Last week, Chely Wright, the country music artist who won the Top New Female Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music in 1994, scored numerous hits, among them the number one song "Single White Female" in 1999, and found herself as one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2001, talked on the phone from her New York City apartment and felt both excited and anxious. The mixed feelings had little to do with the financial success or failure of her new album and memoir.
Instead, Wright, a plain-talking, 39-year-old native of Kansas, was wondering what was going to happen when she would become the first country music star to publicly come out of the closet -- Chely Wright, you see, is gay.
"I feel really good," she said, after thinking about it for a moment. "I also feel waves of anxiety. I feel like my birthday is happening on Wednesday."
Those waves of anxiety, Wright explained, come from a belief that her country music career may be over once she utters the words "I am a lesbian" on national television.
"There's a reason no one in country music has revealed his or her homosexuality," Wright said. "Fans want their country music stars to be a certain way. They want 'God, country, and family,' even though being gay fits into that."
It was especially the "God element," said Wright, that kept her and probably many others in the closet, believing that a vast majority of God-fearing, country music fans would never buy an album by someone who is openly gay, and that record company executives would never test that belief in the first place.
"Nobody whose face is on the side of a (tour) bus is allowed to be out," said Wright.
Wright, whose brother is a career Marine, was also thinking that one of her other passions - entertaining and visiting U.S. troops - may also come to an end.
"That's going to be really hard," she said, pausing for a moment. "I don't think I'll be uninvited. I think the invitations will just go away."
Yet Wright, who almost committed suicide due to the fact that she is
gay, still couldn't wait to come out. "I really feel like I'm starting
my life over," she said. And unlike some gay celebrities or athletes who
shy away from gay rights issues, Wright, in her thoughtful memoir, Like
Me, and on the phone, was more than willing to take a stand.
Gay marriage? She's completely in favor it. Gays and lesbians serving
openly in the military? Wright said it needs to get done.
"I don't see how 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' hasn't been repealed," she
said. "I understand that these things take time, but for god's sake, how
long does it take?"
Even worse, said Wright, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" prevents people from
being truthful with their fellow soldiers and commanding officers.
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is the antithesis of honor," she said, "which
is what serving in the military is all about."
Howard Bragman to help her through the coming out process, is only
coming out for the publicity, which, when you think about it, says a lot
about the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians. The country music singer
said such a criticism doesn't ring true.
"I can tell you what the publicity stunt was - being straight for all of those
years of my career," she said, adding, "I had a gun in my mouth."
Wright said she wrote the book for two reasons: She wanted to be open
and honest about who she really is, and she wanted young gays and
lesbians to know that there are gay country music artists.
"I need this to make it into print because there's a little boy or a
little girl who's gay and wants to be a country music star," Wright
said, "but they'll look around and see no one is out. So I have to do
this for them."
Wright said she also plans to build the first gay and lesbian center in
Nashville, where she lived for so many years and where the country music
industry is based. It will be called the Tennessee Lighthouse.
"I'm excited and eager to do all I can (for the gay community)," said Wright, who holds a strong
faith in what she described as "a God of light and love."
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"God expects us to do one thing in this life," said Wright, "and that's
to tell the truth."
Today, May 5th, Wright's truth has finally come out.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.