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Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Chely Wright: LGBT Role Model and Sexy Lesbian

This article, in a different version, originally appeared in Blade California, Aug. 2012.

Chely Wright's signature song, "Single White Female," is an inspiration about looking for "a one-woman man who doesn't want no other." The hit made her a top country star in 1999 but the truth of her life remained private until her book Like Me:  Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer (Pantheon 2010) was published. It revealed that the simple Christian country girl who was living a dream of Nashville stardom was also leading a lifestyle that her church condemned.
Chely Wright:  Wish Me Away, a documentary based on Wright's book, was released in 2012, and describes how, as a young girl in Wellsville, Kansas, she heard preaching against a "huge horrible word, homosexual." She spent years desperately trying to pray the gay away, publicly dating men while privately engaging in closeted lesbian relationships.
Wright agreed to the documentary project, with filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, because she hoped the film might reach an audience the book didn't. Even with so many passionate and intimate scenes shared, the film only gives a glimpse of what Wright risked:  her career, her personal relationships, even her life.
After a suicide attempt, she believes her faith in God allowed her to survive. She wrote her autobiography--along with working on the film project and some new music--because, as she explains, "I wanted to be understood by the gay community and I want to be understood by the non-gay community." She hopes to counter what young people are still being told in conservative churches, just like she was.
Some of her emotional turmoil is revealed through her sharing of her video diaries, including some additional controversial moments. She remains a conservative Christian who hopes to still reach that audience, but she dropped the f-bomb while venting about an argument with her book editor over some long-ago swimsuit shots.
When I interviewed Wright about the scene, she admitted it was something she was reluctant to make public, "but if it was edited out, it wouldn't have been genuine." She explained the argument started over whether the book cover art should show her plain, make-up free, and scholarly-looking, or something closer to her established brand. "I'm a sexy lesbian," she declared. Eventually, the book cover used a glamour shot.
Although she came out to America on The Today Show on May 5, 2010, that was just part of a process that lasted several years and across multi-media platforms. (One major flaw of the film is that we don't see the Today Show interview.) During that period she moved from Nashville, where she lived one dream, to New York, where she began another. She married a woman, Lauren Blitzer, in Aug. 2011.
A CD, Lifted Off the Ground (Vanguard 2010) also came out of what Wright calls, "the trauma of being gay." While recovering from her suicide attempt, she took some songs to acclaimed singer and producer Rodney Crowell. In the film he describes himself as her "straight ally" and relates how she shared a song with him, about how a lover could be either sex, enabling her to come out to him on a private, personal--and musical--level.

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