Chely Wright: Confessions of a Gay Christian Country Singer
As a young girl, there were the obvious messages about what girls could and couldn’t achieve. And to compound the limitations I felt being leveled upon me, I realized at the age of nine, that I was gay.
I also realized at a young age that I was attracted to other girls. I didn’t really know what that meant for me or have the vocabulary to describe it. But even from that early age, I knew it was something I had to keep secret and couldn’t share my innocent crushes at school like everyone else did.
So began the most difficult chapter of my life which would last more than 25 years; and the storyline was me, committing repeated crimes against myself — against my emotional, physical and spiritual self. Those crimes would take their toll.
I understand the high toll exacted by hiding and being in the closet. Sometimes, I wish to come out of the closet just so that weight can be lifted of my shoulders but I’m afraid of negative repercussions as I’ve wrapped my identity and built so much of my life around conservative Muslims.
I knew that I would never get to have what everyone else gets to have — love, real love — so my resolve was that these “door prizes” would have to be enough. I wanted them to be enough, I really did. And then I fell in love.
I had to change my strategy a little bit. I went from “I’ll go without love” to “I’ll hide my love”. That’s pretty tough to do when, at the very root of who I am and at the core of what Country Music seems to be about — is honesty, openness and accessibility. But I had to close myself off in order to survive. I kept going, working hard in my career, reaching those milestones of success — tours, hit records, hit videos, TV, radio, nominations and awards. Still, I hid. More and more people in the world were knowing my name, yet no one really knew me.
Me, too. Not the country music star part but the part about love, first trying to accept that I’d never have that personal love to finding that love and having to hide it.
I could no longer make sense of these crimes against myself. I had lost the relationship that had once meant so much to me — the secrecy had torn us apart. When one hides such a critical part of one’s self, everything becomes hidden. It’s not like I could have real and meaningful friendships, but just leave out the “gay thing”. Imagine your straight, married friends having a substantive friendship with you while never mentioning their spouse — ever. You just can’t pick and choose parts of yourself to share and expect any real degree of validity.
I know, I’ve been there. If we have to hide does that mean we’re doing something wrong, are we wrong? In a twisted way, lying and deceit becomes a virtue when you’re in the closet. Meaningful relationships are difficult because you can’t share your love and hopes and dreams or your sorrows with anyone outside of that relationship with your partner. You could be reeling from a breakup or you might feel your life is spiraling out of control but you can’t talk to anyone about it, can’t seek advice or help without outing yourself and maybe the other party involved. So, I’d suffer in silence and alone, turning to my faith, prayer, reading the Quran, fasting, and immersing myself in religious studies.
I had long understood, since my late teenage years, that God had made me exactly as I was supposed to be. And may I add what a huge comfort that has always been to me. The reason I was ready to end it all was because I didn’t know how to be me in this life that I’d carved out — this gay, Christian, farm girl from Kansas who sang Country Music. I just didn’t know how to make those pieces fit.
That is a comforting thought, not sure I’m fully there, yet. I’m still trying “to make those pieces fit” and to make peace with understanding the life I believe God wants me to live.
I didn’t pull the trigger.
I’m glad, your story has been and continues to be a source of tremendous support for me and countless others. Thank you for being you and for being brave and courageous enough to share that story with us. I think I’d like to share my story one day but I’m not there, yet.
I like analogies; perhaps it’s the songwriter in me, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll offer this one. I liken the notion that we (the LGBT community) are a Godless people to a scenario on a grade school playground. Remember when you were in 3rd grade, when it was time to choose teams for a game of kickball during recess and all of the favored, obvious players were chosen first? This left the same players to be chosen last or to never even get a chance to kick or take the field — essentially giving a message to that kid, “You’re never going to get to play. You’re not good enough. You don’t belong.” Remember that happening to the same kid over and over? Well, eventually that kid would stop hoping to be chosen for either team. And eventually that kid would probably develop an aversion, perhaps even a life-long, deep loathing for the game of kickball. It’s a protective mechanism that humans employ to preserve the most tender parts of their psyche. That’s what it feels like for an LGBT kid in a place of worship. That kid is repeatedly given the message that he or she will never, ever fit in and be acceptable to God or to the congregation. Why would anyone subject themselves to that kind of spiritual rejection and spiritual violence on a weekly basis? Why would that LGBT kid grow up to seek out the same type of negative messaging as an adult?
I like this analogy, yet, I keep coming back to mosques and to the community seeking to commune with my Lord and with my fellow Muslims. It’s sometimes hard and sometimes painful but often also very enriching for the soul. More than anything, it’s where I feel I’m supposed to be and even where I want to be. Islam gives my life meaning.
LGBT people of faith are strong in numbers; we want our houses of worship back and we would like to implore those who practice such acts of religious based bigotry to realize that God is not theirs — God is for all of us.
Yes, we are LGBT people of faith are strong inside and are around in our houses of worship and religious organizations even if you’re not aware of us. Yes, we hear your bigoted statements and may remain silent out of fear but more and more of us are finding our voices to speak up and challenge. We are here, we’re not going anywhere, and we want our faith respected. God is for all of us.
I read that sales of Wright’s albums dropped by 50% after she came out, which is even more inspiring that she continues to take a stand even though it’s hurt her professionally. But don’t worry just like Ellen who lost her show after coming out and is now thriving, I’m sure Chely Wright will come out on top.