The more I learn about Chely Wright, the more I love her. Which, considering I didn’t even know that she existed a week ago, is no small feat. I’m not a contemporary country fan, but I am a fan of honesty and openness. And in interview after interview, Chely has shown herself to be nothing but honest, open, thoughtful, compassionate and real. Heck, thanks to my friend Heather’s glowing review, I’m even seriously considering buying her book. And I, as a rule, shun all celebrity memoirs. The way Chely talks about her journey out of the closet is just so wonderful, encouraging, inspiring. We sometimes forget, in this seemingly endless struggle for equality, that there is more to coming out than just the external politics of living openly. It’s deeply personal process that can involve intense internal turmoil. For Chely, that meant losing a partner of 12-years who she called “the love of my life” because she chose to stay closeted and one day sitting in front of a mirror with a 9mm in her mouth and wanting to end it all. Luckily for us all, she didn’t.
In a fantastically candid and slyly funny interview with Entertainment Weekly (for heaven’s sake, read the whole thing!), Chely talks about everything from the industry to her anger about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to how long it took for her to tell even the people closest to her. They included her best friend, her sister, her brother and her dad. She still hasn’t told her mother.
My dad’s reaction surprised me. I thought someone was about to tell him. And I felt that division. There’s a compartmentalization that goes on, and the older you get, the more separate you live your life. You don’t want to do it, but you do it to protect your secret. I found myself just not being comfortable when he would call. And thought, Why are we growing apart? I can’t do this! I can’t have my dad die of a heart attack and him not know who I am. So I told him. He was surprised. He said, “But what about the boys?” I said, “Dad, I tried.” He said, “What is that when you date girls and boys?” I said, “Bisexual. But dad, I’m not that. I’m SUPER gay.” I haven’t told my ex-partner yet. I’m single. I’ve never dated, you know.
Not everyone comes out dancing and waving a rainbow flag. To deny how difficult the decision is or gloss over that silent struggle is to once again alienate a group of people who already feel isolated. I get emails from time to time from closeted readers who thank me for making them feel a little less alone. Each one humbles and touches me in ways too profound for simple adjectives. Know this: If you feel alone, you are not. There are countless other Chelys out there, perhaps looking down the barrel of their own heartbreak, who feel exactly the same way. But she came out of it stronger, happier, more alive. So can you. Happy weekend, all.
p.s. If Chely keeps wearing those tank tops, I’m going to have to amend my Hot 100 list.