Coming out is one of the most intimate and meaningful experiences in a LGBT person's life. Photographer Paola Paredes captures the beauty of it in her emotional project.
Titled "Unveiled," the project documents Paredes' personal experience of coming out as a lesbian to her family.
When she was 5, Paola began to notice something different about herself.
As she states in her website, Paola felt she was drawn to girls. Not in a sexual way, but there was something more enticing about them, something intriguing that she never discovered in boys. Maybe because she felt like one.
She spent her childhood dressing up and acting like a boy, hoping it would somehow justify the weird attraction she had towards girls. One time, she even declared to her father that she was a boy and he could stop wishing for a son.
But growing up in a religious Ecuadorian household, Paola felt that questioning one's sexuality will be frowned upon, so she kept her feelings for girls to herself.
Then came high school and the need to conform took over. Paola did everything she could to tap into her feminine side (wore dresses, heels, flirted with boys...) but there was no spark. It wasn't until she was 20 that she kissed her first girl and realized what she'd really been missing.
"It was my first kiss with a girl and it was everything those previous kisses had not been: immediately exciting, exhilarating and enjoyable," Paredes explains.
A few years later, she fell in love. Paola felt like she could no longer keep her secret inside. She had to tell someone and her sisters, Naty and Vero, were the first ones to hear the news about her sexuality. But the big challenge was still ahead.
Paredes says that telling her parents about her sexuality never really appealed to her. "Since I felt I was leading a sort of secret life there was so many things I could not talk to them about," she said in an interview.
When Paredes finally decided to come out to her parents, she knew she needed two things: her sisters and a camera to capture it.
"I had never had any intention to come out before. I was convinced I probably would have never done it. But the idea of capturing it photographs it made it all of a sudden appealing," she told Fotografia magazine.
So after talking to her parents about doing a photography project in their house and getting their full consent, Paredes started prepping for the shoot. She set up cameras around the dinner table, programmed the shutters to go off at every 5 seconds, put on Spanish music... Everything to make her parents feel comfortable, relaxed and respected.
"It took me a while to be able to speak. I looked down at the table and took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I finally said the words: 'I'm gay.''
"My parents didn't react immediately, but I could feel their eyes on me. I could no longer hold back the tears."
"And then, through the blur, voices reached out to me. 'We don’t care. We love you.''
Paola says she was in a state of shock and couldn't believe her parents' reaction. Instead of the expected anger, all she got was love, compassion and understanding. Both her mom and dad expressed their support and said they will "stand by their daughter even if other parts of the family would not."
The family continued talking for another two hours or more and Paredes got to explain all the hardships she faced as a teenager.