Wheel In The Sky

We all grew up with our fair share of angst, issues and problems. I was no different than anyone else. My life also happened to deal with the extremely uncomfortable and awkward issue of what is today called gender dysphoria. 

I knew when I was around four years old that I felt differently; I did not feel like the boy they categorized me as, I felt like a girl. It was a shock to me when once I was playing with my sister’s things and wore one of her nightgowns to bed when my mom laughed and told me I was not a girl but rather a boy – I was confused. 

Early on I demonstrated an artistic bent as many in my family have. I enjoyed drawing and painting and a few years later, the writing bug bit me. 

I decided one day to paint a nude painting. By now I was six or seven years old so this was far from a masterpiece, rather it was not much more than flesh colored stick figures with hair and eyes. Clearly not my best work!

The painting was left to dry on my bed while I went outside to play. It was probably twenty or thirty minutes later when I heard my mom call my name from the kitchen window. I lazily responded saying I’d be there in a minute. Less than a minute later my mom came out of the back door calling me loudly by all three names – I knew I had done something. 

I went inside with my mom who took me upstairs to my room and pointed to the still-drying painting. 

“What’s this?” She asked pointing to my artwork. 

“A painting,” I replied. 

Her tone became a little firmer, but not quite angry. 

“Why did you paint this?” She demanded. Looking back I wondered if she thought I was painting her nude; maybe that was why she ended up confiscating my painting and gave me the ‘wait until your father gets home’ speech. 

I didn’t understand why I was being punished or why she took my painting. As things would have it, mom and dad had dinner plans that night with some friends. We had one of our usual babysitters watching us while our parents went out for the evening. Maybe, I thought, mom will forget about all this and I won’t have to hear it from my dad. 

Not long after they left for dinner I casually slipped out of the living room and down the hall to my parent’s bedroom. I was determined to find my painting and destroy it before my dad could see it. 

She hadn’t hidden it very well, I found it in the middle drawer of her dresser. I grabbed the painting and quickly tore it up and then made my way back to the living room where I tossed the torn painting into the fireplace. Mission Accomplished!

Then around eleven o’clock as I lay fast asleep my parents, just home, came storming up the stairs and burst into my room. My mom held a flashlight and shined it in my startled eyes. Like Nazi stormtroopers my parents interrogated me until I coughed up what I did with the painting. Okay, so maybe my young mind remembered things a little more dramatically, my parents didn’t really act like stormtroopers, I was just a scared kid!

The next day brought a long talk with my mom about why I felt I needed to paint what I did. I couldn’t see the wrong in it which compounded my frustration. Our talk then morphed into an earlier than planned discussion with us kids about the birds and the bees. My mom showed us a little pamphlet with some weird drawing of a thing called ovaries and another of the male and female genitals. 

At the end of mom’s presentation I asked her when was I going to turn into a girl. She smiled and made it abundantly clear that I would never be a girl. 

“You mean I’m going to stay this way forever!?” I asked her in a panic. She laughed and affirmed my shocking discovery. 

Afterwards, mom was back in the kitchen and I dragged myself upstairs to my room heartbroken. I plopped myself down onto my bed and stared at the ceiling and began to cry. I was completely devastated and it was on that day that the world and the rest of my life seemed bleak and empty. Frustration, depression, anger and so much more began to creep into my young life and take root. It would be forty agonizing years of living a lie, of trying like hell to be what society and my family told me I was supposed to be. I never willingly accepted that masculine role and trying to just led to more anger and more depression that ate away at me every day like a cancer.  

I often withdrew, becoming instantly moody and felt like I was never going to be happy. More than once everything would collide and bombard me with the perfect storm of self-negativity – the negative self-talk. It wasn’t pretty to see, and felt a hundred times worse for me on the inside. More than once I felt like I wasn’t sure if I could live a whole life feeling this way. It seemed so not worth it at times. 

As can often be the case with people experiencing what I was going through or anything similar, we try to find that one place or thing we can turn to to ease our pain, to feel better for a while and not think about our situation. Some people have turned to alcohol or drugs to mask and numb their pain and suffering. Some might turn to sports or an art craft or music to find their solace. Mine was music. 

I grew up liking many artists and groups. Living in California in the 70’s, The Beach Boys were still popular, Elvis was still alive and for Christmas one year I got a blue transistor radio with an earpiece. Listening to my radio well into the night I would imagine the world I was hearing – talk radio, news, music, anywhere that took me far, far away from my woes was where I wanted to be. 

One night in the late 70’s I was in bed listening to my radio slowly turning the dial to tune in the next station. When the static cleared I heard a song begin that transfixed my mind as I lay in the dark. It was the rock group Journey and their song Wheel In The Sky came up through the radio and into my earpiece and when Steve Perry began to sing with his silky falsetto voice, I became a fan – I was hooked. 

I rode my bike to record stores trying to find other Journey songs and anything I could learn about them and their frontman who would come to be known as, The Voice. As many of the teenaged girls did, I also developed something of a crush on Steve Perry. 

On my fourteenth birthday my mom asked me if I wanted anything special. I told her all I wanted was to go to see Journey in concert. It would take considerable pestering of my mom until she gave in and said I could go – but that she was also going with me! Now there’s a fun time! Going to a rock concert with your mom, ain’t that just a peach at fourteen. 

Unfortunately, I would not be able to get to another Journey concert before the dark times came – when Steve Perry decided he was not going to perform with Journey any longer. I believe there were some significant health issues he was dealing with which at least partly prompted his departure from the group. I wish that I had been able to meet him that night at the concert, maybe give him a kiss on the cheek and thank him for his passion for music. To let him know in some small way what Journey meant to me in my life. 

For myself, solace from my unhappy world was the music of Journey and that voice. When times were tough, when despair and anxiety filled me overflowing, I knew if I just listened to some Journey, I would be okay. 

We all try, and hopefully find, that positive thing that we can use, grab ahold of never wanting to let go. For me it was Journey – and I’m still holding on as tight as ever! 

Today, Steve Perry is still not with Journey. In a way, my heart will always sadden knowing that as we all get older, a Journey reunion with Steve Perry will most likely never happen. 

That sad news aside, I think on something that for me is far more important. When my life would sink to its lowest, when hope and the will of life seemed far from reach, I turned to the music of Journey and managed however precariously to hang on to a life I never wanted any part of in the first place. 

It was by doing that, by never completely giving up, by somehow managing to find that something deep down inside that told me not to quit or give in that would allow me to “…be good to yourself, when nobody else will.”

If I had not tuned in my transistor radio that night all those years ago, I am quite certain my life would have taken a much different course. I would not have written this article, I would not have just finished my novel and I would never have found the joy and happiness that overflows in my life today because I do not believe I would still be here. I was on a downward spiral that I knew I had to pull out of before I crashed and burned.

The music of Journey, my willingness towards self-acceptance and some pretty awesome counseling paved the way to give me the life and womanhood I had always dreamed of.

We never know what we may find that defines how we will handle adversity in our lives. The wheel in the sky does keep on turning as my own journey keeps on turning. 

I still wish I could kiss Steve Perry on the cheek and let him, and the entire original group of Journey know that it is never just music. To thank them all in some small way for what their music has meant and done for me. 

No matter what it is we are dealing with, there is always something out there that we can find to help us in our turbulent times. Don’t ever give up or give in – and don’t stop believing!

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