J. Clapp isn’t used to being in the spotlight.
That privilege is usually reserved for Vivica C. Coxx, J. Clapp’s enigmatic drag persona—a fixture in both Durham’s LGBTQ community and the Triangle at large, the beloved mother of the House of Coxx and a cultural force who revitalized the city’s drag nightlife.
Clapp, on the other hand, is one of a handful of people who straddles leadership roles in different cultural institutions centered around LGBTQ people, someone uniquely positioned to push the culture of their city forward. They’re the interim executive director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham, and they chair Pride: Durham, NC.
Together, these positions have enabled Clapp to cultivate a queer community in the Bull City in an unparalleled capacity.
“I was raised to believe that to whom much is given, much is expected,” Clapp says. “But I was also taught over time that, even though I have a big personality, it doesn’t mean I’m always the right person to solve something. So it’s given me a sense of knowing exactly when I should step in and exactly when I should step out. When Pride came around, and when Vivica was an opportunity, and when the center had an opening, in each of those examples, I knew I was the right person to step in.”
This year’s Pride was a massive success, with at least fifteen thousand people in attendance—more than double what the festival’s organizing committee expected. For Clapp, the biggest victory came in the form of people from all walks of LGBTQ life seeing themselves reflected in Pride.
“We created a space where queer and trans kids felt comfortable showing up, where queer parents and their children felt comfortable showing up,” Clapp says. “Our elders felt comfortable showing up. And quite frankly, the often-forgotten queer and trans people of color felt comfortable and present, all while the broader community felt comfortable and present. It wasn’t Black Pride, it wasn’t Latinx Pride. It was the municipal Pride, and everyone felt comfortable.”
In May, the INDY ran an article in which Clapp talked about the importance of curating spaces for children to enjoy drag. That same week, Central Park School for Children in Durham invited Clapp and her drag daughter, Stormie Daie, to speak to its student body, following reports of LGBTQ students leaving the school because of bullying. Dressed in full drag, the pair sat on the stage and had an open conversation about the nuances of LGBTQ life, the lived experiences of queer folks, and the opportunity to learn from those different than you.
Quickly, that moment went viral.
While driving away from Durham for an anniversary trip with their partner a few days later, Clapp got a text from a friend: “Girl, you are on The View!”
Following local news coverage, the anti-bullying forum broke into the national-media circuit, and Vivica’s face was everywhere, from The Today Show to CNN to, yes, The View.
“It was ridiculous,” Clapp says. “But what I knew was that we all can have a viral moment. It’s about what we do with it.”
The attention brought Clapp an opportunity. They began receiving calls from agents and potential avenues to expand their work beyond Durham in ways that they had never previously considered. There was never a question, however, of what that attention should be directed toward: the LGBTQ folks who call Durham home.
“I don’t have an agent,” Clapp says. “The reason I don’t have an agent is, I’m always going to be an entertainer. I’m always going to be a speaker. But my heart is in Durham, because there is nowhere else in the world that a nerdy, awkward, chubby, black trans femme gets to experience life to the fullest. I don’t want to travel to little bars around this country and experience transphobia and racism in ways that I don’t want to. I’m not afraid to travel. But I’m gonna set my own pace.”
That’s the thing about Clapp: For them, it’s always been about the work. From their roles with the LGBTQ Center and Pride to an unprecedented media opportunity they manifested simply by responding to a community need, it’s always about remembering the young queer and trans folks—particularly those of color—for whom they’re fighting to build a better world.
“When I was asked to speak [at Central Park School for Children], I had to tap into all of my traumas from middle school—what it was like to be the queer and chubby kid in middle school and all of the bullying I received,” Clapp says. “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to ensure that just one queer kid didn’t take their life. If I could play a role in making sure fewer of those kids bullied one another and more of those kids saw that they were fully human, then I was going to take it.”
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