I Choose Love

Joy Ashford
4 min readJul 7, 2020


“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

For most of my life, “love” was not an option. At the core of a life full of external joy, care, and adventure, there was a fundamental wrongness. I could love my friends, my family, my community — but as a lesbian in an evangelical universe, I could never let myself fall, fully and head-over heels, “in love.”

It is possible to exist without allowing yourself the possibility for romantic love. I’ve seen the path it has led friends of mine, and I’ve seen the path it has led me. You cling to the tepid approval of your religious family, who learn to look past the exhaustion in your eyes and look past you, too, in the process. You choke up the well of unbridled, bottomless love every child is born with, replacing it with a deep-seated shame that spills over into every area of your life. You train yourself to punish the timid butterflies in your stomach, that weak-needed dizzy dreaminess when she takes your breath away, the runaway laughter that must be controlled, lest it give you away.

But most irreparably, you learn to hate yourself. You construct your identity from the rejection of every lost and twisted connection, teach your heart again and again that its continued hope is a weakness. You believe that you will never deserve the romantic love you long for and that fundamental wrongness seeps into every other relationship in your life.

And so, eventually, you have two options. One is to live a lie that suffocates you, that stops up the loveliest parts of life and traps you in a permanent state of lifelessness.

Let me tell you what it was like to let go.

I learned that that poisonous feeling of brokenness, the fear in the back of my head on the happiest days and with the people I loved most in the world, wasn’t permanent. I learned that I was not too evangelical, too anxious, too broken, too feminine, too ANYTHING to be gay. I learned how to smile exactly as much as I wanted to and laugh without looking over my shoulder or wondering if I was just pretending.

I’m telling my story not because it is universal. Shame does not belong to queerness — the natural response, in my opinion, to the unstoppable, hard-won depth of the overwhelming love I’ve found in the queer community can only be pride and joy. But today, so many of us have still had shame ground into us, a shame so strong that it can blind us from even beginning to imagine a future where we can be our unapologetic selves.

This will probably be the last post I get to write before I lose many of the friends, mentors, and teachers I grew up with at Covenant Fellowship church. Of course, that is the last thing I want — if you know me at all, you know I’d love nothing more than to have a conversation of authentic dialogue and mutual respect. I’m no longer willing to begin every conversation from an affirmation of my own depravity, but I am willing and eager to keep lines of communicating open, to navigate the complexity of religion and queerness together, rather than in silence.

And to those at Covenant, or Episcopal High School, who may know the same shame I’ve written about, there’s nothing I’d love more than to be a sounding board for you. As a closeted, terrified gay kid in a fundamentalist world, I wanted so desperately for someone to just understand, to show me that there was a way out. My dm’s will always be open; I will not judge you, I will not ask you to prove or label yourself or have things totally figured out — but I promise to listen.

I hope you hear me when I say that all of us deserve to cherish our capacity to love and be loved, not to hate and punish and shut it off. You don’t have to be at any particular point in your journey, your queerness doesn’t have to look remotely like anyone else’s — you deserve to fall in love, and you deserve to love yourself, and I’ve finally decided, that that’s all that matters. No matter what it may cost you or who you may lose along the way, let me assure you — it’s worth it. ♥