About: Rayana Weyerstahl (she/her) is a 22 year old woman, international and multilingual babe, eldest sister, anime enthusiast, numerical wizard and dance lover. We got together during Pride month to talk about sexuality, coming out and gendered clothing, with a sprinkle of sex education. This blithe and breezy but intimate interview, of course, comes with an accompanying photoshoot - lucky you, reader! Step into our little world of SHAG X Ray and browse through our raw, warm, bold photo-series, captured beautifully on film by Ellie Softley.
I stood on the roof of SHAG offices with my close uni/ life friend, part-time model and recent Master’s graduate Rayana (Ray). The weather was bright and warm but not stifling, with the slight weight of English summertime humidity in the air. Ray stood patiently by the roof edge, absent-mindedly running her manicured nails over the white paint of the wall, surveying the view. Meanwhile I organised my recording equipment (aka my phone). She seemed to be quietly reflecting in preparation for our interview, or maybe she was thinking about her imminent photoshoot. In any case, I decided to start with the basics:
S: So how do you describe your sexuality? Is there a label you use?
R: Yeah so I use “bisexuality” just because it’s the one that feels the most correct.
S: Do you ever describe yourself as Queer?
R: Yeah! I’ve always had a pretty simple relationship with the word “queer” because growing up speaking French, “queer” to me, was never an insult. I discovered it when it was already reclaimed.
So what does “queer” mean to you? I kind of think of it as an umbrella term but I’m always unsure.
Queerness to me is like… you know you're not straight, or you know you're not cishet, rather. You're questioning something, potentially. It's not a forever label though. I don’t think any label is a forever label. You might one day be like “I’m questioning things” and then 6 months down the line that might not be the case… there’s no forced timing.
I really like that… the idea of releasing ourselves from forever labels.
One of my favourite memes is this person coming out to their mom and their mom is like “It's just a phase” and she’s like “Of course it's a phase. I’m not going to stay the same person for a hundred years!”
*Laughing* TIME ISN'T REAL MOM!
People often try to use the idea of temporariness as like…
A way of undermining identity?
Yeah! And it’s like okay… you did nothing.
She scoffed with a light dismissal
You did nothing to my life. And maybe when I’m 60 I’ll be like “I’m a lesbian”.
Like Kehalni! Okay well Kehlani isn’t 60 but you get me.
Did you see that video on socials where she (Kehlani) confirmed that she had come out as a lesbian and was talking about what coming out to her friends and family was like? She said that when she told everyone, nobody was surprised. They were like “Yeah babe the closet was made out of glass - we already knew” and she was (jokingly) like “Nooooo this is such a massive realisation for me, at least PRETEND to be surprised!”
It was the same with my family!
She started speaking animatedly as she recounted with a spark of familiarity and humour.
I came to London partly because I was like “There are gonna be loads of gays there” and I wanted to explore that and not have to worry about if it's legal or not.
So I returned home (to Senegal) all ready to tell my family, and all of sudden they started talking about me being bi, like making jokes and stuff, and I was like “We didn’t even discuss it! There was no conversation! Like since when…?
She trailed off in bewildered laughter.
Apparently my mom was already convinced I was a lesbian, so when I left, she told my sisters “Btw when Ray comes back, she might have some news for you regarding [her sexuality]”.
The only person in my family who I ‘officially’ came out to was my dad. We were walking one day and we were talking about boyfriends and I was like “...Or girlfriends because you know… ya girl does it all”. And then he started asking me questions about dating and I was like you never talk to me about dating, like, this does not need to be a topic. It's just that I wanted to make it clear to him so that in 5 years he’s not like “You never told me this!”.
But how do you feel about the whole concept of the closet being ‘see-through’? Do you feel like that’s okay? To say to someone “Oh I had kind of already guessed that you were gay” or “You seem gay”. I feel like it’s such a fine line…
Yeah I think it's a very hard line to tread. I was thinking about it the other day… because you look at some people and are like they’re probably queer, but then I don’t want to stereotype, particularly because some people have looked at me and have been like “Oh I didn’t know, you look straight” and I’m like that’s…?
Like what does that even mean?
Exactly, like I don’t like that, come on.
That’s the thing - sometimes I see people talking about how a lot of people that we roast, fashion-wise, are actually just dressing in a way that’s queer-coded. Cishet people will often judge aesthetics more harshly when someone is giving off a queer ‘vibe’, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
Also (and I don’t know if this is
widespread or just in my experience) but people will often say that to guys more than they will to women. It’s definitely a gendered conversation. People are so concerned with looking at a man who’s dressed unconventionally and being like “Is he gay?” Like… just let him be him.
Yeah! I guess it forces you to contend with this issue of gendered clothing. If a guy wears a skirt people immediately want to pigeon hole him as ‘other’.
Even my boyfriend - he takes great care of himself, like, makes sure that his nails are clean, makes sure he smells good and…
I interjected -
It's literally just hygiene! And some people are like “Oh that’s gay of you” and he’s like “To be CLEAN? That’s gay??”
*Laughing* “Fellas is it gay to be clean?”
I mocked, betraying how much of my personality is apparently informed by Twitter memes.
*Laughing* It’s funny because when I was younger and began questioning my sexuality, I kind of told myself let me table this and get back to it in a few years…
She chuckled, knowingly, to herself.
When I was about 14 I had this really close friend who I guess I had a crush on and people at school started calling us lesbians and I was like “NO” as a reflex. Then I kind of stopped to unpack that and was like, Why not though? What’s the issue?
To be fair, I think when I was younger I actually just didn’t understand a lot of these things.
She took a brief pause and looked around the sky as she organised her thoughts.
With that being said, our sex education (in Senegal) was surprisingly good. Like nobody in class was ever awkward or immature about it.
Wow, that's impressive.
The only thing is that we didn’t talk about the actual sex acts themselves. We talked about everything around sex, like different forms of contraception, HIV and AIDS, that kind of stuff.
Yeah like where was the education regarding stuff like how to tell and understand different signs of arousal in preparation for sex?
Yeah and also just stuff like: Hey this is what an actual penis looks like. There was either the vascular cross-section kind of diagram or like a wooden thing that they put the condom on.
We both chuckled at the education system’s seeming obsession with euphemism and phobia of anatomically correct genital models.
I was kind of like… none of these are the real thing - I didn’t know what to expect! These things need to be less daunting, less intimidating.
Ellie called us to return to the studio for the shoot, just as a natural lull was taking form, so we gathered our belongings and scurried away, excited to see what was in store for the rest of the afternoon.