11-year-old drag star Desmond is Amazing talks beginnings, pride, & social media fame

Image credit: weareflagrant.com

The alias Desmond is Amazing is an accurate representation of drag kid Desmond Napoles. Though only 11 years old, Desmond has cemented his place in drag, not only as a queen, but also as a model, speaker, designer, and LGBTQ+ advocate. He’s appeared in music videos, on the catwalk at NYFW, and in numerous magazines including Vogue and OUT. Behind Desmond’s on-the-rise career is his supportive mom Wendy, who acts as Desmond’s manager. I spoke to Desmond and Wendy in Brooklyn about the story behind Desmond is Amazing.

Lithium Magazine: How old were you when you began doing drag?
Desmond: I was about two years old when I started doing drag. Well actually, it’s kind of funny, because when I watched the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, my mom was watching it, and basically, I stopped playing with my toys and I started watching it. And that’s when it all started, because I thought they were so beautiful. I would take whatever I could get my hands on—towels, bed sheets, my mom’s heels, etc.
Wendy: Yes, you still steal those.
Desmond: No I don’t.
Wendy: (Laughs) You do.

Lithium: Is there a specific drag queen that stood out to you the most?
Desmond: I liked all of them.
Wendy: You really liked Tammy Brown from season one, but mostly you were focused on RuPaul, like me.


Lithium: Wendy, what was your response when Desmond said he wanted to do drag?
Wendy: It wasn’t a big deal to me because in my mind, when he was seeing the drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race, it seemed to me like he was seeing them more like you would see a Disney princess. They were over-the-top, colorful characters. The epitome of beauty, just like the princesses. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. All kids play dress-up. Some kids want to be pirates or astronauts or turtles or whatever. I just thought it was a normal part of dressing-up and childhood development, so I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until a year later when he only wanted to wear dresses and skirts and costume wigs going out of the house that I was like, what do you do? Then I went to a therapist and talked with him and he talked with Desmond. He said, “It might be a phase, it might not be a phase, but you’re not gonna know. Just let him do whatever—”
Desmond: Don’t discourage it, but don’t encourage it!
Wendy: “—Just let it happen naturally.” We did that and he just kept going on with the interest. It’s been his number one interest for a very long time. After a while, we realized it wasn’t a phase and it wasn’t hurting anybody. It was what he enjoyed doing.

Lithium: Can you describe the first time you performed in drag?
Wendy: It was Jinkx Monsoon’s music video.
Desmond: I don’t remember.
Wendy: When he was seven, wait, it was 2013. Let me see, he would’ve been still six. Yes, he was six years old and he was in Jinkx Monsoon’s music video for “The Bacon Shake.” 


Lithium: Where do you find the confidence to perform in drag? 
Desmond: I think it’s just my natural born talent.

Lithium: Do you ever get nervous when you perform?
Desmond: Never!
Wendy: You do right beforehand. You say “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” and then you go out there and as soon as you go out there you’re fine.

Lithium: What made you choose ‘Desmond is Amazing’ as your drag name? Desmond: I picked Desmond is Amazing as my drag name because after 2015, my mom’s friend...
Wendy: Ashley.
Desmond: Ashley. Now you tell your part.
Wendy: My friend Ashley created a Facebook fan page, and the reason was that if Desmond ever had any self-doubt, that he could look back at the page, and be like “Oh, I’m amazing.” She called it Desmond is Amazing, just as a kind of encouragement thing. People would leave him messages, and he’d post things. Somewhere along the way it just stuck. I can’t remember when you started going by Desmond is Amazing.

Lithium: How would you describe your drag style?
Desmond: I like looking avant-garde, club kid, and colorful.

Lithium: Who are your drag inspirations?
Desmond: My mom. And RuPaul. I met him at DragCon NYC.

Lithium: How did you celebrate Pride Month?
Desmond: I marched in the Pride March.
Wendy: You did a lot of stuff during Pride.
Desmond: Yeah, and it was mostly because you were the booking agent.
Wendy: I was. He spoke for the NYC Commission for Human Rights, he performed at an event for ACS—they have a Pride event at one of their foster homes. He performed at Upright Citizens Brigade, NYC Pride’s youth event, NYC Pride’s PrideFest, the Phluid Project, and he spoke at the Teen Vogue Summit.
Desmond: I went to Georgia.
Wendy: Yes, you went to Georgia to film.


Lithium: What made you want to share your drag on social media?
Desmond: This is more of a question for my mom, because it was after the Legacy Ball.
Wendy: Last year, early June, we were at the Legacy Ball at one of the Brooklyn Museum’s free Saturdays. He had walked in the Ball and he made it through the first round, and then was cut in the second. The next day he was picked up by the House of UltraOmni and started gaining some exposure from that, and people kept asking us “Why doesn’t he have an Instagram? Why doesn’t he have a Twitter? Why does he only have a Facebook? We want to see pictures!” So we thought, yeah, maybe we could put up an Instagram and have pictures on there.
Desmond: My first ever picture got 121 likes.
Wendy: Now it’s just shocking that within an hour his photos get a thousand likes. It’s very weird, but at the same time we’re grateful because we know those are people he’s reached out to and he’s inspiring. It’s a very a visual experience for them. And also for him. He’s sharing his art and his point of view. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, I guess.

Lithium: How do you cope with hate on social media from people who oppose you doing drag?
Wendy: When he first went viral in 2015, we got hate of course, but it wasn’t like the hate today. Today it’s gotten more violent.
Desmond: It’s more cruel.
Wendy: That’s the only thing I can think of that’s changed. Because we have a president now that is verbally racist and homophobic and says hateful things all day long, I think people think that if our leader can do it, we can do it, and besides, we’re anonymous on the internet. So they’ve gotten a lot more violent and sometimes that scares me.
Desmond: Why?
Wendy: Sometimes we’re in public and I wonder, if people recognize me, are they going to confront me? Because they’re making such bold statements. And you just don’t know. But I go through a couple times a day and check everything and report, block, delete. 


Lithium: Do you have any upcoming appearances or shows our followers can look out for?
Wendy: No, not at this time. We’re kind of taking a break for a couple weeks here.
Desmond: Oh nooo.
Wendy: For summer! Don’t you want to kick back and go to the beach? Relax before you have to go back to school?

Lithium: Do you have any final advice for kids looking to do drag, or simply individuals who want to be more confident with their own identity?
Desmond: I would tell other kids to be themselves always no matter what anyone says and to pay the haters no mind.

You can see more of Desmond on his Instagram, YouTube, and website.

YouTube personality and social media star Amy Lee talks role models and remaining authentic

All images via Instagram.

Amy Lee is the driving force behind Vagabond Youth, a YouTube channel dedicated to creating fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content. At 24, Lee has amassed over 310,000 subscribers and 130,000 Instagram followers—all drawn to her refreshingly unique style and personality.
Her Instagram bio says that she “creates online video for the sartorially curious”—but Lee’s impressive endeavors have expanded far beyond video and the sartorial. In addition to clothing hauls and outfit-of-the-week lookbooks, Lee offers her viewers a more intimate glimpse into her life with travel vlogs and her popular podcast, “The AM with Amy.”
A born-and-bred California girl and UCLA graduate, Amy Lee currently resides in Downtown LA, where she continues to create weekly content. I caught up with her to discuss everything from her Korean-American identity to her way of remaining authentic in a digital era.

Your YouTube videos have collectively garnered over 21 million views, and you've got an impressive Instagram fanbase--all this at the age of 24! How does it feel to be so successful at a young age? Were there difficulties you encountered to get where you are now, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Well, thank you! That's so sweet. I think the biggest difficulty is constantly reinventing yourself or learning how to stay relevant. I've been on YouTube for about six years and the space is changing so quickly, and I'm not always sure it's for the better. It always gets harder to stay relevant with the advent of viral clickbait videos and how the algorithm just favors that type of content now. I think the best way I overcome these types of struggles is to know where my principles are, but to also give into the wave of trends. It's about making content that is authentic, but still engaging and fun.

Your YouTube presence has grown so much from when you first started six years ago. Looking back through the years, what's something you wish you could have told the younger you who was just starting out--advice, warnings, reassurance, general tips?
I think the biggest thing is to stop following convention. I went to school at UCLA and did YouTube all the while, but the entire time my eyes were so set on working a corporate job and doing something with my degree. I really neglected YouTube during my second and third year, because I never thought I wanted to become a YouTuber. But through my conventional internships and by participating in a lot of campus clubs and activities, I realized my senior year that YouTube was my dream job! I feel like I wasted a lot of my college years putting it on the back burner. I would just tell myself to stay consistent and to stray a little from the norm.

I'm Asian-American as well, and I really love your content where you speak about your experiences as a woman of color--your hooded monolid tutorial and 'Growing Up Asian-American' video, for instance. It's really awesome to see someone embrace their identity. Do you have any words of advice for other young Asian-Am women dealing with some of the issues you touched on in your "Growing Up" video--meeting people in the dating scene who've got yellow fever, struggling under model minority pressure, etc.?
Thank you so much! That really means a lot. I think my biggest piece of advice is: if you don't have any role models, be your own. I think growing up, I always had a lot of stereotypical "role models" like Hilary Duff or Britney Spears. But now I'm at an age where I find myself not having any role models in traditional media OR on the digital landscape. For the longest time, even as a creator, I was just trying to fit myself into the boxes that were already made for me (fashion YouTuber/Asian YouTuber/etc.), copying a lot of other people’s content, even. I really struggled with finding creators and TRYING to be like creators who were vocal about social justice issues, Asian-American visibility, body positivity--the topics that really mattered to me. So one day, I was just like, "eff it. YOU be that creator then." I really look up to black creatives Donald Glover and Issa Rae for paving the way for a niche community and creating their own boxes. I aim to be like that, but for my community. Just be your own role model. Be what you see is lacking in the world.

I admire how 'real' you are in all your videos. For example, you've talked about your experiences with online dating, birth control implants, and overcoming failure. It can be difficult with social media to remain honest and almost vulnerable with your audience, especially when such sites as Instagram emphasize only showing the best parts of your life. Do you ever feel pressure to maintain a curated image? How do you balance that with staying honest and real?
Personally, the only curated image I find a littttleee hard to maintain is my fashion persona. It's super serious, edgy, and not that much goof--but anyone who knows me knows I'm a 1000% goofball. That's the only image I find a bit hard to maintain only because I have so many hilarious outtakes of me being incredibly goofy. Other than that, I think the content I put out is very much so in alignment with me and off-camera me. I'm just as, if not more, honest in real life with those very same topics.

You're very versatile, creating content from makeup tutorials, outfit lookbooks, and morning routine videos to podcasts and personal vlogs. Out of all the content that you've created, what have been your favorite videos to make?
I'm such a clothing lover--I think lookbooks will always be my favorite videos to make. Clothes is definitely how I choose to express myself the most so I find the most joy in sharing that content! The AM with Amy is also another series of mine I love to make, because it comes from the soul.

I love keeping up with your travels on Instagram! What have been your favorite spots you've been to this year?
Definitely Vietnam and Thailand! Those have been top two on my travel list since I was young. I want to go back to both!

What's been on your radar lately? Music, books, makeup products, clothes? Music: been loving Clairo (4EVER, Flaming Hot Cheetos). Books: been trying to get into Malcolm Gladwell! And clothes: IAMGIA for sure.

What are you looking forward to right now? What are your latest projects that you're excited about?
I just moved to Downtown Los Angeles, so I'm just really excited for the change of pace and all the new content I'm now inspired to make!

We’re so excited, too! You can follow what Amy’s up to on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Zodiac of One

There Is More
Remember, remember, remember.
There. Is. More.

Am I a body with a soul or a soul with a body?

I've sought for the answers outside of myself
But I should've warned her
You'll keep searching endlessly, baby
Onto a boundless abyss
You'll get lost in the desert of the ego
Arrive at the valley of emptiness
Only to realize:
The truths we seek are within.

There. Is. More.
Settle not for this, baby
For this is only the experience
A third-dimensional projection.
Release what society has conditioned in you
That you are miniscule, microscopic
Forbid others to tell you what you are
Remember we are all fragments of the universe.

There. Is. More.
If one singular atom
A particle so infinitesimal, invisible
Through self-manipulation
Bears the ability to generate a flow of ripple effects
Charging the others
Evolving into the planets and stars
Can you imagine, baby?
Imagine how powerful you really are.

There. Is. More.
The ego tells you otherwise
Me, mine, and I
It traps you around an illusion
Entrancing you in an artificial mask
But this is a facade.

There. Is. More.
We leave Mother Earth with nothing
No material possessions
But you’ve left with your experiences, baby!
Your impact on others
Your legacy lives in the memories
The energy you have shared
The love you have radiated.

There. Is. More.
Fish cannot sense the ocean
But they trust it is there
The unseen cannot always be detected
Doubting this.
You'll be afraid of death
Because you don't know how to live
But death is a new beginning
For we are all connected, baby
Transcend beyond this mask
Dive beyond the trenches of your subconscious
You are a fragment of the universe
You are god yourself.

I am not a body with a soul but a soul with a body.

Solar Kisses
Is there a better feeling than staying up all night
To begin to hear the birds chanting outside
For these solar flares emit a certain energy
But I tell the sunlight to send them to me
For the canaries are chirping outside
They always visualize the sunrise
For they cry to celebrate this high
Eloping their spirit and enjoying the ride
Does the sun kiss them on their cheeks?
For they do not possess a perception of time
And they are gentle in their squeaks
For they will keep singing as a formless meditation
Because the sun kisses them on the inside
Being one with nature
For they know she is genuine
As humans, we can learn from them
To hold on to this treasure
And finally appreciate her
Rejoice like the robins
For the sun emits lush kisses
Because your grace is something she misses
Now I fly freely like a bird
For my soul can be finally be heard
Nature’s love has transformed the earth.

You say you love yourself, but loving is easy
So you bury a new excuse every week as to why you won't kiss me
As time slowly bleeds,
You now have pushed me onto a continuous stream
Or did you plan this all along because of your subconscious belief?
That you are not deserving
But you are ever earning and this is killing my nerves and

When I first revealed the true feelings from mines to you felt within my being
Your soul began to see again and
Honesty had washed your tender heart away
For you do not like to communicate
And I cannot help but contemplate
How much longer must I wait and
If I am your most favorite game
Because I cannot recall asking you to marry
And keeping me on edge will not magnetize an Aries

You have started the fire and
Your higher self despises liars
But, baby, I am a riptide and a flame
And we can learn to stop carving the blame
Teach each other to be balanced and tame
For I only entrusted you with a petite part
Of my flaming, maroon heart
I only gave you a sliver and
I am not usually a giver
I did not ask it to be all seized away
Yet now I wait for a few days
Trusting she will be okay
For she knows we will not stay
Like water, my red fluid knows a change of pace
For all she needs is to take a moment to be outside of the head
Realize she is also flesh and blood, not just an infrared and
Relax my love, learn to let go
As this will ensure our essential life flow
To remember you are not your ego and
I will grow another heart today
Because I know how to make them regenerate
You produce more love than what you once gave
For I am an everlasting free soul, babe.

Heart Eyes

This is a small collection of 35mm film photos taken around the world over the past few months. 

The first two images, I created designs with pearls and shot with Lucinda. I was able to capture how diverse the material can be when used in nontraditional ways. I shot the third image of Alex in my backyard just before sunset. I wanted to test a new technique with soft focusing to shoot him in a natural state. The fourth image is of Irie, my beautiful friend I met online. We bonded over months of talking and I was fortunate enough to fly over to America and spend a week with her. I am so thankful to know her and to have shot her. The fifth and sixth images are of Umi, a very talented artist I discovered from a suggested playlist. I was lucky to get into contact with her and shoot freely in a field in Los Angeles. 

By Georgia Seizis

The Birth of the Muse

Based on Greek mythology and the Greek god of sun, Apollo.

The project itself is what I called “the infinite hunt for perfection," something that a certain god called Narcissus knows very well. We used the image of the Greek god of sun as inspiration, since he has a beardless, youthful, and athletic appearance. We wanted to represent something that was pure and bright. We also used the nine muses as a representation of femininity and art.

When I start to work with my models, I tell them that no matter what concept they have of themselves, in that moment, when they are in front of my camera, they are the most beautiful being that they can be. I ask them to be themselves, to find inspiration on their personal journeymaybe something they want to tell, or how they want the world to see them.

Creating with this person is one of the greatest joys I have ever had in my life; this was probably our third photoshoot. The story about my best friend (the model) is probably one of the weirdest things that happened last year. He always wanted to be a model, but he also wanted to create with his drawings and portraits. Ever since we met, we have been sharing this amazing bond of creativity and learning from one another. He became my biggest inspiration, but also, one of my muses.

By Ellie Noctis

Why I Didn't Write Any Poems in the Mental Hospital

it didn’t feel right -
writing poetry in markers
i can only use pen;
markers lay the words down
too softly
when the emotions are
too harsh

By Faith Chandler
Visual by Chloe Taal

Take Up Space

My name is Son Taylor, and I am a Baltimore based film photographer. This photo series “Take Up Space” has been an ongoing project I have been working on. It is a series on 35mm film that exclusively celebrates and highlights the beauty of women of color. I created this series in order to empower and inspire all women of color. As someone who is a queer Korean-American woman, I am driven to create art that speaks to what I wish to see in the world. This photo series came out of a lack of representation of women of color. I hope my photography can help normalize seeing women of color as models, and destroy the idea that white is the default. Social media and advertisements send thousands of unconscious messages to us every day about beauty and femininity, and someone may not even notice that their entire Instagram feed is exclusively photos of white women or a company only uses white models because that is what this industry has always emphasized. I made this series in order to let women of color take up space that is rightfully theirs. 

By Son Taylor

Black and Beautiful

The other night I nearly made out with a white boy. I know, right? Wild. But I couldn't help but think to myself, Wow, this white boy is genuinely flirting with me? That's so strange. There were lots of white girls at this party and then there was me, a small black girl drinking lemonade in the corner. My head was going dizzy with thoughts as to why he was touching my thighs or putting his arm around my waist or kissing my cheek, but then it hit me. I've spent around fifteen years hating myself, my skin colour, my hair, my culture, and God herself for making me black, and all that internalised hatred from the ages of six to fifteen hadn't fully left my seventeen-year-old mind. I revert to those thoughts of worthlessness in the eyes of white folk. 

But where did my “black is whack” ideology come from? I was born in Ireland and surrounded by white, white, and white. All I ever knew was white, and sure, there were other black people in my class, but TV and films had taught me that only white people were capable of being doctors, lawyers, ballerinas, and astronauts—which led me to believe that they were the only ones capable of being successful. I thought if I could copy what my white friends did, how they acted, and what they ate, my skin colour would be ignored and I would be seen as successful and cool just like them. It got to the point when I was eleven or twelve where my blackness was questioned by my white peers:“Are you even black? How could you not like chicken? I'm white and I'm blacker than you!” and the one I loved the most: “I don't even see you as a black person; I see you as a white person.” Now that I think about it, those comments fill me with rage, but then, those comments were like Christmas had come early to me. Back then, I was finally being seen as the person I wanted to be: white. 

A year or two passed and my self-hatred was in full force. I even went the extra mile to state to a white boy who said the n-word that, and I quote, “I'm not that type of black person; I don't care if you say it." I wasn’t really aware of what the n-word meant, and I personally had never used that word before in my short life. But when I heard it being used, it was by both white and black people, so I saw no issue in the word being used by non-black people (one of my many mistakes). 

It was when I was 15 that my opinion on myself and my blackness changed. I was never really taught about the struggles black people faced and still face in school. I was aware of who Martin Luther King Jr. was, but it was a short half-an-hour lesson about his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and the rest was a blur. So I was scarcely unaware of black history until I decided to educate myself due to the power of Twitter. Around 2014, feminism was a topic on everybody's lips; I had a rough overview of what feminism was, but I didn't fully comprehend it. I decided to do my own research on the history of feminism, and l was absolutely fascinated by its ideology and the several movements, but what most interested me was the complexity of intersectional feminism. Yes, feminism is to benefit women, but intersectional feminism acknowledges that women of colour, women with disabilities, and women who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are treated differently and unfairly compared to women with particular racial and economic privileges. This newfound knowledge didn't sit right with me. I didn't understand why there was so much unfairness in the world, so my reaction to this was wet, damp, and snotty. I cried and cried and cried, and then I cried some more. Feminism is a movement that fights for these women to be heard when the whole world is screaming over them, and in some cases, that's how I felt at the tender ages of six to fifteen. I felt as if the whole world was screaming over me telling me—rather directly—that black is wrong and white is right.

I no longer chose to believe in this narrative. I wanted to love my blackness and love my heritage, and with the help of Twitter, I learned more about myself and the person I wanted to become. Feminism on Twitter introduced me to what I never knew and later on decided to explore. My understanding of certain topics grew along with my own level of anger. I was angry because of the lack of representation or negative representation of people of colour in TV and films; I was angry because black people in America—young and old—are still being unmercifully killed by the police for being black; I was angry about unequal pay for women and how women of colour get paid statistically and significantly less than both white women and men in general; I was angry that the LGBTQ+ community was still being targeted. I was just so fucking angry at everything and everyone, but I decided to use that anger and share this information. I didn't want black girls to feel the way I once did about myself; I wanted them to love themselves unconditionally and know about their culture and love their culture, the way I now love my own. 

So, my best friends and I did assemblies in school about the importance of intersectional feminism as I knew a lot of my peers believed feminism was solely about hating men, when in fact feminism and men hating are two separate things. As the legend Zara Larsson once said, “I personally support both,” and I must agree with her. These assemblies resulted in a lot of discussions, a majority of them being negative, and those negative comments came from the boys in my year saying, “Women have so many opportunities in this country, yet they complain they need feminism,” or the fan favourite comment, “If women need feminism, we need meninism.” Even with these mixed fan reviews on our assemblies, we didn't slow down. We did more assemblies, and we planned on creating a girls’ group in school to talk about sexuality, race, prejudice, and the current social climate. As exams came, our plans ended, but our passion for activism didn't. 

Feminism helped me realise I am beautiful, and I'm so thankful for that. Feminism helped me realise that I was not alone in my feelings of hatred towards myself and my skin colour. Countless other black girls felt the same way growing up and have now grown to understand that their skin colour does not make them ugly; it makes them as beautiful as the sun and as daring as the moon. Feminism made me realise that nothing will stop black women, because we're strong as hell even when the world is beating us down. Even with this revelation and my somewhat educated mind, I still get moments of doubt, because as a human, I'm inevitably flawed, and those years of self-hatred are still somewhat there in the back of my mind. But I never allow those moments of doubt to be anything other than just that—moments of doubt. I know now that those thoughts are false and nothing will ever make them true, nothing. I made a promise to myself at the age of 15, that being black and beautiful would no longer be a shocking revelation to young black girls or boys, and I would do my best to bring awareness to our beauty through art and activism. Amandla Stenberg said it best: "My blackness does not inhibit me from being beautiful and intelligent. In fact, it is the reason I am beautiful and intelligent. And you cannot stop me." 

By Halima Jibril
Visual by Halima Jibril