Meet first Trans POC Virginia Cub titleholder, Semian Arquette!

Back in November, The 2022 Virginia Bear Contest — in addition to dropping title honorifics — celebrated two very important firsts: The first Black or POC Virginia Bear and the first Trans Virgina Cub! As firm believers and supporters of inclusion and representation, we love to see it all!

We recently grabbed a chat with the new 2022 Virgina Cub titleholder, Semian Arquette, to discuss how he found the Bear community and his plans for his title year!

First Trans POC Virginia Cub, Semian Arquette-Hayes

Kyle Jackson: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Semian Arquette: The short of it, I am half Filipino and half Irish and I was born in the Philippines. Between being a part of a military family and parents divorcing, I lived in many countries, states and cities.

The last portion of my childhood was spent in Alaska where I attended high school as the eldest of a very large and blended Mormon family. I was the eldest of 7 kids at that time. And let me tell you… that was rough. It took a long time for me to come to terms with who I was, where I was. I didn’t begin to transition and live as my authentic self until I was in my 30’s.

KJ: How did you find the Bear community?

SA: It took a long time for me to begin to see myself as others see me. Depression and anxiety are liars. They told me that I wasn’t enough and I wasn’t worthy of love or friendship. Those disorders made me believe that there was nothing out in the world for me and so I kept to myself for years.

At the end of 2020, I made the decision to force myself to go out and experience just what “Nothing” had in store for me. At the start of 2021, I went to a local Tavern here in Hampton Roads and met amazing people. I met my partner there, as a matter of fact. Through him and with him, I was introduced to the many groups within our community, of which we are a part of half of them now.

We went to pride at MJ’s Tavern this year. At pride there was a booth for the bear community, where I met Howard and his lovely partner, George. They welcomed me with open arms. They told me about the Bear community, history and what it stands for. I was invited to their group events and fundraisers that they held at MJ’S. The amount of love and unconditional acceptance I felt has been so much more than I have ever experienced. 

First Trans POC Virginia Cub, Semian Arquette-Hayes
KJ: What was the best part about participating in the Virginia Bear contest?

SA: Honestly, the comradery. We were all so very nervous during the competition. I knew that this was a very huge step for me, but I guess being overwhelmed with anxiety and still being somewhat new to the community, that competing would be a breeze for my fellow Bear family. I tried to re-directed my nervousness towards something positive and by doing so offer as much help to the other contestants as possible.

We were all there for each other, cheering one another on, assisting with one another’s outfits and offering words of encouragement. I’d like to hope and think that not one of us felt we were actually “competing” against one another. It felt more like representing one another. I was scared but I was also very honoured – Honored to be able to experience this with every single one of them. I’m so very proud of them.

KJ: What are your goals for your title year?

SA: I currently run a Trans Masculine support group online. I notice that a large majority of the members have similar life experiences pertaining to their childhood, or lack thereof, due to unsupportive family, lack of resources and lack of education for everyone involved.

So there is this Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. For me this means in order for a child to grow into the best version of who they are meant to be, we as a community should work together and provide positive experiences for them.

Working with their family to help educate parents, provide resources and even be there to just talk or listen as they vent their concerns. I feel everyone should realize, when someone transitions, it’s not just that Individual changing — it’s everyone who loves them and has been there who also has to also transition their idea of who their loved one is. It takes time and patience on everyone’s part. 

When it comes to Trans youth, it can be a bit more sensitive because they are children. But the best thing to provide is support and patience. I’d like to set up a type of big brother/sister mentorship program for our Trans youth. Where an older member of the Trans community would be paired with a youth and their family. With focus on that youth’s growth on which ever direction that may be.

KJ: How does it feel to be the first Trans winner and one of the first POC winners of the Virginia Cub, Bear and Hunter titles?

SA: A bit surreal. I’ve always been the type of person to keep my head down to avoid attention. And in my everyday life, I’m stealth — meaning, I don’t feel the need nor desire to inform every person I come across of me being Transgender.

Now, when it comes to our community, I am completely open to letting others know. It was still a bit nerve-wracking being on stage and exposed in front of that many people. But I did it just for that reason, for exposure. For representation. For every person of Trans experience who is scared to stand up and say “I am here too!”

I’d like to add that no matter where you are, I am here for you and I hope you feel you can come to me and allow me to help you be “seen” in any way I am able!

First Trans POC Virginia Cub, Semian Arquette-Hayes
Photo courtesy of Late Stay Photography
KJ: What are some important issues you think need to be addressed in the Bear Community?

SA: Well, I feel that we are already addressing some of the issues by removing the gender specific honorifics within the titles.

KJ: Can you talk a bit about the decision to no longer use gender-specific honorifics and what you feel that means for the history of titleholder contests?

SA: It means complete inclusion! Bears are a gay subculture that emerged as a rejection of the mainstream masculine ideal. Bear culture has already embraced and celebrated diverse bodies and the bodies of elder men, it only makes sense to make sure that inclusion embraces and welcomes everyone, regardless of what gender they were assigned at birth.

I know there may be some who disagree and may feel we should keep things has they are, but we should also remember where we came from. We as a community have come a long way and change doesn’t happen by being stagnant. It can’t happen by being hateful and excluding those who do not fit an idea of what masculinity is based on body parts you prefer.

We should allow everyone to live life as authentically as they see fit and if we cannot help them, the least we can do is not hurt them. This is just a step in a positive direction towards a stronger community. A community that I feel honored to be a part of.

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.