Joshua Kelley is currently serving in the U.S. Navy and he is fighting for a more inclusive culture in the Military by using drag to entertain sailors and to challenge the masculine culture that currently exists in the Military. Josh's drag alter-ego is Harpy Daniels. Harpy Daniels is teaching all of us about what it means to be bold in a world that doesn't yet accept diversity of expression. Josh details his story of why he chooses to be bold and stand out in a world that is designed for everyone to be the same. Josh has been featured on Intercept, NBC, New York Post, PINK News, and other national news outlets and now he is a role model and volunteer for MSTM. He innately represents our organization’s core values.
I was born in a very small and close-minded town in Pennsylvania. Just like any person who is queer, in a backwoods life environment, I never fit in. Since I was a child I went against the grain and stood out; because hiding who I am, seemed impossible. My own mother always told me, "Boys don't wear makeup!" or "Boys don't paint their nails!" The irony that I live out now is that I am in an over masculinized culture doing exactly that. My own experience and perception of the military have been a toxic world of masculinity often triggered flashbacks of my memories of growing up in a small town where conservatives still thought women should stay home and men to bring in the money. I clearly already knew my strategy to work past this culture of toxic masculinity within the military environment. I had to work harder than anyone else but without hiding who I am. My work will always speak for itself and my personality has always shined fiercely. For any person who has played chess before, I learned all the moves, the culture of the U.S. Navy, and surpassed even my own expectations within two years. I never once hid my flamboyance from anyone or formed into a masculinized version of myself just to appeal to the audience. What I did was the opposite. I decided and took the opportunity to educate people that expressing yourself authentically, no matter what the cost is can create an outcome bigger than oneself.
The cost would have been possible humiliation, bullying, and even hazing, but it was the total opposite, I was seen for who I am, as a Drag Queen, a Sailor, and a person. Performing on a Naval Warship in full drag, was not only to boost morale but to show so many enlisted Sailors and officers that queer-inclusive people serve with them and we are here to serve out loud and proud. The feeling and rush I received to break that cultural boundary were both scary and rewarding, I was able to show so many Sailors it's ok to express ourselves, and self-expression keeps our spirits high, morale high, and allows people to breath more comfortably in their own skin. I was a Drag Queen way before the Navy so to perform for a crowd was never intimidating; I was concerned about the feedback received by others that I work with, within the service because of how close-minded military culture is, but that chance to show a feminine culture had to be made. I knew that despite my fears, I had to be courageous so we can push down walls of toxic masculinity in the military. I was told by a close member of my chain of command that they were afraid of how people would see me, which fueled my fire to bring Harpy Daniels into the spotlight because no one should be afraid to be seen as less because they choose to go against the society's norm of "Boys don't do that"! Well this MAN did just that and since I gave that drag performance, many people, in and out of the service have sought me out for praise, support, and love, which I am humbly thankful to receive.
While the majority of the feedback was positive and the spotlight reached many media outlets, there were still negative reviews by many who truly weren't educated on queer culture or felt discomfort because, after years of only seeing a Masculine culture in the service. This has been one of the first events seen from major media outlets to break the masculine traditions and show LGBTQ+ feminine culture in the Military. Currently, I'm still serving, and I've been threatened with my life, harassed, and seen as less than a Sailor because I simply wear the uniform of our U.S. Military and do drag. The toxicity hasn’t broken me because I experienced years of bullying as a child it simply was nothing new to be seen differently and not understood for who I am in the world, but that is why it is important as queer individuals, we do our best to support each other, and keep breaking the stereotype of the military’s cultural status quo. The negative feedback showed that this needed to happen because even though "don't ask don't tell" was abolished, there is still no education on diversity for the LGBTQ+ community in the service to assist with growth and acceptance for everyone. The best highlight I can give to the negative reviews is we are the world's best Military because of our diversity and cultural backgrounds, and the LGBTQ+ community is one of those cultures and it's time to recognize and support us! With that being said my journey has always had an optimistic outlook because I shape my life to perceive situations as beautiful and I don't allow anyone to tell me differently as long as I'm doing my duties to serve my country.
Even though my positive outlook took time to build, as any gay member of the armed forces I still experienced the direct and indirect tone of hate and discrimination just for being a feminine gay man, it even hit home for me. Since the media outbreak and publicity, the biggest question I was ever asked was by my own father, a retired senior chief, who asked, "What does being gay have to do with the military?" Now, I know the answer he wanted was, "My duties are to serve and protect my country and allies, has nothing to do with my personal life." I understood this, as anyone who serves, this is our mission, but my response was, "Being gay has everything to do with serving because I am a feminine gay man, who took an oath many never will, and I’m discriminated against just because I was born this way. I was born a queer, feminine, individual, and even though there is hate, and I go against society’s military norms of "Boys don't do that!" I'll never stop being me. I'll simply work harder to prove LGBTQ+ people are here and that we matter! " The support in the service for LGBTQ+ people is growing but there is still much more to do, the path has been paved even before me, and it's our duty to continue walking this path and create more legacies until we are all seen, heard and respected as U.S. Military Service Members!