PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) -- When somebody wanted to escape from the normal, day-to-day routine in England during the 17th century, they would often go see a Shakespearian play. However, women at the time had no personal freedom or social status outside of their association with their husbands or fathers.
If an individual went to see "Romeo and Juliet" they would see the 14-year-old Juliet played by a man. He would be dressed to the nines, complete with a full face of make-up, heeled shoes, a corset and a curly brown wig. This was the first non-conventional version of a drag queen.
A drag queen is defined as a person who dresses in non-gender conforming clothing, and often acts with exaggerated femininity and in feminine gender roles to entertain an audience. Most often this is a character the performer creates to express their creative individuality. There are many styles a drag queen may personify, from those that exhibit androgynous or masculine features, to those that exhibit the most feminine features, and almost everything in between.
Much like a drag queen, diversity in the military has many faces, and comes in many forms. Yeoman 3rd Class Joshua Kelley has diversity practically running through his veins. By day, he's Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115's administrative supervisor, and by night, he's pageant-queen Harpy Daniels, Miss Gay Harrisburg America 2015.
Kelley's decision to join the Navy was highly inspired by his father, although he had been pursuing a career in drag when he joined.
"My father retired from the Navy as a senior chief Navy counselor after 24 years," said Kelley. "He often told me of the benefits and experiences he gained because of enlisting. Drag was too costly of a road to go down at the time because I had college loans and living expenses to overcome. Knowing the benefits of enlisting, I would be able to gain a more comfortable lifestyle to support myself and my future in drag."
Kelley has been determined to reach that comfortable lifestyle by dedicating himself to professionalism as a Sailor. In his first year in the Navy, he renewed VFA 115's Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD) as president, was voted into the position of squadron public affairs officer for the USS Ronald Reagan Gay, Lesbian and Supporting Sailors (GLASS) association, became VFA 115's Blue Jacket of the Year, and received his first Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
"Kelley has performed his demanding duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner and demonstrated tremendous initiative and attention to detail," wrote Cmdr. Samuel Gray, former commanding officer of VFA 115. "He was instrumental in his administrative duties and he reinvigorated CSADD program participation, creating social and volunteer opportunities for junior Sailors. His extraordinary effort and unfailing perseverance inspired all who observed him and resulted in his selection as Blue Jacket of the Year."
Kelley's hard work, determination and attention to detail is rivaled only by the dedication he has to his drag life, which started more than five years ago, after watching a popular reality television show starring drag queens competing for a crown.
"RuPaul's Drag Race inspired me to start doing drag when I was 16 years old," said Kelley. "I never knew a man could embrace his femininity in a creative and entertaining way like that and I knew it's what I wanted to do. Doing drag allows me to embrace my feminine side and allows me to bring my diversity and creativity out. When I put on a face, it's a face of art and creativity, not just a face of make-up. To hear people cheer, laugh or cry, or even join in with you during a performance is an absolute thrill. The best thing about it is that it allows me to inspire others by just being who I am today."
When a queen first starts out in the drag world it can be tough to not have a support system in the community. Therefore "drag families" can be important. A drag family is a giant mentorship, where those involved have the same passion for drag, which leads them to a big support system. It's an honor for some drag queens to be accepted into one of these families. Kelley's drag queen persona of Harpy was accepted into a family of her own.
"Harpy had a spark within her," said Tequila Daniels, mother of the Daniels' drag family and a fluid queen with more than 19 years of experience. "She was able to grab an audience's attention and hold it, which is not as easy as some may think. Watching her be able to read her audience's reactions and still be able to give an award-winning performance is when I knew that she was definitely someone I could trust with my family's last name."
Kelley said Tequila was an instrumental mentor that helped Harpy grow as a drag queen and eventually go on to win Miss Gay Harrisburg America 2015, a regional pageant where the top performer becomes an icon in the LGBT+ community in the area. The winner of this pageant has a one-way ticket to compete in Miss Gay Pennsylvania America, a pageant like Miss America's state-level pageant.
Unfortunately for Kelley, he would not be able to go on to compete due to his plans to join the Navy. However, competing in drag competitions has helped Kelley during his naval career.
"Competing in Miss Gay Harrisburg was similar to boarding for Blue Jacket of the Year," said Kelley. "They both required a board-styled interview, including questions of history and current world events in their respective social setting and inspections on professionalism and grooming standards."
Living in Japan and being in the military has affected the amount of time Kelley is able to put aside to do drag.
"Although there is less opportunity to preform as a drag queen in Japan, I still find time for my passion," said Kelley. "I practice different make-up techniques by experimenting with different styles of drag make-up. I plan different looks through costuming and hairstyling for future performances, as well as rehearse choreography to new songs. Most of this is done on the weekends due to the immense amount of time it takes."
Drag is just one of many diverse platforms represented throughout the military. We are all Sailors, but that is not everything that defines us. Sailors have diverse goals, inspirations and experiences they can draw from in their past, present and desired future to help them during their career. For Kelley, that inspiration is drag.
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For more news from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.