Chely Wright: Country Singer Comes Out and Comes Clean

As she releases her memoir and her first new album in five years, the popular Heartland entertainer talks to The Advocate about her personal life and contemplates what her revelation will mean to her conservative fan base.



It will be interesting to see what path Wright’s career will take in the wake of her coming out. One need only revisit the almost career-ending experience of the Dixie Chicks (for bad-mouthing George W. Bush) to understand the rallying power and intense conservatism of country music’s core audience. Being gay (or a political lefty) might fly in pop music, but not so much in country world, which still clings to traditionalism, patriotism, and religion as it’s grounding principles. Given her experiences in the country music industry—perhaps the most unaccepting and resolutely conservative musical universe—Wright has very realistic expectations for what may or may not happen next. “It would break my heart if I were to lose my career in country music because of being gay,” she says, “but I fully expect to. I had to finally come to realize that there was more to me than just country music. I had to figure out a way to become a fully-realized human being, or I wasn’t gonna last.”

One of Wright’s biggest anxieties about coming out is not only the reaction of gay people (“I think a lot of people don’t understand why I didn’t do this a long time ago” she says), but also the reaction of fans and fellow musicians who have so ardently supported her all of these years. “Country music fans will always say that they love you because you are honest,” says Wright, “They feel like they know you, like you are their friend and they can relate to you. People would often tell me that—I just feel like I know you—and it was like a knife in the heart, because I knew that there was this part of me that they didn’t know at all and I couldn’t share with them. And my love for my fans was mutual—it is mutual—but I agonized over it, knowing that if they really knew the truth about my personal life, they might not feel the same way. So…I know there are those people who might feel like I’ve tricked them in some way, that I was pretending to be something that I really wasn’t. But, you know, I am the girl in my songs. I’m still that same girl. I’m the same girl who plays military hospitals and supports the troops. All I ever wanted to do since I was nine years was sing country music and play at the Grand Ole Opry. I’m still that girl. “

Not only is Wright is also still getting her bearings in regards to what being an openly out entertainer will actually mean, but she’s still trying to picture what her life as a openly gay woman is going to feel like. “I’ve never asked a woman out on a date,” she laughs. “So, it’s a bit like being a teenager again or something. I have no idea what it’s going to be like.”

Despite the expected backlash and the still fraught relationship she has with certain family members, Wright says that the benefits of honesty—and the hope that her own admission might ultimately help others—is helping assuage the fear of what her new future might hold.

Tags: Music