How I Found My Queer Community by Moving to NYC

Before New York, I was tackling a series of seemingly endless mental battles. But slowly the city helped me find my way back to myself.

20-year-old California native Angelica Yeleshwarapu was one of the models we cast in Kt's June Pride-themed photoshoot. In addition to modelling, she's an incredibly talented poet and writer. We are grateful to be sharing Angelica's essay on how moving to NYC healed her depression and changed the direction of her life for Pride month. Check out Angelica in action on our site.

Angelica Yeleshwarapu modeling for Kt

I did not expect New York City to change my life, but it did. 

I had arrived in November 2021 for a girl’s trip to visit two close friends I hadn’t seen since the start of quarantine. I was, to put it lightly, not in a great headspace at the time. After graduating high school in 2019, I realized I had no roadmap for navigating the future and years of buried trauma, identity crises, and family issues began to rise to the surface. I had hoped that moving from Texas to California for college would provide me with a new landscape, free of the turmoil of my past but instead I was greeted with more of the same. Rape culture, racism, and relationship abuse were everywhere, and I couldn’t look away.

A shadowy photo of a woman sitting in a kitchen windowsill

I was witness to so much trauma on a daily basis – from my work at a storytelling platform focused on mental health reform, my family, my peers, and the entire country during the racist police shootings. The word empath gets thrown around a lot, but I learned the hard way that I had an inability to discern my emotional pain from that of others.

At the end of every day, my body felt hollow, my heart and mind heavy, and my soul decayed. I tried therapy, practiced yoga and meditation, and even explored a range of creative hobbies such as painting, songwriting, podcasting, guitar, and Djing. But everything felt like a thin-skinned attempt to brush over my throbbing humanity. I started to become cynical and deeply disturbed by the world. Thus, when the time came to pack my bags, I overwhelmingly felt like this trip was my last chance to find redirection. 

On the 40-min ride to my friend Tara’s house in Brooklyn, I started a conversation with my Pakistani Uber driver out of hopes that his words could spark something in me that brought me out of my deeply depressed interior. Unfortunately, he began spewing deeply misogynistic sentiments towards South Asian women, including that women finding their voice is the downfall of the institution of marriage. 

An everything bagel with bites taken out of it on a plate next to a cup of coffee

By the time the Uber dropped me off, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as Tara and her girlfriend welcomed me into their home, made me warm chai and offered me a weighted blanket. Almost instantly, I fell into a deep sleep, something that had long been missing from my shattered routine due to my depression. The next morning, I awoke to breakfast, radiant sunlight, and began to read some of the books I had been eyeing on my friend’s shelf.

I was particularly drawn to M.I.A., Matangi Maya’s fantastical visual arts book and Problems by Jade Sharma, a fictional tale about an Indian heroin addict. These raw, depressing, and powerful reads by women from the South Asian diaspora spoke to my own painfully polarized state of being at the time. 

Behind the scenes of a modeling photoshoot

I ended up spending the next few days with Tara, tagged along with her to parties, auditions, music consulting gigs, and TikTok scripting. Somehow, despite the layers upon layers of numbness that guarded my heart, the environment Tara had created managed to permeate me deeply. On the morning I was slated to fly home, I felt a strong jolt of energy coursing through my body, instructing me, “what you have been saying you want is exactly right here.” I didn’t get on my flight home. 

Shop period underwear for teens.

I was intent on making New York work, because it was my last chance to carve out a safe space for myself in the world. I got an Airbnb in Harlem that I paid for with a modeling check, then stayed with an uncle who I had met only once in my life until I found more permanent housing. I got lucky with my living situation –  I was able to find a room in Bushwick, with two roommates who were chill and helped me find a safe space at home. But life in New York City was still very harsh at first. Winter had cloaked the city with freezing temperatures, which I had not encountered before living in California and Texas. 

A small bedroom with light streaming through the window

To support myself, I worked retail in Manhattan. I had never worked from morning till night before and called upon all my grit and resilience to make it in the store day after day. I was harassed by my boss and struggled to fit in the mold of a dutiful retail employee. I was still processing my personal issues but with the help of my community, the excitement of life outside work, and my independent creative ventures, I began to pull through.

In New York City, I met fashion designers, novelists, writers, musicians, actors, and artists who were proud to be holistically themselves. All were older, wiser and more at peace than myself. Our shared LGBTQ2S+ identity brought us together, but the bond we shared was much deeper; it brought me back to myself. I realized that queerness is more than who you love or how you identify, it’s about making space for everyone with a deep compassionate worldview. Through their stories, and our shared belief in love, community, self expression, and peace, I began to create my own roadmap in which I could explore the world on my own terms.

Angelica Yeleshwarapu and two friends

Slowly, I was able to wake up from my existential burnout. I went to raves, parties, fashion shows, and photo shoots that imbued me with a newfound appreciation for existence. I had deeply moving conversations and meditation sessions that touched the root of my depression and replaced it with a soothing, expansive love for my community. 

Although I still suffered from the same issues I came to New York with, the intensity at which they grabbed a hold of me dissipated over time. In my healing process, I was able to build a life of beauty and love, one that had only existed in my daydreams before moving here.

New York City taught me that I am capable of anything. If I could survive off a minimum wage job and still thrive in an environment where I knew virtually no one, I grew confident in my ability to create a beautiful life for myself anywhere, at any point in time. I also learned that my relationships could be a vehicle for freedom rather than the source of insecurity and confinement they had been in the past. 

Angelica Yeleshwarapu wearing a puffy winter coat

I have since returned home to California but the sense of faith I have in myself remains. I now realize that my moments of weakness and inability to “strive” are a reflection of the weight of the world around me, not my own faults. I am now invested in protecting my peace, because that is the only way to sustainably fight for the causes I care about.

While I do not know exactly where I am going next, I now know that I will be prepared for wherever life takes me. 

Angelica Yeleshwarapu tucked under a blanket

Further reading: Does caffeine help period cramps?

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