Like Chely Wright

So I read Chely Wright’s book, Like Me, over Labor Day weekend.

On the one hand, it was very country music. There was a lot of Jesus-loving and God-fearing, and boy howdy, she sure does support the troops. I expected this thread to run throughout the book, and while these are really the qualities about country music that annoy me, the story would be disingenuous without them. Her point—at least one of them—is about how unfriendly the country music climate is toward homosexuality, and in order to make this point well, she needed to describe the insular world of country music, which she loves so much. That, of course, struck me as the central tragedy of her story: that this thing she loves so much doesn’t love her back with the same kind of wholehearted devotion. It’s like me and pepperjack cheese.

On the other hand, there were parts of the book that I really liked, and these parts surprised me. One chapter in particular stood out. It was about a time when Chely was invited to play at a private party at Dick Cheney’s house. At first, she didn’t want to do it because she doesn’t like to participate in political events, but when she found out that it was a party for patients at Walter Reed, she changed her mind because, well, we know how she feels about the troops.

Let me pause for a side note. I know it seems like I’m making fun of supporting the troops. I’m actually not. I think what artists like Chely do in the USO is very important because the significance of morale can’t be overestimated. I also believe strongly that the medical facilities for veterans (i.e. Walter Reed) should be state-of-the-art, nothing-is-too-fancy, cost-is-not-a-factor types of places. It’s the least the vets deserve. I’m not anti-soldier, but the support the troops theme is so pervasive in country music that it has become one of the things about the genre that I mock. With love.

Anyway, in the Dick Cheney chapter, Chely finally starts to look outward, rather than so painfully inward. She mentions all the things about the Bush/Cheney administration’s policies that are problematic and homophobic. This was by far my favorite chapter because Chely’s awareness as a citizen became apparent here and as it did, her writing actually improved. She was the most articulate and confident in this part of the book.

Even more ubiquitous than the country music theme is the way that loneliness permeates Like Me‘s narrative. The most obvious interpretation of the title is the notion that gay youth need role models, people to look at and say, “Hey, she’s like me.” But the interpretation that the title is just pleading with the world to like Chely Wright feels just as possible.

All in all, I’m glad I read the book, if for no other reason than I want the world to know that these kinds of stories are important. I long for the day when coming out stories are no longer relevant, when that market has been saturated, and when Chely Wright can be just a country singer rather than a gay country singer, but until then, I will continue to read these painful gay memoirs as a show of support.