Chely Wright Comes Out: Why It Matters… To Me

We’ve just lost one of our best running jokes.
“Have you seen my shoes?”
“They’re in the closet… behind Chely.”
Never fear, we have plenty of celebs left that we can drop into the void left behind by Chely’s coming out. I’m not naming names, but the first one sounds like Barishka.

Chely Wright was my first real, consuming celebrity crush. In fact, she was the first woman I dared have a crush on. She released her first album, Woman in the Moon, right before I started my sophomore year of high school, and I’d already seen the video for the first single, which, in hindsight, I think we can both admit wasn’t very good. I was admittedly smitten. And when she was on a show called “Path to Stardom” and said that “There was ‘someone’ that I thought that I was going to spend the rest of my life with…” I was intrigued.

This can henceforth be known as the day I discovered the awesome power of my gaydar (I called Sarah Paulson when she was on Jack & Jill). And also the day I discovered the pronoun game.

Two years later, my mom took me to Fan Fair (a big country music festival for those of you who just got lost) and I met Chely for the first time. I was so incredibly nervous meeting her and I was having a very hard time getting out what I wanted to say. We were across a table from each other and she reached out and took my hand. I fell in love.

A year later, I started college in Nashville, majoring in music business. At the time, I thought I was going to chase the dream of being a recording artist (not an entirely dead dream, just not as important as it used to be). Seeing Chely became a regular occurrence. First at a radio seminar, then four hours backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. And, when Donnie, a guy that I had met only once before, called me by the wrong name and I corrected him, Chely looked over at me and said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it” and winked, then proceeded to call Donnie by the wrong name.

After this, we saw Donnie regularly (he finally learned my name ; ). The first time he saw Shawna and I actually “together” together, he was like, “Why didn’t you guys tell me?” and proceeded to come out to us, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. And while we sat discussing everyone we’d been hanging out with lately, many of these people Chely’s friends and employees (her veil was very sheer), and how gay they all were, we dropped a name. “What about Chely?” To which he responded, “Listen, I’m her friend and I’m not going to say anything. She has to do what she has to do… just like Bryan White.” Heh.

The next time we saw Chely was at her fan club party in the summer. We were leaving before the big meet and greet part and we ran into Chely and her road manager in the parking lot. It was… memorable… to say the least.

When we found out that Chely had written a memoir, our reaction was “Let’s hope she’s coming out.” I actually really thought it was going to come sooner, because when we saw her at a Nashville club called The Basement in ’06, her new songs weren’t exactly guarded. They were really, well, gay. That night felt like a more intimate coming out.

And now, she’s coming out for real. On a grand scale. To a wide audience, many of whom have never heard of her and who really don’t care. A lot of people are saying, since Chely isn’t an A-list celebrity, her coming out doesn’t matter.

But it matters to her.

And it matters to me.

I know how hard it has been for Chely to come out, because I know how hard it was to come out in Nashville, near the music business. Not in the business. Without fame. Without a career to protect. Just near the business. Coming out in Nashville was ugly and painful. Those last few months in college there were filled with good Christians leaving hateful messages on our dorm room doors, meetings with faculty and staff to decide if we’d broken the ‘no gay sex’ rule that was actually written in the school’s ethics handbook so that we could be legally ousted from school (we left on our own) and generalized hostility. People we’d never crossed paths with, who knew nothing about us other than the fact that we were the two halves of rumors spreading like wildfire across campus, took time out of their busy schedules to hate us.

Chely will lose some fans over this, which she knows. She may lose her ability to raise the kind of money she was once able to bring in for her foundation, Reading, Writing & Rhythm. She has probably just given up on her lifelong dream of being a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It may be hard to go back to the small town in Kansas she grew up in.
She is the first country artist with major studio album releases and a number one song to publicly come out.

Whether you know her or not, what she is doing is far from meaningless.

I am super proud of you, Chely. I love you. You’re amazing. Own it.

And, please, pay no mind to the religious nutjob who is bound to blame Nashville’s flooding on your coming out. When I came out in Nashville, I brought on a day of tornadoes.

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  1. I’d actually never heard of her before yesterday, but of course it matters. Any time someone comes out it matters. Ricky Martin may have been living in Willy Wonka’s glass elevator for all intents and purposes, but his coming out is still a significant thing. So bravo to her and welcome to life outdoors ;D

  2. Great story! I remember listening to Chely during my high school years and shortly after… then I gave up on country music. Today, I have ordered Chely’s new CD and greatest hits! I’ve also ordered her book and The Judds and Patti Loveless greatest hits CD’s! I am also a feminine gay woman who loves to hear when another beautiful femme woman comes out! PS Chely call me! LOL

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