The month of May was one whopper of a month for country singer Chely Wright. She released her seventh album, Lifted Off the Ground the same day Random House released her memoir, Like Me. In the latter, she revealed the emotional depths she plunged hiding the fact that she is gay.
An Oprah appearance and a media storm later, Wright is in a completely different universe. In just one month's time, the award-winning crooner has shattered glass ceilings, primarily in country music circles where being an out performer is a rarity. This month, Wright is hitting higher notes, personally and professionally. She made an appearance at GLSEN's (Gay, Lesbian and Straight, Education Network) Respect Awards and is set to perform at San Francisco's GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards (June 5), all the while adjusting to a new life -- "out of the closet." Here, she opens up about her new-found tranquility and the importance of 'living your truth."
Q: Does the media blitz feel like a whirlwind?
A: I am not really looking at any press.
Q: Very smart.
A: Yeah. I have escaped a lot of the mania that is going on. I know it's out there but I am staying pretty quiet and doing my work, although I know I've been talking about my life a lot lately, doing a lot of interviews. But aside from the whirlwind that I know exists, I feel an incredible amount of tranquility, believe it or not.
Q: Can you talk about that coming out process for you?
A: Well I made the decision to come out in mid-2007. I had gone through a really really hard time; kind of a breakdown of sorts in 2006 but my truth and my reality began to sit down there on me and I began to realize I might find myself in that very dark place. I had nearly attempted suicide one night. This was years and years of hiding and I lost my partner for many years, because of hiding my relationship and hiding me being gay in an industry that largely condemns and doesn't welcome gay people to make records, openly. I had hit my wall; my rock bottom. When I made this decision to come out. I had made a conscious decision to do it well and to do it right. You won't hear me say, "I can't believe this got so big." No, I did plan and intend for this to be this big. Of course, it did get much bigger than I thought. And that's a testament to how many people there are like me out there in the world. The resonance and the truth of the story. But I did intend to tell the story, completely and comprehensively. That's why I wrote the book. I just didn't want to chase my tail six months after this trying to explain the depths the depths to which I hid; trying to explain my fear; explain the complexities of my relationship with my partner, Julia. I just wanted to be able to say, "OK, really, here's my book. Here's how it happened."
Q: How are you today with everything?A: Good. I mean, I received a lot of emails and inquiries; people reaching out, some even saying, "I've been meaning to reach out to you in this difficult time." And I know they meant well, but my response has been, "Thank you." But what I wanted to say was, "This is not the difficult time." It's a good time. The difficult time was 16 years hiding. The difficult time was early 2006, way before I decided to come out. The difficult time was the cold winter when I didn't leave my pajamas or my house for 90 days. But I know they mean well. They don't understand that this is not the difficult time. Chaotic? Yes. Busy? Yes. Hectic? Yes. Not difficult.
Photo courtesy of GLAAD
Q: You said times were dark, challenging. What do you think pulled you through?
A: I have no doubt what pulled me though was ... God. My spiritual relationship with God was what delivered me from the agony of the torture of silence, isolation and hiding. I feel as if my spiritual compass had been pointing me toward standing up and telling that truth for so very long and I kept over-riding that. I kept looking up and saying, "I know you're telling me to do this, God, but surely, you don't understand this industry. Surely, you don't understand how hard ... " I kept saying "Surely." But the minute I became so submissive and said, "OK, I've done it my way for the past 36 years, I'll try it your way, was the moment I felt complete peace. It wasn't great news to me that I realized, "Holy crap -- I'm coming out." That wasn't exciting. That wasn't like I was going to Disneyland. It seemed like a huge mountain in front of me but I knew that I was going to fortify myself and climb that mountain. I knew I was going to do it. I knew I was a spiritual person and some things are bigger than the planet... than my arrogance... than what I thought I could figure out. Once I stopped trying to control everything, that's when things got really basic and really primary for me.
Q: Religion played big role in your life?
A: Religion. Different kinds ... Christian-based demoninations, yes. I grew up in a religious community. We weren't the type of family to be in church every Sunday. We were intermittent with church. But deep in the community ... where there was a church on every corner ... there were no liberals in my town. There was nothing progressive about my little town. There were no gays as I knew. We were told anything gay or homosexual was perverted and wrong and evil.
Q: What are you looking forward to these days?
A: Gosh -- I'm just looking forward to playing shows and being able to tell the stories behind the songs and not having to be careful about pronouns. And not hiding. Hiding sucks.
Q: About GLAAD, what's vital?
A: Well GLAAD is vitally important to the community. Words are powerful -- the written word; the spoken word; blogs. GLAAD's position in the world is more important than ever. One thing I learned from GLAAD is patience. In the country music world, something that really has never dealt with anything gay before, one of the things I am learning on radio stations; from radio djs called Bubba, you can see that there are nervous and that they nervously say the wrong thing -- it just pops out of their mouth. And the thing I learned from GLAAD is just to be patient with them; help steer it back on the right track. It's going to take a while for them to grasp the sensitivity of the right things to say -- and that I can help them, and that it doesn't have to be pointed or caustic. I can help them understand the gay community. There's not a more forward-thinking organization than GLAAD to get it right. They do a lot of research. They're in the field every day. They're like an amoeba, always moving and changing. They're not old-school. They're in the trenches trying to find out what the gay community demands and what the gay community is asking for.
Q: What do you love most about what you do with music?
A: I have the luxury ... it's narcissistic job. All us folks who do art, create poetry and the like, we're just a bunch of little kids with our fingers in the fingerpaint. We get to sit around and indulge our emotions. I love that I don't have to do "real hard" work for a living, like construction work; like my dad. I like that I get to be in touch with my emotions every day. And that's my job. Can you not think of a cooler job than to talk about feeling like you're floating because somebody kissed ya?
Q: I know.
A: Yeah, right? It's the greatest thing in the world. I get to explore my inner most fears and fantasies and wounded feeling and connections and I get to write those down in melody and lyrics and that's my job? It still freaks me out.
Q: What makes you laugh most?
A: A good smart-ass. I love sarcasm. I really like funny people; funny people who don't take themselves seriously, really cracks me up.
Q: Chocolate or Vanilla?
A: Do I have to choose? Why would you make me choose? That's cruel.
Q: You can say both.
A: You know, I really like a good hardcore vanilla.
Q: Like vanilla bean?
A: Yes, that's it.
Q: Even better with chocolate syrup on top. So, what issue can the LGBT community focus on even more?
A: I think we need to tell more personal stories. I think stats and data are necessary and policy -- and pardon me for walking right into the LGBT community and saying what we need, because, who am I, right? -- but we were talking about equality and gay marriage recently and all these things, and what we realized was that personal stories are the greatest tool. You can go into a community and hand out pamphlets and say, "historically this, and historically that..." but when the junior high math teacher stands up and says, "Hey I'm you're favorite math teacher, right?" And they go, "Yeah, Mr. Simpson." And he says, "Well, this is my partner Joe." It changes everything.
Q: What's some of the best advice you've been given about life?
A: Hmm. To keep some of that "life" for me -- for myself. I mean, I am no stranger to attention, but now I have this freedom and I don't want to hold anything back. And so I have this ... there's a temptation to not hold anything back, but some of my friends have said to keep a little bit of it back because it's tempting now to spill myself wide open. I'm just so excited to be out. I just want to crack myself open and go, "Hi -- I'm coming out."
Q: What's the most interesting thing you've been learning about yourself lately?
A: That it doesn't hurt as bad as I thought it would to have people ridicule me. I've been kind of hung up; had some anxiety about people sending me hate mail and it just doesn't sting like I thought it would. I thought it would hurt more. It doesn't.
Dig deeper. Get to know more about Chely Wright and LGBT causes by logging onto GLAAD.
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