn. New York City law allows minors into venues where alcohol is served, as long as they are escorted by a parent or guardian. Desmond's mother, Wendy Napoles, explains Desmond "was not allowed anywhere but on stage and in the dressing room. I accompanied him in these areas. His father was in the audience."
While on stage, Desmond imitated Gwen Stefani singing "Just a Girl," sang "Asking for It" while impersonating Courtney Love, and "Spellbound" by Siouxsie and The Banshees dressed as Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. Between songs, Desmond changed into many elaborate vibrant ensembles as is custom during a drag performance. And like any other queen, Desmond was tipped by audience members for his colorful impersonations.
Tipping drag performers is customary, but adults outside of the community are attempting to label something so innocent as imitating one's favorite celebrities as stripping. When conservative media was made aware of Desmond's gig at the queer bar, it quickly falsified information about both the performance and the venue.
Breitbartincorrectly reported that because a child danced and sang on stage in front of gay men who threw money at him, he was stripping. The American Conservative compared it to Bacha bazi, "The practice of taking young boys to perform as dancers at private parties is known as bacha bazi (literally, "boy for play") and is an Afghan tradition with very deep roots... Their 'owners' or 'masters' can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery, as concubines." Several other publications, including Breitbart, have equated Desmond drag performances as that sexual exploitation of a child.
"Desmond did receive cash tips from the audience which we allow him to keep and he enjoys buying new clothes and toys with his tips (he is still a kid, after all)," Wendy told Out. But that is exactly who he is: a kid, who likes to have fun and express himself.
These arguments are dangerous; conservative media has associated Desmond's performance of drag with sexuality simply because he transgresses the binary and opts to express his femininity. Newsflash: gender identity and sexuality are not one and the same. Desmond's exploration and toying of gender is not a discovery of his sexual attractions, nor is it a tactic to invite the sexual desires of others. Drag, whether performed by an adult or a child, is simply a means of gender play and expression. It is not a sexual event. Their arguments also recklessly imply that the mere presence of gay men watching a child sing creates an atmosphere with sexual undertones. Yet men frequently watch male adults and children play sports. Is it only sexual when gay men take part? No -- it's all blatant homophobia and transphobia.
But aside from being rife with falsehoods, Desmond and his family are facing serious threats against their safety. They've been harassed while walking down the street, his mother told Out. Members of 4Chan, a community of anonymous forums, has doxed Desmond and his family, posting his personal information and address online. According to his mother, they've received several phone calls and death threats, and the family worries about their safety. Both the venue and the promoter of the event have received death threats, negative Yelp reviews, and a complaint to the New York State Liquor Authority. But the harassment hasn't ended there.
Desmond and his mother announced their intention to launch a website for kids who perform drag to create a community of connections, build a safe space, and provide tips and tricks for aspiring drag kids. While the website was still in development the very same websites that spun his drag performance are encouraging their readers to report Desmond's performance and profession to the ACS.
Wendy explains these articles "have caused us to have over 100 currently open cases of child abuse filed with ACS." They've even gone as far as to dub it a "dating site for children." Further development of the site is on hold while they deal with the mountains of ACS reports.
This persecution campaign by the alt-right is affecting Desmond both personally and professionally. It's discouraging to witness adults attempt to tarnish the life of a minor. Desmond is a professional performer with a manager and a Child Performer's Permit issued by the New York State Department of Labor. His performance was in compliance with labor laws for a minor. Wendy said Desmond was not allowed into the bar area -- only on stage and in the dressing room.
Who Desmond performs for -- whether men, women or nonbinary folks, gay, bi, straight or asexual -- doesn't matter. Drag is not inherently sexual. Conservative media has shadowed the art of drag and the work of Desmond with negativity, and forcing a family to endure threats to their safety. "People do not see the good he does," Wendy says, "for so many young people around the world."