When Chely Wright came out of the closet two years ago, she did it anything but quietly. The country music superstar revealed to the world that she was gay with a veritable media fanfare, with appearances on shows like The Today Show, Oprah, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show; speaking to People magazine; and supplementing her outing with her memoir, Like Me, and her documentary chronicling her outing process, Wish Me Away.
Wright recently spoke with SheWired, looking back on her life since making the decision to be completely honest with her family, friends, and fans. "Going into coming out, one of the reasons that I took some decision-making into actually doing it was because I did want to choreograph it in a way that would fully explain and fully detail the nuances of what it’s like for a person, not just in the celebrity realm, but an everyday person — what if feels like, how high the stakes are," Wright said. "Everybody has a fan base!"
Since becoming the first openly gay commercial country music star, Wright has received both criticism and praise, with many of her critics coming from within country music. Still, Wright chooses to focus on the positives, saying, "People who want to continually be cynical about my coming out and my sharing my story and any negatives that came along with that, it doesn’t matter what we say — they’re never going to like it... The bigger picture — what eclipses any negatives for me — are the incredible positives that have occurred."
One such positive is the success of her documentary, Wish Me Away, which has won awards at various film festivals and was recently featured OnDemand. The film will be released Tuesday on DVD, and Wright, along with the film’s directors, will be hosting a Q&A session after a screening at the CAA in Los Angeles to benefit Equality California on Thursday, October 11. Get more information by clicking here.
After months of hitting the film-fest circuit, Wright is excited to share her story, and hopes that it can be an inspiration, not only to those dealing with the arduous process of acknowledging their own homosexuality, but also to parents or friends of a young gay person, who may not otherwise have heard such a story.
The documentary chronicles everything, from how young Wright was when she first knew she was gay, her relationships with women, her relationships with men (particularly fellow country music star, Brad Paisley), and even her intense contemplation of suicide. It features a captivating scene where Wright came out to her producer, Rodney Crowell, who did not know she was gay until the middle of making her record, Lifted Off the Ground. Afterwards, she played him "Like Me," a love song to a woman, which she describes to SheWired as "the emotional centerpiece to all the songs that I've written during my breakdown, which I call my breakthrough now."
Wright goes on to say how important that moment was, and how it inspired the title for her memoir. "That title was a very big part of that day when I sat there with Rodney, and that was like my secret song. So when he left my house, I opened my laptop and wrote a title page for my book, Like Me, and never changed it."
That name, Like Me, took particular significance for Wright after she became publicly out in 2010. During an appearance on Ellen, Wright described the loneliness of growing up in a small town without anyone to relate to — without "seeing anyone like me."
After that, Wright began to notice fans at her shows donning homemade "Like Me" t-shirts. She recalls one moment in particular when she met a group of young men at Capital Pride sporting that mantra, and asked one of the men about his coming out experience. When he responded that he wasn’t gay, Wright said that she had only assumed because of his “Like Me” t-shirt. A Midwesterner transplanted to the East Coast and pursuing a career in music, the young man explained, “I read your book, and I just felt so much like you.”
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Soon after, Wright founded the LIKEME organization, whose mission statement is "to provide education, support and resources to LGBT individuals, and their families and friends." For her, the crux of that organization is embracing similarities. “LIKEME is about inclusion," she says. "LIKEME is about looking for the ways that we are similar, rather than the ways that we are different."
Her recognition of universal similarities carries over into her personal life, as well. Last year, Wright married her girlfriend, LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer. She says they discussed their wedding rings, and whether or not to wear them traditionally on their left hands, or instead on their right, which many gay couples have chosen to do. For Wright, it was no question; she chose the traditional route. "It means the same thing to me as it means to my dad and his wife," she explains. "It's what it means to my brother and his wife. It's important, and I want the same thing. I want my children to see that there’s no difference."
With the presidential election less than a month away, Wright has publicly endorsed President Obama, but says her reasons are more than just social issues. Still, she recognizes the significance of a standing President voicing his support for marriage equality. "Anyone with a good heart, anyone with a compassionate and understanding mind who is opposed to people like me getting married, I believe it’s because they are unaware that their nephew is gay; they are unaware that their boss is gay; they are unaware that their neighbor is gay. I think it's a lack of exposure, and when our President endorses something like that, it's huge."
Through her book, her film and her public advocacy, Wright is working hard to fight this lack of awareness, which she believes, more than bigotry, is at the heart of the anti-gay agenda. She emphasizes the importance of educating those who haven't been exposed to gay people, citing her own father, who admitted to her that had she come out as a teen, he probably would have kicked her out of the house. "My dad's not a bigot. He just didn’t know any better." Wright goes on to stress the need for role models for LGBT youth, who may be facing similar prejudices, based on a lack of understanding. "Any of us who are grown-up adults, who are safe and able to come out and tell our stories, we have to do it! We have to tell our stories so that those 16 year old kids don’t have to run the risk of being kicked out."
When Chely Wright came out of the closet two years ago, she was anything but quiet. Now, she is out, proud, married, and fighting hard to help others find their way out of the closet. We can only hope that as this country moves further towards marriage equality, we'll find more people just like her.