With the coy poise of a young Miranda Priestly, 11-year-old Desmond Napoles walks into the COOLS office with his father Andrew following close behind. He sits across from me, a sleeve of Ritz crackers in hand at all times, enamored by the pigeons outside the window behind me. Unlike his usual eccentric get-ups for his drag alter-ego, Desmond is Amazing, his attire is what you’d expect from your average pre-teen: jeans, a graphic tee, and a fresh face paired with a thick streak of green in his hair.
But, he is much, much more than your average tween—and Desmond knows that. Being one of the youngest drag stars of all time (which has led him to the runway for The Blonds and Gypsy Sport, as well as campaigns for brands like SPKTRM Beauty and Converse), you can’t help but acknowledge the fact that you are far from the usual.
“I’m not a normal kid. I’m different, I’m a queen,” Desmond says, embodying the confidence and grace that would make Naomi Campbell nod in approval.
But, Desmond is far from the classic “child star diva:” he exudes confidence and intelligence, not an arrogant sense of cockiness. Unlike his peers, he’s knowledgeable in the dark underbelly of the fashion world, noting that he only shops at the pro-LGBTQ+ Brooklyn vintage shop Out Of The Closet. “I don’t like brands like H&M, because they make people work all day for little to no pay—like one cent a day,” he says. “They can’t afford anything, and sometimes they can’t take care of their kids because they’re not paid enough.”
He’s built a reputation for not only being one of the youngest drag queens in the world, but for being one of the most woke. While other 11 year olds are stressed over their summer reading lists, Desmond is writing a book—no, not an overplayed, obligatory celeb “tell all” memoir, but an in-depth historical collection of the LGBTQ+ community, and his perspective on the future of the community. As other kids get excited for summer vacation, Desmond is preparing for a lengthy PRIDE month ahead: on top of creating the first-ever youth drag house, House of Amazing, he’s acting as Grand Marshall to Brooklyn PRIDE, and has a few “under wraps” projects coming out, all while trying to finish his school year.
“It’s busy, but everyone at my school is mostly supportive,” he says. “There are some bullies, but I don’t pay them no mind.”
While schoolyard bullies don’t get the best of Desmond, there’s another group of vicious creatures haunting his every move: the online community. With thousands of “concerned adults” trolling him and his parents daily, some going as far as reporting his parents to Child Services solely because they don’t agree with the way Desmond lives his life, and the support his parents give him to do so. In the virtual world of glass touchscreens and easy access to keyboards, we tend to forget that celebrities are people too, and the “sticks and stones” mantra can only deflect so much—especially when you’re at the pivotal age of 11, a time when any comment can truly feel like a punch in the gut. The constant flack he gets has made him question the very stages that have propelled him to the intense fame he has:
“[I love to perform] wherever I have a stage…but I got a lot of hate from my last performance,” he laments.
“So what? That doesn’t mean you can’t go on stage ever again,” his father, Andrew, says—words of encouragement that can only mean so much when you feel like the world is attacking you.
“Yeah, I know. Haters can’t get me down.” He means what he says, but there’s a tiredness in his voice—understandable, considering the fact that people from around the globe virtually harass him and his family every day.
Although the life of a tween drag star comes with its complications, Desmond shows no signs of slowing down. “Oh yeah, I’m going to do drag for the rest of my life,” he exclaims. “It’s gonna be fun, whoo!”
Before he even started drag, Andrew states that he knew his child was a young phenomenon unlike any other. “When he was born, we took a photo of him: I’m holding him, literally five minutes into the world, and he’s just naturally posed for the photo—he was genuinely born for this,” his dad proudly says. “Desmond’s mother had an uncle who she was very close to that did drag in San Francisco. He passed away in the early ’90’s from the AIDS epidemic, but his influence has always been there… Somehow, this one [Desmond] figured it out, snuck in and ambushed us. He was prepared for this before we even knew it. Somebody just had to get into the scene…and look fabulous doing so.”
But, that doesn’t mean drag is the only passion project Desmond has in his life. While others in his position would venture into adjacent industries as they ascend into their adolescent years—fashion, beauty, music, or all of the above—Desmond has one hobby that he sees himself exploring for the rest of his life: birds.
“I want to study birds… because they’re cute and fluffy,” he says.
Once the idea of birds embeds in his mind, there is nothing else he can think about. A future as a drag-loving ornithologist is clearly an option for Desmond, but for now, the show must go on… at least until he gets to feed his flying friends at Washington Square Park.
“Can we go to the park after this? I want to feed the birds.”