Chely Wright has spent most of the past two decades grinding out a living in Nashville, writing hits for other artists, scoring hits of her own, parting ways with her label and striking out as an independent act and, through it all, there have been plenty of highs and lows.
But the lowest point by far occurred in early 2006 when Wright, despondent over a breakup and harboring a secret she feared would ruin her career, contemplated suicide. It was then, with absolutely nothing left to lose, that she decided to finally reveal her true self to her closest friends: She was gay.
"I made the decision that I finally had to do it because in the early part of 2006, quite frankly, I had a gun in my mouth. I was at my rock bottom and I realized that my situation was likely not unique," Wright told MTV News on Tuesday (May 4). "I don't feel that I'm special or unique because I'm a country-music celebrity. I know that coming out for anyone is difficult ... stepping forward and talking about something you've hidden your whole life is difficult. It was time for me, and I was at my rock bottom, but I had to go there before I could get to here."
And here's where "here" is: Earlier this week, Wright became the first country musician to step out of the closet, with a story in People magazine. She's also got a brand-new album — Lifted Off the Ground — and a grippingly honest biography — "Like Me" — that have both just hit stories. It's been a rather harrowing journey to get to this point, but for the first time in a long time she's happy and, as she puts it, "whole." And she's not about to let this newfound status go to waste.
"My main motivation for coming out as a gay woman, the honest truth, is if I didn't, I will never be whole as a person. That said, if my coming out facilitates ease and understanding for others, young or old, gay or straight, that's a beautiful byproduct of my truth," she said. "If it helps a gay person think, 'You know what? I'm less alone; Chely Wright is just like me,' great. If it helps a man or woman who thinks I'm great, has bought my records, has seen me on tour, and their young child comes to them and says, 'Hey, Mom, hey, Daddy, I think I'm different, I think I'm like her,' and if it helps them say, 'You know what? If our favorite country-music singer is living openly as a homosexual and she seems pretty cool, pretty well-adjusted, pretty happy, let's listen to our child and let's be helpful to them,' then that's a beautiful thing."
Wright said she avoided revealing her true self to even her closest friends in the industry because of "fear" that everything she'd worked for would be taken away from her — that the phone would stop ringing, that the gigs would dry up. Because, let's face it, it's not like there was a whole lot of precedent for what she was thinking about doing.
"Well, it speaks volumes that there has never been a country-music artist who has acknowledged his or her homosexuality. There has never been a country-music artist who has had hit records, who has stepped forward and been more than a whisper. I was a whisper for many, many years, and I decided to take my power back," she said. "I'm proud of who I am, and I don't want to be a whisper ... I think it's important to acknowledge that there's some little girl or little boy in Lincoln, Nebraska, playing her guitar, practicing Taylor Swift songs, saying, 'I want to be a country-music singer,' but she knows she's different, [so] let's take this off the table. She doesn't have to be the first; I'll be the first, and perhaps there will be a second, and a third, and by the time that little girl gets to Nashville to try and get a record deal, this won't be that big an issue."
And now that she's announced her secret to the world, Wright said she'll continue speaking out for the rights of other gay men and women — and perhaps, by being proud of herself and her sexuality, she can inspire others to break their silence too. After all, she's been to the bottom — she knows there's nowhere to go but up.
"I do have a little inner justice-fighter inside of me. There were points in my career where I really did have fantasies of stepping onstage at the CMA awards show and saying, 'It's great to be here tonight, and by the way, I'm gay,' " Wright said. "I know the struggle, I know there are others like me out there that struggle every day. It's not lost on me that there are kids in their basements with guns in their mouths ... there are kids that are being told that they are in spiritual jeopardy, they are being told they are broken, and I am here to tell them they are exactly as God wants them."