Culture

‘Desmond Is Amazing’ Needs Saving

Desmond Napoles in New York City, March 7, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
An eleven-year-old drag performer should inspire fierce protest.

It so happens that the issue that launched the recent fracas on the American Right is in my own dispiriting beat: the effects of gender-identity policies on children. Disputes about “strategy” aside, conservatives can all agree that a culture that permits the sexualization and sterilization of children’s bodies is a rotten one. As I’ve written before, there are plenty of people on the left who think so too.

Take the case of “Desmond is Amazing,” the toxic brand created for eleven-year-old Desmond Napoles: a “drag kid,” a fashion model, and a global LGBT icon. A drag kid, much the same as a drag queen, presents himself as a sexualized caricature of a woman, dressing in bright wigs, flamboyant gowns, high heels, exaggerated makeup, etc. If I were a feminist, I might suspect latent misogyny and find the entire practice odious, but, at any rate, I draw the line at children.

Desmond’s parents draw no such line. Instead, his mother, Wendylou Napoles, justifies “Desmond is Amazing” by insisting, first, that his performances are age-appropriate (we aren’t sexualizing him) and, second, that this is all his idea (we are so supportive).

The facts, however, do not support this account.

In December 2018, Desmond, imitating Gwen Stefani, performed at a Brooklyn gay bar in a wig and crop-top as hooting adult men threw dollar bills. When outraged critics descended, Wendylou accused them of “blatant homophobia.” Her story, well-rehearsed by this point, is that, at the age of two, Desmond was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with her when he conceived a pre-verbal thought that “the drag queens were so beautiful and amazing” and “I want to do that!”

Wendylou, a former human-resources manager, then began taking her son — who, according to his parents, is on the autism spectrum — to pride marches when he was four years old. This was because, in addition to her discovery of his interest in drag, she had “known for a long time” that he was gay.

For a long time. (Desmond says he “came out as gay” when he was born.)

Here I recall the babble of Diane Ehrensaft, the developmental psychologist and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center clinic in San Francisco, who maintains that female toddlers can send a “gender message” by tearing bows out of their hair and saying things such as “I. Boy.” And I recall, more seriously, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP): the mental-health disorder created when a caregiver invents a condition in the person he cares for and subsequently distorts, manipulates, or engineers the appearance of symptoms. MSBP is considered a form of child abuse.

Desmond’s new career obviously keeps his mom very busy. She calls herself his “dragager” and runs his Instagram account, which has more than 150,000 followers. She also oversees his busy schedule of media appearances. Sometimes Desmond appears in home videos along with famous figures in adult drag culture. Such figures include Bella Noche, whom Desmond conducted a Facebook livestream with, in which Desmond referenced ketamine and imitated snorting it. Desmond recently told HuffPost that the Club Kids of the early 1990s were his inspiration, making clear to emphasize that he was talking about “their fashion and makeup” and “not the bad things.”

Presumably these “bad things” include the behavior of Michael Alig, a Club Kid and a friend of Desmond’s, who served 17 years in prison for beating his drug dealer to death, soaking his body in acidic liquids for over a week, dismembering the corpse, and dumping it in the Hudson.

When Desmond appeared on Alig’s YouTube channel, along with Alig’s former roommate Ernie Glam, he sat in front of a painting of a girl with the word “Rophypnol” (the date-rape drug) scrawled across it. But judging from Alig’s recent artwork — I am thinking of one painting in particular that combines the artist’s semen with an image of Hitler’s face — he has had no such conversion. In any case: Where did a child born in 2007 get such a love for 1990s club culture?

It’s not just his mother’s influence. Desmond’s dad is on board. As is his progressive Brooklyn school. As are the hosts of Good Morning America, Today, and BBC Minute, as well as countless others who consider it important to celebrate Desmond’s “individuality.” Desmond, we are told, is “the future.” And what a brave new world it is!

Drag Queen Story Hours are now happening in schools and libraries across the United States. In the United Kingdom, Munroe Bergdorf, a male-to-female transgender activist who has modeled for Playboy and who pushes radical gender-identity policies for children at every opportunity, became the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s first LGBT+ campaigner.

Last year Bergdorf conducted a celebratory interview with “Desmond is Amazing.” Afterward, the lesbian activist Julia Long attended a meeting and asked Bergdorf a question about Desmond’s safety. Long mentioned his connection with Alig and his performances for adult men. She said: “I wondered what you thought about this normalization of child abuse?” Long was then booed and made to leave the event.

Janice Turner, a columnist for the Times of London who is also on the left, similarly wrote on Twitter: “Hey @NSPCC can you please explain why a children’s safeguarding charity has hired a porn model as a Childline ambassador? It’s an astonishing decision. Is it worth the cancelled direct debits?”

Thankfully, the charity has bowed to such pressure and since cut all ties with Bergdorf.

I will conclude with two final points:

1. Gender-identity ideology should not be underestimated. It is not a fringe issue. It is a well-funded and mobilized attempt to sanitize the exploitation and sexualization of children vis-à-vis “gender.” Gender demagogues mask the ideology’s relationship to sex and sexuality, using the LGBT umbrella as a political and personal shield.

2. There is more political consensus against this than many on the right realize — and we must use that. There are two interconnected ways of winning a culture war. Legally: launching an uncompromising, all-or-nothing attack in the political arena. And culturally: inspiring ordinary people to care and to fight. Traditionally, the Left has been better at both than the Right has.

While the “common good” — in this case, child welfare — has been abandoned by the Democratic party, by the editorial pages of the New York Times, by teachers and school boards across the country — a concern for it is found in the Times’s own comment section and among parents on both the right and the left. If we dismantle the euphemisms — sharing the facts far and wide — we may just find that enough people will fiercely protest.   

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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