Soapbox: Chely Wright

Two years ago she stunned the country music world by coming out of the closet, and Chely Wright hasn’t let up since. Today she’s working on a new song with a friend in Nashville and loving her life with wife Lauren (their one-year anniversary is this summer—congratulations!) in Manhattan. In celebration of our Pride Issue, we’re honored to have her stand on our Soapbox, because if there’s one thing Chely knows how to do—besides sing—it’s speak her mind, loud and proud.

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When I wrote that entire album [Lifted Off The Ground] I never imagined I would come out. I’ve had some people who reviewed it saying, “This is her coming-out album, and you can tell she found freedom as she was writing these songs.” Well, the truth is I found no freedom when I was writing those songs. I was deeply tortured, deeply in pain.

I was almost finished making the record when I decided to come out. I sat on my front porch with my producer, Rodney Crowell, and realized I had to tell him. How in the world was I going to go out and talk about this record? People will know when they listen that I have had a deep heartbreak. And it wasn’t publicly known that I had any kind of a relationship, so what was I going to do? Make up a fake boyfriend in Buenos Aires? And I felt again trapped. I said, “Rodney, I’m gay. I’m going to come out.” I didn’t know what he was going to say, but what he did say was, “I love ya, and I’m proud of you.”

The minute I decided to come out, my life really got very easy, despite the fact that there were a lot of logistics and planning and scheduling and strategizing on how to come out well and correctly. But the change in my life, in terms of the ease with which I was able to sleep and breathe and walk and laugh, was immeasurable.

When I met the TV gals [the producers of Wish Me Away], I just knew they had such a great instinct of where and how to weave my really intimate moments into the narrative. Our stories are really all so much alike when we come out, and that’s what they were able to quilt into the film: It’s not a film about a country singer coming out. It’s a film about anyone. And when people come to see it, even if they didn’t know who I was or never listened to country music before, they can see their story or they can see their son’s story. I could have tweeted: “Hey, y’all, I’m gay!” And then there would have been those who question the struggle. There would be those who would question the faith that I have—I’m a Christian and a gay woman. There would be those who would say, “Oh, gosh. You know, it’s not that hard.” Or, “Why do gay people have to shove it down our throats?” I get these indictments every day from the public, and there was something really powerful for me about putting pen to paper and writing my story.

I’ve worked nearly 20 years in the country music industry and, ya know, I’ve paid into something. And now I’m cashing in my chips. I’m using my public capital in a way that I feel lucky and honored to be a part of the gay community who has a public voice. I didn’t come out to shut up. I came out to talk. And I came out to use my voice. Some people may call me a bigmouth, but quite frankly, I don’t care. As long as there are young people who are cutting themselves or medicating with drugs and alcohol and jumping off bridges and hanging themselves because of who they are, it is my responsibility as a compassionate human being—a decent and good human being—to use my voice at every turn.

It’s good to finally be out and among every community with whom I belong. It’s humbling and I continue to learn. And I would never want to be able to claim that I speak for the entire gay community, but I am awfully proud to be a voice.

Moderated by Mike Wood; art by Dave Arkle. Chely’s inspiring autobiography, Like Me, is available at amazon.com. Chely Wright: Wish Me Away will have its limited theatrical release June 1.