Childhood, for most, is filled with grass stains and getting drunk off sunlight. These early days of life are also consumed with conversations about the distant future. That one cliche question is asked over and over — “What do you aspire to be when you grow up?” Some of the most common answers are astronaut, school teacher, ballerina and pop star. But the list of what we can be is so much larger and the possibilities are so vast. Some dream of flying, feeling the wind blow the hairs on their skin as they smoothly glide above everything they once knew. Others dream of storybook love, sparks igniting when lips connect and every slight glance evoking memories of the first time their eyes met. And 20-years-old Joseph Marney, also known as Miss Nova Kane, dreams of all of these — of flight, passionate love, garnished with stage lights and accessorized with hot pink heels.
The sunlight pours in through the windows of my apartment lobby. I sit on the communal couch, legs crossed, my left one slightly bouncing. My ears are gifted with a car beep, which honestly startles me at first. I turn around to see a gray Jeep; as I peer through the window, I see a blonde boy waving at me, his hand decorated with long pink nails, his face smiling ear to ear. I walk over, open the car door and slide into the passenger seat, which is decorated with light pink seat covers.
I already know the answer to the question I’m about to ask, but I let the words escape from my mouth anyway. “So what’s your favorite color?” We immediately both burst into a fit of laughter and through the chuckles he says the most unexpected answer — “Pink.”
As we greet each other, I let out an overdue exhale, breathing out all my fears like a gust of wind. Something about this light pink decorated car being driven by a bleach blonde boy, who I’ve only seen on my Instagram feed, feels oddly safe, oddly comforting. Maybe it’s him, the warmth of his aura, or maybe it’s the fact “Cruel Summer” by Taylor Swift is playing on the aux.
Soon we step into the local Starbucks and an unknown force pulls us to a small table in the right corner, away from everyone else. He takes his magenta Juicy Couture purse and places it on top of the table; it’ll scream “don’t even try to sit here” to everyone else who trots through the push doors. After patiently waiting behind a very unhappy couple, it’s our turn to order. I order an iced caramel macchiato and he orders a pink drink in the largest size they offer. As they pen our names on the cups I begin to zip open my wallet, but before I even get the chance to wrap my fingers around my Visa card, he has already Apple-paid — using his light pink iPhone.
We both get comfortable at the table, taking swigs of our overpriced drinks. “So where did you grow up and what did your childhood look like?”
He takes one more sip of the drink before he replies to me: “I grew up in the small town of Williamstown, New Jersey. My childhood was mostly sunshine and rainbows for the most part, but there would be the occasional person trying to rain on my parade.”
He goes on as he swirls the cup around. “At school, I pretty much found a friend in anyone except for the bullies who would say ‘You’re gay’ or ‘Boys aren’t supposed to act like girls.'” When he speaks about the hurtful comments made by his peers during childhood, I can see the agony from the past begin to reappear, like a weed in a garden of majestic flowers.
He continues, “But my family was good to me. They always let me pick out any toy I loved, whether it be a My Little Pony or a wrestling action figure, and always let me express myself.” That was the fuel to his fire, the force that pushed him to feel comfortable pushing the envelope. Comfortable enough to deal with grabbing the attention of the world.
Bouncing off that, I questioned him about his experience of breaking out of the closet. “So when did you come out, what was that like? Was it a really emotional experience?”
He grazes his pink nails over his blonde hair and his brown eyes light up like streetlights as he gushes, “I came out officially to everyone my junior year of high school. I was lucky with my experience because my friends and family were all very accepting and loving, which not many people can say. I was nervous to come out, but after, it truly felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders, because now I could finally live my truth out loud and proud.”
Before we know it, all that is left in our plastic cups is partially melted ice. We head back to the silver Jeep and drive toward where the magic happens. Arriving at a comfortable little house, on a quiet street in West Deptford, you’d never know a budding drag queen lives behind the front door.
He guides me down a small narrow hallway. The walls are decorated with a collection of yearly family photos. He then twists a crystal doorknob on the white door at the end of the hallway to reveal a room decorated from head to toe in something I’d never expect to see — a room adorned with every hue of pink imaginable. The wall has photos of other drag queens, some of the photos autographed. The mirror that hangs on the wall has a crown above it and the bed is accessorized with pink and gray throw pillows.
He softly motions for me to sit on the bed. He then kicks out a small gray furry stool from beneath the old Hollywood-style vanity mirror and sits on top of it. “So how and when did you get introduced to drag for the first time?” I ask.
He then grabs a pink makeup bag wide open, pulling out a bottle of face primer. He squirts a drop into his hand and begins to massage it into his porcelain skin. “In the 3rd grade was the first time I’ve ever seen a drag queen. My mom and I would watch ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ together every Wednesday night. So I have her to thank for introducing me.”
“While watching the show, did any drag queens inspire you to take up drag?” He begins to dab bright pink eyeshadow on his eyelid, “RuPaul of course, just seeing her stature in a long sequined gown with hair to the sky — I was mesmerized.”
He continues to blend the pink eyeshadow into the crease of his eyelid until it looks seamless and then begins to do his eyebrows. He carves the arch of the brow so carefully you’d think he’s a brain surgeon and not a drag queen.
“Use one word to describe what it feels like when you see yourself in full glam hair and makeup?”
With zero hesitation, he responds, “Surreal.”
Continuing to paint and sculpt his face, the blonde boy I met earlier that day has vanished into thin air. Now in front of me is Miss Nova Kane. She has long brown hair with honey blonde highlights, and she’s dressed in a two-piece hot pink tracksuit, gripping that all too familiar magenta Juicy Couture bag. Surreal, it is, to meet two people within one body.
In a heartfelt ode, Marney describes Nova Kane. “She’s the other half that completes me. She allows me to be my full 100% self without fear of judgment. She’s kind of like the superhero cape that I can put on when I feel unsure or scared. I don’t know what my life would be without her — probably a lot more boring and scary.” He explains that the name Nova Kane originated from the Frank Ocean song of the same name and with help from close friends, they decided to change the “C” to a “K”.
With dreams so vast, fears will inevitably make their way through the cracks in the wall. Marney has fears about succeeding in the cutthroat drag industry; however, he also believes the gift of being able to freely do what he loves is enough success at the end of the day. In regards to freedom within the drag industry over the past year, there has been some debate about who should and shouldn’t be able to practice the art form. In the latest season of the critically acclaimed “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the first-ever heterosexual, cisgender male contestant was announced. The reveal left viewers divided and on the fence, asking the question, “Who belongs in drag?”
Marney weighs in, stating, “Drag is an art form and just like anyone can draw, sing, dance, I feel like anyone can partake in this art form as long as they’re not poking fun or doing it for money — I feel like it’s completely fine.” This is just one side of the debate over whether straight men should be allowed in the drag space. Many oppose Marney’s point of view, saying that the LGBTQ+ community should be able to have something that belongs solely to them.
Only 20 years old, Marney has so much life to look forward to, while he counts down the days until his 21st birthday when he can finally begin performing in nightclubs and apply to be on the upcoming season of RuPaul’s reality contest. Most young people Marney’s age are in school, however, he chose to go a different route. “After my senior year of high school, I decided not to go to college right away. I knew that this is what I was destined to do. This was my calling.”
Marney, for as long as he can remember, has been drawn toward this industry like it was made for him. His love for entertaining, fashion, and being over the top, fits the mold for what most of the best drag queens offer to their audience — so maybe it was meant to be.
In response to the cliche question, “What do you aspire to be when you grow up?,” he knew whatever path life took him on would have to include art in some way, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
Miss Nova Kane’s words of wisdom to anyone interested in dipping their toes into the drag industry or chasing a dream is this: “Don’t be afraid of what people think. It’s cliche but it’s true. You will never fully be happy until you are being yourself and doing what you love unapologetically. So go put some makeup on, throw that wig on your head, and give them hell!”