You may perhaps have heard about the preteen drag performer who goes by the name “Desmond Is Amazing.” Desmond Napoles is an online sensation who’s appeared on “Good Morning America” and has become a cause célèbre among the LGBT community.
In January, a bit of a cultural scuffle happened that may have gone under the radar.
Desmond, who is managed by his parents, appeared in December, at the age of 11, at the 3 Dollar Bill, a New York City establishment that is either a “gay bar” (the description used by The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher) or “a queer, multifunctional performance space” (Out’s Devin-Norielle).
Desmond, after his performance, was tipped by members of the audience, leading commentators like Dreher to say it was “a manifestation of pedophilia, straight up.”
Devin-Norielle blamed Dreher — and all of perfidious “conservative media” — for “unleash[ing] 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.”
“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,” Devin-Norielle wrote. “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.”
Just to be clear, this is the performance we’re talking about. (Warning: Some people, many people, might find it disturbing.)
Fast forward to June, and Desmond’s mother — who, again, helps manage the child’s career — is now outraged that her son’s performance “invite[d] the sexual desires of others.”
I warn readers that we’re going to get into some rather disturbing territory here. I’d just as soon not report on it and I think most individuals would just as soon not read what’s been said about Desmond. That being said, there’s a reason why we need to examine this.
Tom O’Carroll is a British pedophile rights campaigner who has been convicted of distributing child pornography on a massive scale. In a May blog post for his WordPress site — which is openly and proudly pro-pedophile — O’Carrol declares that “Desmond is truly amazing — and hot!”
“Just check out this introductory video on YouTube. No wonder 11-year-old Desmond Napoles and other kids daringly diving into drag culture right now have provoked right-wing reactionaries into paroxysms of moral outrage,” O’Carroll writes.
“Let’s face it, when a pretty young boy tells the world he is gay and dances sensuously in front of grown men, wearing vampish dresses and makeup; when ‘she’ strips off items of clothing or goes on stage scantily clad right from the off; when dollar bills are accepted as ‘tips’ from an audience apparently wild with excitement; when all this is going on we are getting far more than just a celebration of gender diversity or an innocent display of precocious performance talent.
“And that’s great,” O’Carroll continues. “It is wonderful that a rare niche has been found in the modern, developed world within which at least a few kids can truly be themselves, in ways that deny neither their gender feelings nor their sexuality. Being a drag queen, or a drag princess if you will, puts it right out there, in the open for all to see. It says, loud and proud, ‘I am a sexy kid, with sexy feelings. It’s totally cool for grown-ups to get turned on by me. I love it. That’s why I do this stuff. It’s great. It’s fun. It’s me!’”
Desmond’s mother, Wendy Napoles, was predictably infuriated over O’Carroll’s vomit-inducing panegyric about her son and another child performer billed as “Queen Lactatia.”
“This is extremely disturbing. Convicted pedophile Tom O’Carroll has written a blog post stating that Desmond is hot & feels sexy performing. He also sexualizes fellow drag kid Queen Lactatia. We do not approve of his statements & have written to @wordpressdotcom several times but they have yet to remove it. It is highly inappropriate to speak of minors in this manner,” she wrote in an Instagram post this week.
This is obviously unsurprising; any parent who heard this sort of thing said about their child would almost certainly react this way, and I certainly don’t believe Wendy Napoles is any different.
What was interesting was the second paragraph of the post, in which she promptly turns her ire on conservatives who might somehow disapprove of an 11-year-old public drag performer.
“I want to address some of his points. First, the Conservative press is currently accusing us of purposely attracting pedophiles & accusing the LGBTQ community of supporting this. What Tom O’Carroll has said is out of our control & we do not know him or associate with him or any other pedophiles or sex offenders. I think if a pedophile wants to act on their urges, NO child is safe,” she wrote.
So, let’s be clear: I don’t believe Desmond’s parents are “purposely attracting pedophiles” nor am I “accusing the LGBTQ community of supporting this.” I believe that both entities, however, are blinded to the dangers faced by an 11-year-old drag performer who has been given enormous amounts of publicity.
Let’s assume that the 3 Dollar Bill is indeed “a queer, multifunctional performance space” as Devin-Norielle claims and not a “gay bar” as Dreher says.
(I’m not particularly sure that the difference isn’t semantic, given that “a queer, multifunctional performance space” that serves alcohol could more or less be construed as a “gay bar.” But I haven’t been to the 3 Dollar Bill and don’t plan on making a voyage anytime soon, so I’m not in a place to judge.)
Putting your child in such a position, where he’s being tipped for performing in drag, may not necessarily be willfully sexualizing him. It is, however, being willfully ignorant of pedophiles who will sexualize him. That’s a difference supporters of Desmond (and, by extension, Desmond’s parents) fail to appreciate.
The neat conclusions of Devin-Norielle and other LGBT activists — that there’s no possible case to be made for the sexualization of underage drag performers like Desmond and that anyone who says so is a far-right bigot — ignores the existence of predatory individuals like O’Carroll.
Furthermore, it ignores the fact that this is an 11-year-old drag performer being managed by those who gave him life, which is a moral conflict of interest if there ever was one.
I can grant that taking on a drag persona, or personae, might be Desmond’s own idea, but we’re venturing into profoundly uncharted psychological territory when he’s shoved out in front of the cameras by (let’s be honest here) stage parents.
I don’t necessarily know that the odds favor Desmond Napoles growing out of drag performance. There isn’t a whole lot of quality research on young individuals who practice drag as opposed to being transgender and their level of gender dysphoria. What we do know is that a majority of young people who have gender dysphoria, at least according to current science, grow out of it by adolescence.
But let’s not make suppositions here. Assume that Desmond Napoles, now 12, remains an LGBT individual who still practices drag as an adult. Will he be comfortable with these youthful performances? Will he be comfortable with the fact that he attracted the attention of degenerates like Tom O’Carroll? Will he think that his parents should have, perhaps, done a better job of not exposing him to depraved individuals like O’Carroll at a young age?
I’m not trying to lead you to a conclusion as to these questions. That’s because these are questions we haven’t scientifically answered yet because we shouldn’t have to answer them. Now, without much study on the subject, children like Desmond are being publicized by their parents, not just as drag performers but as guinea pigs.
Will we look back on this in a decade, or two, or three, and feel good about the fact that we were, for the most part, accepting of this in the most uncritical light?
But maybe I’m just being a reactionary here. O’Carroll certainly thinks so.
“Panicky conservatives, needless to say, spin [Desmond’s sexual nature] differently, desperate as they are to pretend that kids have no erotic dimension, or at least none that is self-generated,” he wrote. “In their telling, performances such as Desmond’s … are a travesty in the worst sense: these are kids, they claim, who are being ‘sexualised’ by exploitative adults hell bent on corrupting their supposed natural innocence.”
Not that Tom O’Carroll would know about being one of those “exploitative adults” or anything.
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