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Blog: Anya reflects on NYC

Anya reflects on NYC experience

This blog was originally published on the Theatre of the Oppressed NYC website.


Hi! Max, TONYC’s Director of Communications, here. As we explore new and exciting ways of engaging folks through our website, we’re sharing reflections from community members encountering our work.

The following piece was written by Anya (she/her), a 17-year-old from Wales who visited New York City with Welsh theatre company Frân Wen and GISDA to work with TONYC and TONYC’s Ali Forney Center troupe from March 19th-22nd. Frân Wen connected with TONYC through The Ali Forney Center's North American Technical Assistance conference. We hope you enjoy this firsthand account of Anya’s experience and what it meant to her.

My name is Anya. I’m a queer 17-year-old woman from Cymru (Wales). For those who don’t know, Wales is a small country next to England.

I grew up in a small, seemingly perfect little seaside town on the northwest coast of Wales. It’s a prime tourist destination, with beautiful sandy beaches and gorgeous mountains, cafés and shops galore — the perfect tourist trap.

Growing up in the countryside can be very isolating. There’s a lack of exposure to the rest of the world and greater society. I mean, without access to social media, there is not much communication with the “outside world.” This lack of exposure and cultural education creates a toxic and unaccepting environment. It leaves people, children, and young people especially susceptible to prejudiced thinking and beliefs. Our minds are shaped by our upbringing, our environment, and the people around us, especially authority figures such as teachers, community leaders, parents and many more.

My hometown was full of people with prejudiced mindsets, their brains closed off to the possibility of accepting differences. I faced harassment, bullying and physical assault just for being a lesbian. I did not feel safe walking in the streets any time, day or night, alone or with friends. There was constant fear in my heart and mind.

NYC Ali Forney
Anya (front centre)alongside fellow Frân Wen participants Keira, Sky, Reece and Zac.

It’s not fun being queer in North Wales because there’s a complete lack of LGBTQ+ education in schools and in general. The combination of the lack of education and small mindedness creates an institutionalised environment of prejudice and hatred. This environment is a breeding ground for discrimination and hate crimes that go unreported and unresolved because of the conservative culture. This in turn leads to more hatred and the dismissal of queer trauma and queer existence.

I’ve only recently — in the last 18 months — made queer friends, with the beginning of the NABOD Project with Frân Wen and GISDA. Finally meeting other queer people was such an eye opener for me, because I realized that it’s not only straight conservative people who lack an understanding of queer culture — I myself was completely oblivious to so many parts of my own community. I had no idea about so many other labels, gender identities, and sexualities, and I had no idea how intersectional the queer community truly is. I was unintentionally ignorant for so long and I felt guilty about that for a long time.

Reflecting on my younger self, I realize that she was a victim of the close-minded culture of village life and that she was denied the opportunity to discover herself comfortably and safely. That was not her fault. It was the community around her, pushing her to avoid difference and conform to their definition of normality.

What is normal, anyway? I imagine that “normal” is unique to each person. Normality should be who YOU want to be, how YOU want to dress, and how YOU want to act, and no person should be made to feel lesser because of who they are. Normality is subjective!

A month after I turned 16, I went from one little town to another, moving into my own flat with GISDA, a charity in North Wales that supports at-risk 16-25-year-olds. In this town, three hours from home and high in the mountains, nobody knew me. It was a chance to start fresh.

In October 2022, I was four weeks into independent living. I had the opportunity to start working with Frân Wen. Our aim was to build a show that reflects everything we believe in and represent our nuanced perspectives as queer young people. We wanted it to be fun and magical, but also real and eye-catching. It’s also very important to us as Welsh people to incorporate our culture and mythology into our art.

16 months later, having poured so much work, love, and creativity into this show, and as our ideas were starting to come to life, we were presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit New York City and meet young people from TONYC and the Ali Forney Center.

So, on March 17th, we set off. I was afraid because I absolutely hate flying! But we all shared a sense of excitement and anticipation. On our first day, we explored the city. There were buildings the size of our mountains everywhere, sirens blaring on every street, fresh food around each corner, and people absolutely everywhere! It's so different from home!

On the second day, we had the privilege of visiting the Ali Forney Center and meeting some of the young people and staff, who were all so welcoming and kind. We also watched three short plays that the young people from TONYC’s Ali Forney Center troupe had prepared. They were all amazing and had such strong messages. We were even offered the chance to join in by picking a character from the scene and improvising, a chance I refused to miss!

That first day spent meeting everyone was lovely, and over the course of the week, we got to know each other better, had many different discussions, exchanged thoughts and opinions, and explored topics that are often not talked about but should be. Many of these conversations were eye-opening for our whole group, and we did a lot of thinking and self-evaluation, both as a group and individually. Every person I spoke to and listened to has given me a different perspective and has made me think deeper about the way we perceive this life and this world.

Spending time with everyone was so cool. We warmed up to get the blood flowing and our brains working, got to be silly and fun and let out our creativity. We played games and did activities that made us think, move our bodies, listen, talk, listen some more, and create. We did brain-crunching activities that pushed us out of our comfort zones, encouraged us to work with other people, share ideas, and combine thoughts. We really got to see what the other person was thinking, through movement, speech, or listening, and sometimes all at once.

NYC Gweithdy TONYC

I have gotten a glimpse of life in NYC, and that glimpse alone has made me think and given me a different perspective. I can see how different but also how similar life is in NYC. I recognise my privilege as a white queer woman, and I understand the safety of the countryside. And I also see our similarities in past and present, and our hopes for the future.

Everyone from TONYC and AFC was so talented, smart, insightful, and kind, and I am so grateful to them all. If you’re reading this, I hope you can come visit North Wales one day!

My friends now are mostly queer and they are all accepting of me, and I of them. I think that little girl inside me is happy and content that now, at 17, I am finally embracing the person I have always been. Opening myself up to new experiences, and to challenge everything I have taught. For that, I am proud of myself and grateful to those who have helped me along the way.

My hope for my hometown, and all communities like it, is inclusion, understanding and respect toward people who differ from their definition of normal. My hope is that queer people are respected and protected. I want people to believe us and validate our experiences.

Anya (she/her)

The learning exchange visit to NYC was supported by Taith, the international learning exchange programme for Wales and Arts Council Wales.