During last year’s Thanksgiving break, a four-word question turned a mother-daughter novella viewing session into a much more significant experience for Helen Aldana.
“She just asked me, ‘Do you like girls?’ and I replied, ‘Yeah, I like them a lot,’” Aldana said.
Aldana, who now identifies as a lesbian, came out to her mother as bisexual, and at first, her mother dismissed her coming out as confusion.
“It didn’t feel real to me because she thought I was confused,” Aldana said. “Instead of ‘I know you’re a lesbian,’ or ‘I accept that you’re a lesbian,’ it was ‘I accept that you have this phase going on.’”
This past September, Aldana finally felt her mother acknowledged her identity as a lesbian by recognizing the connection Aldana had to another girl and not regarding it as confusion.
“I felt like I was coming out to her again. She took it seriously, and it was like, ‘Wow, she acknowledges my queerness,’” Aldana said.
Her mother, Aldana said, was not the only one confused about her sexual identity.
“I was confused all of high school because being straight is so convenient. It made my parents really happy, yet sad,” Aldana said. “If a guy broke up with me they would ask, ‘Are you sad?’ and I would say, ‘It’s cool.’ I don’t get why they didn’t see that, me being careless about getting dumped by a guy.”
When Aldana told her older sister she was a lesbian, her sister simply denied it, and Aldana agreed.
After coming to UC Santa Cruz, Aldana was still trying to figure out her identity. She started working at the Lionel Cantú Queer Center and tabled for National Coming Out Day. This experience was the first time Aldana stated she was a lesbian.
“Coming out to my friends was a little frustrating. There was a part of me that wanted to get it off my chest, but they still didn’t take it seriously. I really wish they had,” Aldana said.
Some of her friends at that time just assumed Aldana liked men. She did not feel involved in many of the conversations they had, and hoped that her friends would notice her discomfort and make their conversations more general.
Now that she works at the Lionel Cantú Queer Center, Aldana has made more friends within the queer community and no longer feels left out of conversations.
Even though Aldana has come out to her mother, she still has some hesitations about coming out to her father and much of their extended family. She has discussed coming out to her father with her mother and knows he will love her no matter what. Aldana predicts her father’s biggest concern will be her safety, emotionally and physically, from gay-bashing. Aldana has never experienced gay-bashing firsthand.
“I hope I never have to go through it,” she said.
Aldana is concerned that her extended family will not understand her sexual identity because of their religious views.
“I always tell them, ‘Well if God is so awesome, he would love a homosexual.’ And they say ‘Yes, he will forgive a homosexual,’” Aldana said. “I respond, ‘No, but there is nothing to be forgiven … There’s nothing wrong with being gay.’”
About the Series: Coming Out
October is LGBT History Month. In honor of the month, City on a Hill Press sat down with members of the LGBT community to hear their coming-out stories and insights into what it means to be queer and questioning in 2011.