Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Once again, I’ll be blunt. I’ve never really liked country music. I always felt as if the whole scene was too fake and too traditional. But reading Chely Wright’s memoir "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" definitely changed my opinion in a way. Wright actually feels the same about the country music scene and she hopes to change it.
Wright starts with stories from her childhood in Kansas where she grew up chopping wood, getting teased, and having a massive crush on her third grade teacher, Miss Smilie. Having grown up a religious girl in a religious town, she struggled with accepting her own sexuality. She describes a prayer that she said since she was a kid to have God take “the gay” out of her. She dated boys but was bitterly detached from them, leaving them all heartbroken in her wake. Her self-hatred turned into hypocrisy when she started telling people that she thought homosexuality was a sin. In fact, her self-hatred also destroyed the great relationships she was having with females. Her refusal to accept and love herself brought her to the brink of death.
The book starts with a detailed short chapter about Wright’s near suicide attempt. She starts the book with the intense image of her crying with a gun in her mouth. Ordinarily, memoirs follow a linear storyline, but I actually enjoyed her using her nadir as the preface. It infuses the story with a sense of urgency, as if telling her story was a matter of life or death. I’m a firm supporter of the whole “if you don’t believe in yourself then who will?” mantra, so I’m glad that Wright gave her story more importance than most writers would choose to.
Another thing I’d like to commend Wright on is her unapologetic questioning of the Bush Administration’s and the Republican Party’s stance on homosexuality. She was invited by Dick Cheney to perform at a party of his, but after realizing how hypocritical he was about his views (his daughter is a lesbian), she donated her entire check to a non-profit organization. She almost walked out of a gig that was for the Boy Scouts of America because they openly proclaim that they don’t accept women and they don’t accept “the gays.” A common misconception of country singers (one that I believed to be true until I read this book) is that they are all extremely religious and extremely right wing. Chely Wright is not a Republican, and though she does believe in God, it is not the fire and brimstone God I would have expected of someone who grew up like she did.
I would recommend this book for anybody over the age of 14 due to some sexual references and hate speech that is used contextually. I probably wouldn’t have understood certain parts of the book if I hadn’t grown up in a time where I could remember George Bush and Dick Cheney and the role they’ve played in American society.
All in all, I think this book is a great coming out guide and companion. Chely leaves the book open-ended, having received support and love from the family members she did come out to before the book was published. In the edition with the new afterword, she touches on some of the other reactions she received. Not every person in her life was as supportive. Sadly, that’s the reality a lot of GLBTQ teenagers and adults face today. At the same time, it’s good to be realistic about certain hardships and to know that other people experience the same ones. We are never alone in what we experience, and that’s the beauty of being human. We can share our experiences, good or bad. We can talk about them. And we can heal, slowly but surely.
Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" in comments!