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. 

Chely knew she was different when, in the third grade, she fell in love with her female schoolteacher.  Chely tried to suppress her attraction to women but to no avail.  It is part of who she is.  You can't pray that fact away.

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?


  1. I'd never heard of her before, but I must admit I am ignorant to the country music scene anything post Dolly Parton.

    I am privileged to have never faced this kind of discrimination because I was born straight, so I apologize for any insensitivity or ignorance from my perspective.

    I'm surprised and incredibly frustrated that this is still what happens to brave people that come forward and are honest about who they are. Really, society? Can't use our frontal lobes enough drop off our reptilian tails and join the 21st century? ):

  2. I've never heard of her, but I don't follow country music at all. It seems, and is obvious now, that country music really only plays to a certain type of person - small-minded, conservative, fundamentalist. Except for the Dixie Chicks. Maybe people like Chely and the Dixie Chicks can either bring country music to a wider audience, or bring tolerance to country music fans.

  3. I've heard of her through the context of the LGBT community, as I'm not a country music fan myself. I think her story is horrible, and wonderful at the same time. Her bravery and resilience sets a great example for LGBT youth everywhere...but the way the country music community has treated her since coming out is despicable.

  4. I've heard her music - she's a good singer/songwriter. It saddens me that she's being shunned for being gay. I thought (hoped) we lived in a more enlightened society...but how slowly some things change.

  5. I'm not a country music fan myself, but hearing this makes me feel profoundly sad and sorry for her at the same time. She had to impress and perform for the very crowd who despise her for who she really is. That's not an easy task to do, lying your whole life about something. I hope she's happy where she is right now, free from the chains of judgement upon her. We all relate to her in some ways, like having to lie about something to impress others.

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  6. 'the country music establishment has never accepted a gay performer' saddens me beyond belief, I don't know her but I didn't realise the depth of conservatism that runs through this industry, she is amazing, I love her will and strength despite being shunned to support and nurture gay children, but come on, time to move forward

  7. I'm a country music fan and have always loved Chely!!

    Sadly--it's not just her coming out that is causing her to be ignored by country music. These days almost ALL female artists of her age group are being passed over by country music. Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, JoDee Messina--all of her contemporaries from the 90's have lost their record deals and can get no airplay on country radio. Even Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are being shunned somewhat by Nashville these days. It sucks but unless you're Miranda Lamberyt or Carrie Underwood you're persona non-grata as a female.

    I listen to country oldies because the new stuff is crap.

  8. I suspect the country music establishment has accepted plenty of gay performers who just didn't come out at all :(

  9. Another example of religious people acting cruelly. I'm not surprised.

  10. It's just ridiculous. I'm appalled for this poor woman, especially wq=hen a tiny little country like New Zealand can be progressive enough to make gay marriage legal. I'm proud of our little nation, but the fight is not over. XXX

  11. This makes me really sad. Why can't we just value her for her amazing talents and skills? After all she would have done for the music industry.

  12. I've never heard of her, and I live in Nashville - but I will say the country music industry is very set aside in this town. It's extremely insular, only for certain types of people - and yeah, they definitely block out anyone who doesn't fit into the "WASP" model.

    I went to school in downtown Nashville for years, lived 9 minutes outside the city proper, but still managed to only see the reality of our "city" as the pretender it is. "Nashville" the way most people think of it, is in tourist traps along a couple of streets of bars and performance halls.

    As for accepting gay performers, this is the state that has voted to remove any mention of "gay" in schools. Our school system is so bad, we have/had a level of exemption from No Child Left Behind. Because they simply couldn't keep our schools up.

    I wish the best of luck to Chely and hope she finds a passion in what's she's doing to help protect kids. Personally, I wouldn't want to return to an industry that ostracizes people like that.

    1. I was hoping you'd comment, Megan, 'cause you're closer to Nashville than any of us. I assumed, correctly, that you have the best knowledge of this situation. Thanks for contributing.

  13. This is so sad. :( People are so awful.

  14. That really is awful :( I don't think I've ever witnessed a gay person being mistreated or talked badly about. I've only heard about it through friends. It may be because I surround myself with people who are either gay, or adore them. Then again, I live so close to San Francisco that it wouldn't make any sense to have anyone speak openly against them.

    I have however, witnessed biased and prejudice against my transexual friend. One of those people treating her badly was a supposed Christian. It boggles me that a Christian would treat another human being so horribly. Don't they realize the irony in their behavior? We, as flesh and blood, do not have the right to judge another human. PERIOD.

    Thank you for sharing her story. I'll have to find it and watch it as well :)

    Have a great weekend <3

  15. I'm not a huge music connoisseur (especially of anything in the last couple decades), so my not hearing of a person is no gauge, but that is such a depressing story. Just when you think the world has finally become a more compassionate, tolerant place... But it's also inspiring that persons such as Chely Wright have taken a stand, even when it came at great personal cost. There is hope.

  16. I do so love Country music but this kind of thing makes me very very sad. I have not heard of her but my heart goes out to her and also to those horrible people in the "establishment" who believe they are better than her.

  17. Like you, I am not a country music fan but I am torn by her story.
    How very sad that she was not accepted for her true talent.
    It's nobody's business what your sexual orientation is -

  18. Such a shame! A talent (I believe she is talented) is destroyed by stupidity of others. I don't get it when music can not be just music and it happens to be so important who the musician sleeps with.

  19. and just when i think we've come so far...i'm glad she's out, but hate the awful torment she went through.

  20. I've never heard of her but I am sorry to hear about this. It's, well I am at lost for words. It's horrible. As Lorena said, It's nobody's business what your sexual orientation is.

  21. i know exactly who she is. i remember that number one hit very well. my thing is that k.d. lang came out long before her. maybe it is because she was "living the lie" that she got snubbed. i don't know. but i for one can say i remember her story from the time she had her break to the day she came out and later was married to her girlfriend.