"I was told in church that there were building blocks of sin and evildoing, and these words were strung together to scare me -- drunkard, thief, adulterer, homosexual. I thought, 'That's what I am,'"she told Oprah on Wednesday's episode of the popular talk show, explaining why she waited so long to come out. "I prayed every day for God to change me. And it was: 'Dear God, please don't let me be gay. I promise to be a good person.' I said that prayer every day, multiple times a day."
In and out of a relationship with a woman named Julia for several years, Chely tried to keep that aspect of her life hidden from those closest to her. Even her family and her best friend were unaware of her inner turmoil. "When you start telling people, it puts people in the position to lie for you, and I knew that," she says. "So I just didn't tell people. I wasn't just in the closet. I was behind the sheet rock in the closet. The duality of my existence was so much work."
So determined was the rising star to keep her sexual orientation hidden from everyone, she tried to date men, including country artists Vince Gill and Brad Paisley. It was a decision that she profoundly regrets. "My dating men was my giving it a Hail Mary toward normal," she reveals. "I ultimately just confused the heck out of them because I couldn't love them the way they loved me."
Chely's relationship with Brad happened about a decade ago but still haunts her today. "I have a lot of regret for how that began and had a middle and ended," she admits. "I had no business being in a relationship with him ... I was making a deal again with myself: 'Well, Chel, you'll forego love. You'll go without love. Find someone with whom you can spend your life that makes you laugh, that you like how they live their life, that you can share a life with.'"
Now, years later, she still hopes to someday set things right with her famous ex. "Doing anything with someone you shouldn't be doing something with -- having sex with him, kissing on him, going into a movie and holding hands with a man when you're a lesbian feels wrong," she says. "When you want to be with someone else, it's wrong. I wronged him ... I damaged [Brad], and I hope he forgives me. I hope this fills in some emotional gaps for him. I don't assume he's pining over how Chely Wright hurt his feelings a few years ago. I'm assuming he's happy and moved on, but I would welcome any chance [to talk to him]."
Resolved to tear down stereotypes, and willing to wear the title as the first openly gay country singer, Chely says she is still a bit shocked at her own boldness. "Had you told me in 2000, had you said, 'You're going to be the first chart-topping country music singer to step forward and acknowledge her homosexuality,' I would have laughed in your face," she admits.
Feeling support from her fans from all over the world, she admits the support from fellow stars has not been what she had hoped. "They all have my e-mail, and it's been a little disappointing that I haven't heard from more," she reveals. "That said, I have had hundreds of e-mails and phone calls and text messages from the country music community at large."
Ultimately, the timing was right. "I've been whispered about in country music for a long time," she says. The word 'lesbian' has been used as an insult ... You can say I'm ugly. You can say my songs are stupid, but I won't allow the word 'lesbian' to be used as an insult toward me anymore."
Chely released both a memoir, 'Like Me,' and a new CD, 'Lifted Off the Ground,' earlier this month. She's now prepping for her 10th annual Reading, Writing and Rhythm event on June 8, along with special guests Rodney Crowell, Sarah Buxton, Justin Moore and Bucky Covington.
Read more of Chely's interview with Oprah here.
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