...when love never stops blossoming
While we’ve grown up hearing many stories from our cisgender parents, grandparents and extended family members about how they met their life partners in high school, those same stories are not often told in our own community. For many of us, we don’t meet our soulmates until we are well into adulthood, or even, too late in life. But for fiancés, Ashleigh and Kia, fate brought them together in high school and have kept them together for the past ten years.
And not even a deeply religious upbringing or a slight age difference that kept them in different places in life at times, could stop their love from growing, bringing them closer together or blossoming what they shared into something just right.
Watch parts of LBH’s conversation of love with Ashleigh & Kia above or read it in full below where they talk with LBH about finding love at a young age, growing together and learning how to better communicate all while being comfortable in their identity in spaces that weren’t always safe.
How did you all meet and how long have you all been together?
Ashleigh: We officially met at the mall, but my brother went to her church--that's how he knew them and that's how I was introduced to her, through the mall. [And] we attend the same church.
Kia: I was getting my ears pierced--I was 16 and she was 14. My mom, my sister and her brother come by, we know her brother really well because he'd been going to [our] church for about a year or so then. She had been a couple of times, [but] we didn't really know her officially yet. So, that's when he introduced us and we just became really close friends ever since. I remember it was June, I was going to the 11th grade that next year, she was going to the 9th and we just became really close friends. And then, two years later, we began dating.
Altogether, how many years has it been?
Kia: We started (dating) February 26, 2012. So, it'll be ten years next February when we'll be getting married. We'll be getting married on our anniversary date.
Ashleigh: I proposed to her on our anniversary too.
Kia: Yeah, we'd like to keep that day.
In what ways have you guys’ relationship changed over the years?
Kia: It's changed a lot but definitely for the better. We've matured for one; we started off so young so we've matured, we've grown together, we’ve gone through so much together. I lost my mom during our relationship, she lost her dad, we've lost grandparents. We've been through so much, but it's only brought us closer. And our love has just grown every moment and every step of the way. It's blossomed into something great right.
"...it's one of the best feelings in the world and I can't wait to marry her and be with her, do life with her and spend a lifetime and many lifetimes with her."
Any differences in the way that you all approach conflict as adults in comparison to when you were younger?
Kia: Definitely! Back in the day or I guess our high school/college years were toxic. Back then, we used to argue and we used to say “why are you doing this” or “what do you know”, blah, blah. Now it's like okay, let's have a talk, communicate, let’s talk about this.
Ashleigh: You don't have to just lash out on the person, you don't have to have an attitude. You can just say what's on your mind because it may not be that serious. You may think it’s one thing and it's really not that serious.
Ashleigh, at what moment did you know that Kia was the one for you?
Ashleigh: It’s been a lot of moments over time , I can't pick out [just one] moment. It's just been so good, and I'm this girl makes me happy. I want to marry her. And I know if I asked her to marry me, this is going to make her even happier. So I just really can't pick out a moment, but I will say I can't live life without [her].
And Kia, what about Ashleigh stood out to you the most?
Kia: What stood out most to me about Ashleigh besides her physical attributes, I would say of course her personality. As she was saying earlier, her family, they're very religious, they're very calm. They're very like they got their stuff together. And Ashleigh, meeting her, she was the spontaneous one. She was the one that was saying anything, she didn't care. So, right when I first met her as a friend, that stood out to me. She would speak her mind. She would tell you how she felt. She's always making you laugh and she's just this crazy person. But at the same time, she's so loving, so giving and so caring. I wouldn't trade her for the world.
How did you all come to the decision to legally get married after being together for so long?
Ashleigh: I say it was really on me. She is older than me so she graduated college first, found her job first because she is two years older than me. So, it was really up to me because I am the more dominant one. I know she didn’t want to propose to me. But I kind of set goals for myself like okay, I want to make sure I graduate college first. I want to make sure I have a job where I can afford the ring that she wants. I don't want to have to go back and say “I'm just going to get you this one and then we'll upgrade it later.” No, I want to get you the ring that you want. And I just want to make sure I was basically in a good space for marriage instead of going from different jobs to different jobs. I’m [wanted to be] stable.
"It’s like, hey this is the one I love, so I don't care what my parents think or my brother, I don't care what anybody else thinks honestly."
Kia: Ever since we first started [dating] I always took that into consideration (our age difference). I may be ready for something at this time but she made me not. She's still two years younger than me. So, I always took it and I felt like the perfect time was when she did it. I knew at a certain age Ashleigh wasn’t ready for it. And I didn’t not want her ready for what I'm ready for. We needed to be on the same page at all times. So, I felt like it all came at the right time. I wanted her to be comfortable and say you don't have her future lined up with her career as well as mine. I felt like it was a perfect moment. Our love is just so strong for one another. We both couldn't see ourselves being with anyone else so it was like why not get married? I want to have her last name. I really want to be with her, I really want to do life with her. So why not legally just get married? I've always wanted to get married and once we started dating and I knew I wanted to marry Ashleigh, so I had to say yes.
Have you guys always had the support of your parents?
Kia: No, I haven't. My mom probably found out two years after [we started] dating, so like 2014. When she did find out, it was kind of hints thrown at it and stuff like that, she ended up asking me about. And I always said if she asked me if I was gay or anything that I would tell her. So, she did and I told her, and she was definitely not pleased with it. Being religious, growing up Baptist, going to church, she wasn't okay with it. Also, I think what made her really not be in favor of it was because we went to the same church, so at that point our families had grown really close. My mom and her mom [had become] very good friends you know? Her father, her brother, we were all very close. We were almost like a second family so my mom was like okay, why Ashleigh like of all people? And I'm sure [she was] kind of embarrassed of what other people would say so [I] didn't tell my dad at that moment. My mom and I struggled with it for years. It was kind of on and off, and I think eventually she kind of realized that nothing was going to change me from dating Ashley. Nothing she said or anybody else said was going to stop me from dating her. So, she came to agreeance with it. She was okay with it, once we've kind of moved in together she was kind of like, oh goodness this just must be it. She acted like she didn't like it, then next thing she was you know all for her. Her and Ashleigh actually had a great relationship. So, she came around and I'm so glad she did before she passed away. That was one of the best things I could say about that. I never told my dad, which is weird, and I should have because my dad was not as religious as my mom. And I felt like my mom kind of told him but he never really did know. I think he was in denial as well, and I did [finally] tell him four years ago. And he was just like “why didn’t you tell me?” but he was super excited. He loves Ashleigh so I'm just glad now they’ve come to terms.
Ashleigh: My mom and her mom kind of found out around the same time; my mom was just like “we'll, why didn't you say anything to me?” and I was like “mom, it’s not easy just to come out and say that because of who we are, as far as religious wise. I can't come out and say, hey, I'm gay or hey, I like a girl or hey, I'm dating Kia because we were so close.” And she just was like you know I don't like that (Ashleigh being gay). But eventually, for me, I was the child that if I want to do it I'm going to do it. So, she just was like “well I do want to have a relationship with my daughter so if she wants to be gay then hey, so be it. I don't want to stop talking to her.” As the years passed, I could say she saw me dress differently, she
saw me change like “hey mom, I don't want to wear this, I don't feel comfortable wearing this.” As far as my dad, I kind of told him because it was situation in our household and I didn't want him to judge me for being gay. So, I brought up the situation that he did and said “hey man, you are in the same boat so don't come preaching at me. You might want to preach it to yourself,” kind of thing. And when I actually told them that I wanted to propose to her, he was just like “oh no, you need to go talk to God about that.” And I was like “well, me and you should go talk to him together.” [When] my dad passed away, and his brother actually came to me telling me [that] he had come around, he just wasn't going to say it because that's the type of person he was. He wasn’t going to say “I was wrong.” That's his personality.
"I didn't feel open enough to want to be out in church and let people know that hey I'm with Ashleigh. We're sitting here on this pew together, but we are also together."
How big of a role does religion play in your relationship today considering everything you just told me?
Kia: Not much of a role. I mean, we're still somewhat religious, more-so spiritual. Growing up, we would be in church, especially her, probably every Sunday. My parents were more like okay we can have a Sunday off here and there. We both were in the choir together. We were definitely very religious when we were younger. As you grow older you kind of see things more differently, not only because we're lesbians, but I feel like even if I wasn’t, I would [see things differently]. I grew up and just see things more differently now and am just not as religious. We still pray together and stuff like that but as far as going to church, not so much anymore. Eventually I can see us, maybe if we find a church that kind of fits us and who accepts us for who we are, we probably would go.
Have you guys ever felt isolated from the church because of your sexuality?
Ashleigh: I think I have because of course I had to wear dresses, skirts and stuff like that to church. So, it was like I'm really not comfortable wearing this. And back in that time, it's like if I would have come in there with a suit on all eyes would have been on me. It would have been like “what is she doing?” and I just feel like that’s because of the church we were attending, it was close knit. I really felt isolated and uncomfortable.
Kia: You know how those old school churches are. You got those old people up there who could be extra judgy. Me personally, as in myself, no one really knew. And I will say we kept it a secret for so long because of how the church did view it. Hearing the preacher preach about it and seeing the looks that they would give some other people who were in the church that were gay or lesbian. I've never been a person like Ashleigh. Ashleigh has always been an outgoing person, not really caring what other people will say. I kind of did care a little bit more, so I didn't want to be just out in the open. I was very proud of our relationship when we were younger but I definitely wanted to keep it a secret. so in that case I guess I did feel isolated because I didn't feel open enough to want to be out in church and let people know that hey I'm with Ashleigh. We're sitting here on this pew together, but we are also together.
How does it feel to be so open about your relationship now in comparison to when you guys were younger?
Kia: It feels good, it's a breath of fresh air.
Ashleigh: It’s like, hey this is the one I love, so I don't care what my parents think or my brother, I don't care what anybody else thinks honestly. I love Kia and that's really all that matters.
Kia: It feels good to not [have to] keep something a secret. That is to keep someone you love, a relationship that you care so much about a secret. It feels really good just to be able to show your love. We were kind of out on social media, [accounts where] I would have more so my friends and younger family members, I would post her and stuff like that. But Facebook was where I had everybody from church, all of my aunties and uncles and stuff. And they didn't really know. I hated how I couldn't put a picture up of Ashleigh on Facebook and say happy birthday or make a lovey-dovey post. It felt so like “oh, I can't do that”; but now, these last couple of years just being out and open and being able to show our love to the world and not be afraid? It feels really good and it feels free. And I hate that we had to even experience that and go through that all those years.
Ashleigh: But we were young.
"...our love has just grown every moment and every step of the way. It's blossomed into something great right."
Kia: But still I hate that we still had to even do that. We should have still been able to just be free.
Any advice you could give other queer folks who are struggling with coming out to their parents because of their religious beliefs or anything you might have done differently?
Ashleigh: I would just say: be yourself, and don't worry about what anybody else has to say, because at the end of the day, whatever you do, if it makes you happy, be happy with it. You can't please everybody in the world anyway. So, whether you're doing good or bad, somebody's going to always have something to say so might as well do what you want to do.
Kia: I would definitely say be yourself, stay true to yourself. And also, just take your time, don't feel peer pressure to come out because of a partner or a friend who's pushing you to do it. Do it when you're ready, do it when you feel like it. And don't try to hide it because you're scared of what your parents are going to say or what the pastor or the mother of the church is going to say. I wish that I would have gone about it in a different way. It was childish the way my mom found out about it, I wish that I would have gone about it a different way. I wish I would have actually just gone to her and talked to her about it.
With both of you all losing a parent, in what ways were you able to provide support to one another and how did you go about asking for that support?
Ashleigh: Well, when her mom died, it was kind of tough on me because [she leaned] on her dad and sister, [and I] had to understand that it’s not about me anymore. She has to go and take care of her family and help them out. You don't even realize that you've been selfish until you talk to a friend and they say hey, you're being selfish.
Kia: Well, as far as being there for her, my mom passed away first, so I was able to kind of understand her pain. And I knew just to give her space when she wanted [it], because I know that's what I needed sometimes. I knew when she would get some kind of attitude here and there, or kind of feeling different but I knew [because] I went through that. I kind of knew how to deal with it but it was definitely hard on both of us. But I just had to do what I had to do to be there for her. Just love her little extra.
Okay, last question. How does it feel to be loved by her?
Ashleigh: Man, to put it in other people's perspective, whenever you're doing something and it makes you go “oh my God! this is making me feel so happy,” that's how I feel with Kia. I used to say basketball was like my main thing, and it’s like no, it’s like Kia. I love that girl. [And] I'm happy when I’m with her. It's never like a moment where I'm like, oh going home to this woman [again]. Like no, I love to come home to my woman. It's just everything together. We're going to do it because I'm not sick of you. I need you right there with me. Going to the store, I need Kia right there with me.
Kia: I would definitely say it's an indescribable feeling. I really can't even describe it but it's one of the best feelings in the world. It's just like she was saying.. It's like coming home and taking off your bra, kicking off your shoes and just laying down and you're able to be who you are. You're able just to be free. She loves me for me, unapologetically. It's just that perfect love. It feels great to be loved by her. I feel secure. I feel safe. She's like my safe haven. I really can't even put a word to it. I can't really even describe it. But it's one of the best feelings in the world and I can't wait to marry her and be with her, do life with her and spend a lifetime and many lifetimes with her.
Interview by: Kee Simone, LBH Editor-in-Chief (@thebaddiegalore)