Visibili-T is dedicated to transgender members of our community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay, some you know and many you don’t. It is designed to amplify their voices and detail their experiences in life.
This issue, we check in with Vivion Rachel Clarke, a designer, drag performer and so much more who proudly calls St. Petersburg and its LGBTQ+ community home. She has her entire life.
“I was born and raised here. I grew up here. I went to school here,” she explains. “My parents raised me as a trans kid in the 60s, which was unheard of.
“My dad was a physicist working with NASA and I grew up with bright people,” she continues. “My mom and dad met during the Civil Rights Movement, so I’ve always had very positive Black role models.”
Clarke, who had five siblings, knew something was different about her from a young age. She says by the time she was eight or nine years old it’s something she opted to discuss with her family.
“As a kid they never told me I had to wear blue or play with trucks,” she says. “On my first day of school I realized I was different, so my mom and my sister — my two major heroes in life — told me ‘if you’re going to be a woman, you’re going to be the most absolute woman there ever was.”
That’s what Clarke’s done her entire life.
She graduated early from high school and continued her education in college, earning a Masters and Ph.D. She says she eventually worked for a time as a practicing psychologist, again in St. Petersburg.
“They didn’t question my gender and it sounds weird,” she remembers. “It’s just something that got pushed under the rug.”
Clarke believes that’s because she’s always been “stealth.” The term is used to describe trans people who are living authentically but haven’t openly discussed their gender identity with those around them. It’s also the name of the book Clarke says she’s been writing since she was 13.
“I once had a trans teenager tell me that because I was stealth all my life I didn’t know what struggle is,” she says. “I let her say what she had to say, but I do.”
Clarke has worked to overcome adversity her entire life.
“On top of being bullied for everything else, I’d get bullied because I didn’t sound Black enough,” she explains. “I went through a whole period of life where I didn’t feel Black enough because of that. Then on top of it you happen to be gay, or trans, or whatever you are. Identity-wise, that made it difficult for me, but I got through it.”
While she left the medical field behind years ago — “it was too much” — Clarke says her entire history is what empowers her to help others now. She currently does so by providing couture design services at Jay’s Fabric Center and by performing in drag, offering an escape for those in need.
Clarke has utilized design work and drag since the 80s. She currently performs in the latter role at Zoie’s, which opened last year in St. Petersburg’s LGBTQ-centric Grand Central District. The space was designed to “celebrate all beliefs and walks of life to provide a place for all to meet, eat and make memories.”
It’s a mission Clarke believes in.
“Considering all that’s going on in the world, it’s needed,” she says. “I love performing and I have been in performance since I was a kid, so that part of me, that’s what my whole drag persona does for me.”
When she isn’t performing or competing in drag — as she plans to do in the Mx St Pete Pride pageant later this month — Clarke works on her portfolio.
“I’m a designer, so most of my time is spent designing and making clothes,” she says. “I’m hoping to do some things and build a company that way, and that’s kind of what I’m focused on. I’m in a different point in life, a different place.”
It’s something that’s led to a renewed sense of optimism for her. She says “I’ve never been where I’m at right now.”
“I don’t know if that’s because I’m older or it’s because of what I’ve learned in the last year, but I know that something really good is coming for me,” Clarke continues. “I was never one to believe in luck — I think life is about preparation meeting opportunity — but my whole goal from here on out is to be prepared. I know who I am and what I’ve been through, so I’m able to put that in front of me.”
Interested in being featured in Visibili-T? Email Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Williams in Central Florida or Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent in Tampa Bay.