Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer by Chely Wright. Pantheon (2010). $25.95. 286 pp.
Short sound bites in television interviews present a different person than I discovered in Chely Wright’s carefully orchestrated coming out memoir Like Me. Actually, I didn’t really like the country singer I first saw on TV who decided to come out while she held a gun in her mouth. But that’s not her entire story, even though it’s plastered on the back of the dust jacket and is the centerpiece of every interview.
Although told in completely G-rated fashion, many of her country fans may nevertheless find it salacious as she reveals that she knew she was gay from early childhood and dated women long before she was famous. Still, her religion was not accepting. Although "Dear God, please don’t let me be gay" was her daily prayer, she says that she never took the Baptist prohibition of homosexuality she was taught to heart.
For most of the story, her life’s actually pretty damn good. But that doesn’t sell books.
The description I like most in this autobiographical coming out concerns dealing with people at work. The story is similar to something that has happened to all of us, even those of us who are out to almost everyone around us. She describes not partying with people she works with. When she does, she says, the inevitable question pops up: "Why aren’t you married?" Some of us don’t want to deal with that at work. Others just feel, "Oh, hell. Do I have to come out again?" But most of us have addressed it one way or another, and her description is genuine.
For the past couple of years, Wright has lived in New York where she could disappear to write her book and record her new CD. The People Magazine coming out stunt is not something she addresses, but that’s probably because it was the work of her record label, publisher and publicist. Despite the show business connections, her story is a typical coming out story that anyone can relate to.
The gun-in-the-mouth piece is aimed at others in country music and fans she was sure would not accept her as if to say, "Look what you’ve done to people like me." It’s also the hook that got her national attention.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.