When the world was sheltering in place, Takeyla Benton was coming out.
It was March 2020, and the Wisconsin, US-based financial-services professional and mother of two had just quit her job at a credit union, and broken off an engagement to a man. Lockdown gave now 39-year-old Benton time to rest and reflect on whether the identities society projected on her truly felt like her own.
“Growing up in the church, [as a] black woman, you’re forced down a path before you really even get to choose one,” she says. So, the possibility that she might not be straight, says Benton, “wasn’t anything I felt like I could explore, and still be accepted in my family and community”. Benton emerged from lockdown as an out queer woman who is still exploring what, if any labels, labels fit for her.
In popular imagination, coming out is one grand gesture: a queer person stepping out of the proverbial closet, into a celebratory spotlight of visibility. In reality, many queer people and researchers agree that coming out is more of a long-term negotiation between how we understand our identity, and how we present those identities to other people. Nearly 6% of US adults now identify as LGBTQ, more than ever recorded. Yet persistent discrimination, and the fluidity of many people’s experiences of gender and sexuality, often make coming out a continuous process of navigating in what spaces, and to what degree, we can be open about our identities.