Chely Wright’s Second Act: Out, Proud, and Living Her Truth
Since coming out, much has changed for the country singer. What hasn’t changed is her way with words.
There is perhaps no word Chely Wright loathes more than “tolerance,” especially when it’s used in relation to acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
“I hear the word ‘tolerance’ — that some people are trying to teach people to be tolerant of gays,” she writes in her 2010 autobiography Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer. “I’m not satisfied with that word. I am gay, and I am not seeking to be ‘tolerated.’ One tolerates a toothache, rush-hour traffic, an annoying neighbor with a cluttered yard. I am not a negative to be tolerated.”
She has a great point.
“In terms of the faith communities, I run into a lot of people who are straight and say, ‘You can come to our church, we’re tolerant,’” says Wright over the phone from her home in Manhattan. “I don’t want to come to your church if you’re just going to tolerate gays and lesbians — you’re not the house of worship for me. I want a life in which the essence of who I am is celebrated, not just allowed in. I think the word tolerance is a gross, half-assed way of understanding one another. What an insult — ‘I’m gonna tolerate you like a toothache.’ That’s awful.”
Like Me was the launching pad for Wright’s second — and arguably richer, more emotionally fulfilling — act in life, an act that was not impeded by secrets and lies. She had been one of the contemporary queens of modern country, with several major chart-topping hits — including “Shut Up and Drive” and the rousing “Single White Female” — but her inability to lead an out and open existence took its toll emotionally. Wright was at the point of suicide — gun in mouth, ready to pull the trigger — when she had a revelation and took control of her narrative. She decided to make her sexuality public, damn it all to hell.
Not long after coming out amid a ton of media buzz, Wright commandeered the stage of that summer’s Capital Pride, playing to a massive audience that was more than ready to welcome her into the fold, to unconditionally love her, forever and ever, amen. It was a life-changing moment for the 48-year-old, who to this day exults, “Capital Pride was a highlight of my career and one of the highlights of my life.”
Since coming out, Wright has used her celebrity to help others find their own way into the LGBTQ community.
“One of the reasons I came out was in hopes that someone would find comfort in my story, to know that there’s at least one person out there who knows what it’s like,” she says. “In the past eight years since I came out, I’ve had the privilege of speaking at churches and schools and corporations and I have a lot of dialogue with people privately on direct message and Facebook and email. It is astonishing to learn how many people have had the gun in their mouth or a rope hanging from a ceiling who have said that reading my story or seeing my clip on Ellen or seeing me on Oprah or something gave them pause and hope.”
Wright looks at her life today and marvels at how much fuller it is. She’s married to Lauren Blitzer, an executive at Sony Music Entertainment, and the pair are doting parents to identical twin five-year-old boys.
“We’re raising them Jewish,” concedes Wright, who was raised in a devout Christian family in the tiny burg of Wellsville, Kansas. “But there will be an observance of the Christian holidays as well. My wife isn’t terribly religious, but her Judaism is a big part of our family. There’s a lot about the Jewish faith that just really speaks to me. And the boys are getting both.”
The twins — along with the rest of the world — are also getting a Christmas album from their singer-songwriter mom. Wright recently issued Santa Will Find You, an EP of five glorious, country-infused originals — one of which, the thunderous “Christmas Isn’t Christmas Time,” co-written and performed with her friend, the legendary Richard Marx, is a deeply satisfying tribute to Phil Spector, evoking the wall-of-sound strains of “Be My Baby.”
“I love holiday music,” says Wright, who appears at City Winery DC next Thursday, Dec. 20. “I love Nat King Cole, The Carpenters. There are a lot of country Christmas records that I do like — Vince’s, Trisha’s, couple of tracks on the Alan Jackson Christmas record. I wanted to record something with an emotional breath that feels like it wouldn’t embarrass me, honestly. I don’t want my musical legacy to be [covers of] ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Jingle Bells.’ My goal was to write and record…five songs I cared about.”
A scheduled 45 minutes on the phone quickly turns into two hours. Her conversation is energized, familiar, and broad, often veering into the political and ideological. She recounts stories with the cadence of a skilled country lyricist, her catchy, homespun turns of phrase illuminating a greater point. Take, for instance, her thoughts on those who eschew science, particularly when it comes to topics of urgent importance, like climate change.
“My wife and I had a pretty pissy discussion the other day about mass shootings, and the hopes and prayers from the GOP,” she says. “She said, ‘What if all the firefighters in California had just gotten on their knees and prayed? What would that look like to anybody? Not much.’ How did firefighters fight that fire? I guaran-damn-tee you they used a lot of math and science. There’s no other way to fight a big fire like that without math and science. I don’t understand why anybody could deny the math and science of why our oceans are rising, why it’s hotter and it’s colder than it’s ever been, why the glaciers are falling into the ocean — glaciers that have never ever cracked off before are breaking off into the ocean. I don’t understand. Why can’t they be people of faith and science? I am.”
Chely Wright updates.
The country star said she went to the ER with a migraine, but doctors confirmed a stroke