A conversation with Samantha Rae & Azra Bello, as told to Universal Standard
US: What is your name, your pronouns, and how do you identify?
SAMANTHA: I'm Samantha Rae, but I also like going by Sam! My pronouns are she/they and I identify as a queer femme!
AZRA: HI I’m Azra (pronounced like Ezra), my pronouns are he/him, and I identify as a queer trans man.
US: As we collectively transition out of quarantine, this time in solitude has been much more than just staying in. What do you consider your greatest challenge existing as an LGBTQ+ person while in quarantine? What has been your greatest victory?
S: Prior to quarantine, I had just gotten out of a long term relationship and decided to move to Portland, OR after spending 10 years in the Bay Area. I was excited to make new friends and for a fresh start. I spent two weeks where I was meeting people before everything shut down and, shortly after that, I lost the job I just started. Finding a sense of community and finding routine were really difficult. I started doing online dance classes, then joined TikTok and little did I know that I would find a whole LGBTQ+ community there! I am incredibly proud of all my personal growth — I feel true to myself and feel the most confident I've ever been.
A: My biggest challenge would be living with family and being misgendered. It definitely is hard at times, but it’s important for me to remember who I am and have patience because I know it’s not permanent. Having an amazing partner that supports me and gender affirms me on a daily definitely helps. As far as greatest victory, I would say I’ve definitely been able to grow more into my most authentic self, have more self love, self worth, and confidence.
US: Every LGBTQ+ person knows that coming out is not a singular, linear process, but rather something we are faced with nearly every day. How do you relate to the phrase “coming out” in your journey as an LGBTQ+ person?
S: I've come out multiple times throughout my life. I first came out to my best friend early on in High School and they also happened to be queer — so we both came out to one another and were able to confide in each other. I kept it a secret for a long time and felt so scared about what other people would think about me. At 19, I got into my first relationship, and it was with a girl. I initially came out as bi and then shortly after as a lesbian. Even though I came out almost 10 years ago, it was a struggle being comfortable in my own skin. These days I can confidently say I am proud to be an out queer femme! Lately I've been thinking a lot about gender and am playing around with she/they pronouns — it currently feels comfy and right! Coming out is just the beginning of your journey and really is just a starting point. There is so much to explore and discover! I also realize that coming out is a privilege and safety is always the most important thing. I would suggest letting people in that you trust and will help you feel affirmed and loved as you are.
A: Coming out for me has definitely been a journey. I grew up in a very religious household, so it took me a while to get to the point of even accepting that I was queer. So I had a very difficult time coming out. I first came out as bisexual back in college to close friends, then lesbian a few months later, then a few years later as pansexual, and now identifying as a Queer trans man and finally feeling myself. Now, even being early in my transition, I still am coming out to people every day.
US: How do you connect your identity as an LGBTQ+ person to your personal style and presentation of self?
S: As a queer femme I love dressing up. When I look good, I feel good! I take a lot of pride in my style! Growing up as a fat kid, I felt like I could never express myself or look how I wanted to look — I always had to accept whatever happened to fit me at the store. As an adult, having access to clothes that help me express myself feels so amazing! I love being femme and I think it's pretty clear through my style that I am queer (although to some it may seem subtle — it's all in the details).
A: Looking Queer and masculine to me is an important part of my look. I make sure to be comfortable and wear clothes that are gender-affirming to me and it’s always nice and gender affirming to have a fresh haircut — it brings me a lot of gender euphoria. Also, cuffed pants and sleeves.
US: Expression of self is a deeply personal experience, and one that is often connected with personal style. How do you connect your identity as an LGBTQ+ person to your personal style? How would you describe your style?
S: I would describe my style as femme, bold, fun and colorful! Some staples I always like to have in my closet are leather jackets, a good pair of jeans, and denim jackets. Also fun and colorful standout pieces that I like to mix and match with my staples. I love vintage-inspired looks and I'm a huge sucker for fringe. I think that if a younger me could see me now she would think I am so cool and fashionable. Sometimes, you need to be the representation you've always wanted to see growing up — little me is bursting on the inside!
A: I love to be comfy but also stylish. I'm definitely becoming more stylish from being with my current partner. I like to wear clothes that make me feel confident and handsome.
US: The campaign name From Staying in to Coming Out holds a double meaning for many LGBTQ+ people experiencing this time of quarantine. What are you most looking forward to as things transition and you reintegrate yourself back into the world?
S: So many things. Seeing and hugging friends and family! I am SO looking forward to queer dance parties. Right before quarantine hit, I went to a little queer party in Portland and I miss that feeling so much. There were a few TikTok zoom dance parties, but nothing beats going out in your favorite fit and dancing with other queers! I'm also looking forward to traveling more when things are safer — I have an empty passport that I got at the end of 2019 that I was hoping to use in 2020... little did we all know!
A: Well now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m looking forward to hanging out with friends again, going out to experience things with my girlfriend for the first time, and also traveling with my partner.
US: Look back on the beginning of quarantine… What would you say has changed the most in your life from then until now?
S: I think my confidence has changed the most! I trust myself more and have learned to stay true to me. I've also gotten more comfortable putting myself out there and expressing myself more!
A: The beginning of quarantine was a very difficult time for me. I was going through a hard time in my life. But I’m so thankful to have gone through it because I’m definitely the best version of myself. I have gained so much love and confidence. I’m so proud of how much I’ve grown as a person.
US: Quarantining as a couple is a whole new level of discoveries, challenges, and victories. What is the most unexpected joy you’ve experienced together while in quarantine?
S: Honestly, finding each other unexpectedly! Azra left a comment on one of my Tiktok videos asking me out and I replied, "BET.” We had many zoom calls, gift exchanges, and sending each other snail mail! When we finally met IRL [in real life] in June, in SoCal, it was so much fun going on picnics, dancing, cooking together, and taking mini-trips. I certainly didn't think I would fall in love with someone on Tiktok in a global pandemic! I’m so glad to have met Azra and to have someone so caring like him in my life.
A: Well, I would say meeting each other was the most unexpected joy. I was not looking to date — especially not long distance —but I was scrolling through my TikTok and saw a beautiful person and had to make a move, so I did. I definitely didn’t know where it was going or if we would even date. Being almost 1,000 miles away from each other in the middle of the pandemic, not knowing when we’d meet for the first time in person, but it was definitely worth the wait. Sam brings so much joy and light to my life. This is the first time I’ve truly been able to be my most crazy sexy cool self. They have been such a blessing and I’m so grateful to have them a part of my life.
Continue to celebrate Pride with US and read the next From Staying In to Coming Out story with Aria Sa'id.