Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Thirty years - a long time to live a lie

Recently, the country singer Chely Wright (right), whom I follow on Twitter, was doing a Q&A with her fans. Wright is perhaps better known these days for her sexuality and gay rights campaigning than she is for her music, and unsurprisingly many of the questions and discussions reflected this.

Wright leapt to fame in the '90s with successful singles like Shut Up and Drive and Single White Female, but slipped from the limelight in the last decade. Last year she made a comeback, which was timed, some might say cynically, to coincide with her coming out. In doing this she became the first country singer to be out in the public eye – a brave and controversial decision in a traditionally very conservative market.

During the Q&A, one fan asked Wright at what age she realised she was gay. The answer was 9. Another question asked her age when she came out. The answer, which I already more or less knew, was 39. That's thirty years difference. Thirty years of living a lie, of pretending to be someone you're not.

It's something I really can't imagine. I realised I was gay at the age of 15, sometimes towards the end of my Year 10 school year. Eight weeks later I was back at school after the holidays and, within a week, I'd already told a couple of my closest friends about my sexuality. It took just another two months before everyone knew. You could say it was brave, but I never really considered it in that way. To me, it was something exciting, something that was totally a part of me, and I couldn't think of how I could live without people knowing. I wanted people to know – even if they hated me for it. Perhaps there was a bit of adrenaline in there, a bit of the risk-taker in me showing his face, but overall I just wanted to be able to live my life openly and freely, and that's what I've done ever since.

That means that I can't imagine what it must have been like for Wright to know that she was gay, to have accepted this fact and to have embraced it, and yet to not be able to live her life according to this. It must have been so difficult, and so confusing, to have to live a life that was contrary to what she felt inside, partly because of being in the public eye, but even more so not being able to be open and honest with friends and family. Indeed, Wright refers to this "lying and hiding" as causing damage to her life.

I hope for her sake that her life since coming out to family, friends and the public has gone some way to easing the damage caused by those thirty years. Indeed, she's now happily married and is very much living life, it seems, as a confident and proud gay woman. And I'm very, very happy for her. I just can't imagine how those thirty years must have felt. It makes me very glad that I am who I am, and makes me thankful that my situation in life, as well as my friends and family, has let me be who I am. Some people aren't as lucky as I've been, and thinking about Wright's statement, literally those few words about her age at key points in her life, gave me reason to pause and consider this.

Listen to Heavenly Days from Wright's latest album, Lifted Off The Ground:

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