On a ship in Yokosuka, Japan, 24-year-old Yeoman 3rd Class, Joshua Kelley, serves in the United States Navy as Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115’s administrative supervisor. By night, Kelley transforms from sailor to his drag queen alter ego, Harpy Daniels, who performs before his fellow sailors.
Kelley, who attributes his love of the art of drag to RuPaul, was inspired to join the Navy after his father served for 24 years and retired as a senior chief Navy counselor. In an official press release provided by US Navy Mass Communication Specialist Tyler John, Kelley shared:
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.
RuPaul’s Drag Race inspired me to start doing drag when I was 16 years old. 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.
Kelley had been performing as Harpy Daniels for years prior to joining the Navy. In 2015, Harpy Daniels was named Miss Gay Harrisburg America.
But now that Kelley is based in Japan, his passion for drag has taken a bit of a backseat. Still, he manages to continue honing his craft, mostly on the weekends, in the art of drag by experimenting with make-up, hairstyling, costuming, and choreography to new songs.
Instinct got in touch with Joshua Kelley to learn more about the sailor behind Harpy Daniels:
How did you get your drag name?
I wanted something original and something that had meaning behind it. So I used my favorite animal the Harpy Eagle. This animal is my favorite because it is the biggest and most powerful raptor of its species. I also love the attitude the animal radiates with its foe hawk like feathers on the top of its head. Of course I dropped eagle and was known as Harpy for about a year. Then something amazing happened to me. My drag mother Tequila Daniels, Miss Gay Pennsylvania of 2007 from the America pageant system, called me up on stage after a Halloween show back in 2013 and announced me as her first very own drag daughter. Since then I’ve lived up to our family name as Harpy Daniels.
What is it like to perform in drag before your fellow sailors in the Navy ?
It was not like any other show I’ve ever done before. I was nervous but only because of my passion and drive to entertain a good crowd. This time the crowd was all my fellow shipmates, and it was on a moving Naval warship instead of a normal night in the club. Performing for people who I work with and show military bearing too, I felt I had more to prove, because most of them have never seen this side of me or have never seen a drag queen before. With my hip-pads, layers of tights, wig and heels it was hot and crazy but I performed as if I was in front of RuPaul herself.
How do you think drag or your performances are received by fellow sailors?
In that moment I was given a lot of positive feedback then I anticipated. I had a full standing ovation from all who watched, and inspired so many Sailors to be who they are and share it with the world. Shipmates came to me with hugs, positive comments, questions of interest and for a moment I felt as if I was on the red carpet with all the photos that were taken. I never thought for a moment that my performances would inspire and open up so many minds from people all over the world. Even after the performance, I made a few new friends, Sailors came to me for advice and inspiration to accept themselves and the best way to express who they truly are. Also there were a few other Sailors who always wanted to get more into the drag seen and came to me for advice and expressed interest in my creative art work. Since then I’m still seen as a professional Sailor, and have gained more respect from my fellow shipmates.
How do you think things have changed over the years to get us to a point where doing what you do is even possible in the Navy?
The Navy has come a long way since the Don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Since 2011 when the policy was removed, the Gay community has grown stronger in the Navy. The Navy is huge on equal opportunity and diversity, which allowed the ship I was embarked on, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), to create a Gay, Lesbian, and Supporting Sailor (G.L.A.S.S.) association back in 2012. This group started off small but has blossomed into a great organization where we foster anyone and everyone in and out of the Gay community to be able to express themselves and create a safe and positive environment for all. Being a part of this association, as a new Sailor, I was able to reconnect to my gay culture and felt more comfortable to express who I am today. This paved my way to continue performing as Harpy Daniels and allowed me to share my art and passion with the Navy.
Do you think competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race will ever be in the cards for you?
If I ever receive the opportunity to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I absolutely would! RuPaul is the reason I started drag, and it keeps me motivated to keep building my foundation, and success in life. I’ve always gone above and beyond in everything that I do, so I can make the best for myself. The Navy is a great example of pushing my limits and being very successful. My first year in the service I received the Blue Jacket of the Year award. The award is given to represent the number one junior Sailor in the command. Now on my second year in the Navy, I recently have been meritoriously advanced to the next higher paygrade to assist and lead other junior Sailors and be the example and role model for all to follow. The Navy has allowed me to gain independence and comfortability with my life. Until the opportunity becomes available to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I will continue being who I am and follow my passion as a performer. I know one day my opportunity will come and mama Ru will see me!
What advice do you have for other members of the LGBTQ community who may be currently in the military or be interested in enlisting?
For any gay person who is currently in the Service, remember we stand strong together! With our current gay community, we are truly making a difference and if we keep following this path to help our gay Service Members we can make our future better for the next generation. For those who are interested in joining the Service, whether for the travel, school, or simply feel stuck and want a challenge, join the service. The gay community is growing and becoming stronger each day and with the Service having equal opportunity for all, you have that opportunity just like I have to express yourself and truly make a difference.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experiences?
The military gave me back my independence, given me experience, culture, and most of all a new family or as I’d like to say my “Royal family” and Tyler John and Steven Abreucedano are that family. I’ve grown so much as a performer, Sailor and as an individual within the two years of my service. Each day was not easy but with hard work, determination and having support from loved ones, I’ve been able to start making my dreams a reality. Just like anything in life it’s not where you come from but where you are going and the Navy has given me this opportunity to strive towards my dreams!
Thank you for your service, Harpy Daniels! You better werk! We salute you!
h/t: Joshua Kelley