I first saw Wish Me Away a year ago at the LA Film Festival. Now that it is being released in theaters and VOD I had the opportunity to talk with the subject of the film, Chely Wright, on the phone. Wright had established herself as a country music star before she came out as a lesbian. The film chronicles her journey in coming out.
When you decided to come out, how did you get involved in documenting that process on film?
Well, it began way before the filmmakers were ever involved. I was still living in Nashville, and I’d begun my book. I wrote for about a week straight and just couldn’t write anymore. I’d hit my wall, as they say. And I guess perhaps it’s the artistic person in me, but I knew what a breakdown was sounding like in my songs—I was making a record. I knew what it was looking like on paper, writing the book. So I thought it might be valuable for my history—for me—just to put a video camera up on the mantle of the fireplace and kind of purge myself of what I was feeling. I continued to do those video diaries for maybe nine more months. Then I came in contact with a guy in New York who said, “Have you been videoing your process at all?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been doing video diaries, but no way I’ve been videoing anything.” He said, “You have video diaries. That’s interesting. You should meet Bobbie [Birleffi] and Beverly [Kopf], the filmmakers.” I met with them. We spent a night together talking about my coming out and how I was wanting to do it. They called me the next day, and they said, “We want to make a feature film about your process.” So I didn’t end up giving them my video diaries for a year into the filmmaking process. I’m thrilled to know that it really became the thread that weaves the film together.
This film required you to trust the filmmakers because they film some very personal parts of your life. How hard was it for you to let them into your life in this way?
You know, once I decided to it wasn’t difficult at all. I had gotten on my knees and prayed—which is ultimately why I think I didn’t take my own life—but I prayed that I could let go and surrender. I prayed for discernment most of all, and in that discernment—in that prayer, on the heels of that surrender—came something quite magical. I’m not going to say my life became easy, but decisions about trust became easier for me, because I knew freedom was on its way and then all of a sudden these wonderful, magical people who wanted to help me find my freedom just began to pop into my life. And the TV Gals [Birleffi and Kopf] were two of those people. So I really had a good sense that they were well intentioned, that, obviously, they are award winning filmmakers and TV producers, and I just knew. I just knew that I needed to trust them. It wasn’t always easy. It was inconvenient. It was intrusive. Everything a good documentary film should be, I guess. But once I gave them my word that they would have access to my life, I gave it fully.
Some of those very intimate scenes are when you are meeting with your spiritual advisor, Welton Gaddy. How did you get connected to him?
I was introduced to Welton way prior to my coming out by a mutual friend of ours named Mitchell Gold. I had a small, but really refined team of advisors that were helping me—hand holding me—along my journey toward coming out, and Mitchell had a sense that I needed Welton in my life. It had been years since I’d had someone I could walk with in faith and lean on and get some counsel in regards to faith and my spirituality. The moment he introduced me to Welton I just knew that Welton was going to be a significant part of my life, and he is to this day.
Your relationship with God is a part of this film. Many LGBT people have been traumatized by the church and have understandably walked away from God. How were you able to maintain your faith through the process of coming out?
My being steeled in my faith was just a part of who I am, so during the process of my coming out I didn’t have to work hard to maintain that relationship, in fact I think it was kind of my ace in the hole. I was lucky in my late teenage years to have an understanding that I was good with God. I know a lot of folks who are like me struggle, because as you say, they’ve been traumatized by a dogma—traumatized by a faith experience. I was just lucky that I knew that God loved me as he made me. Although I can certainly understand why people like me walk away from a faith practice. I’m lucky that God was good with me and I was good with God and I knew it. I was fortunate in that way