Back in 2014, Chely Wright appealed to fans and to fund her Kickstarter campaign for a new album. I backed Chely, not because I was a fan, but because she was brave enough to come out, and wanted to keep singing. More than 2 years later, her latest album, the Kickstarter-funded album, I Am The Rain, is slated for release on September 9. If you don’t know Chely’s coming-out story, or even if you do, pick up her autobiography, Like Me. It will blow you away.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read an autobiography by a lesbian singer, but this is certainly the most anguished and painful. It’s almost unbearable until you remember that now, she is happily married to Lauren Blitzer, has twin boys and is just about to release her new album. Keeping the end in mind, you can bear to witness her pain.
The full title of the book, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, is a little more revealing. Oh, that American “heartland”: home of radical right-wingers who’d rather see you dead than free (to be a lesbian, that is). The book isn’t as much about the music or her career, but about the agony of self-hatred, and both internal and external homophobia.
Wright knew she was a lesbian at the ripe old age of eight, but came out decades later. The book starts with Wright pulling a loaded gun down from a closet shelf and trying to figure out: against the forehead or in the mouth?
Wright covers the whole gamut of her life: being a gay kid, a gay teenager who tries dating boys to stop feeling so “sinful”, and the gay adult who, well, kept dating guys to stop feeling so “sinful”. Her relationships with women were broken, fragments of what ought to be. Live with your female partner? Yes. Share a bedroom? No.
She is one of the few out famous lesbians I can think of who actually admits to lying about being gay. Whether it’s true or not, it seems that in most autobiographies I read of lesbians after they are out, the authors repeat time and again that they skirted the questions, changed the subject or answered vaguely. Wright admits she flat-out lied with a big N-O when someone important to her asked if she was gay.
As she recounted her story of God, prayer, truth and hiding, I kept thinking hers was an important story and should be read by anyone growing up or living in conservative America. If you are afraid of someone finding the book and outing you, by the way, just buy the audiobook version. It’s not very likely anyone will ever “accidentally” find it.
Wright’s personal struggle details her very real pain that did not go away until she came out. She feared everyone, and everything, that might out her. And frankly it just kept freaking me out that this was not written in 1979 but in 2010. If you think the struggle for LGBT rights is over, if you think there aren’t a whole lot of people – kids and adults both who are feeling trapped in silence – think again.
It matters when people come out, and it matters that she fought for years to live in the light. Sometimes we (and by that I mean me) find it easy to forget that it’s still like this for some adults, the fear of coming out is palpable, and the decision is (or should be) a deeply personal one. And it matters a lot that someone so tied into the American culture of God, country, war and country music comes out and shows that you can love these things and be a lesbian – because it opens up a world of possibility for the people who are still struggling to come out. I think it’s fair to say, queer visibility matters most where the minds are most narrow.
If you’re conservative, pick up the book and see what you have helped create. If you are liberal, pick up the book and remind yourself how the “other half” live. Either way, pick up the book.