Thursday, August 22, 2013
Hiding In The Closet
From the time Chely Wright was a little girl, she wanted to be a country music singer. Growing up in a small town in Kansas, Chely clung to this dream as a way to escape her unhappy family life.
Chely worked hard at her goal. She learned how to sing and groomed herself with conventional beauty techniques. As a teenager, Chely moved to Nashville and labored in the country music business. Eventually she caught a break. In 1997, she broke through with a hit song ("Shut Up And Drive"), followed by a number one hit ("Single White Female"). It appeared Chely had achieved her dream. Her eight albums sold over a million records.
But Chely was miserable. Deeply, profoundly unhappy. Despite reaching the top of the country music world, Chely wasn't satisfied with her life because she was living a lie.
Chely Wright is gay. She believed the country music world wouldn't accept the truth about her, so she hide her orientation for twenty years.
At one point, while on top of the world, Chely put a gun in her mouth and contemplated suicide. Years of hiding in the closet will do that to you.
I don't follow country music and had never heard of Chely until my close friend Jen alerted me to a new documentary about her ("Chely Wright: Wish Me Away"). I saw the film last night. It is compelling and tells Chely's story from a close perspective. Chely also wrote an autobiography ("Like Me").
In 2010, when she was 40 years old, Chely came out publicly. She revealed to the world that she's gay. She was the very first country music performer to acknowledge that. Chely worried that her career in country music would be over because many of her eight million fans are deeply religious and conservative. The country music establishment has never accepted a gay performer.
It appears her fear was warranted. Since her announcement, Chely has not been invited to a single country music event. Where previously she received multiple awards and recognition, she's now snubbed by that business.
Chely has become active in promoting gay rights and specifically trying to protect gay children from bullying and suicide. It looks unlikely she will ever be able to return to country music.
Have you heard of Chely? What do you think of her story?