One does not have to be a lifelong theater lover to be aware of the Tony winning musical Dear Evan Hansen. Like Hamilton the year before, DEH came along and became more than just the sum of its parts - great actors, amazing lyrics, stellar orchestration and staging - it became a touchstone. Through those amazing lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Evan Hansen (brought to life by Tony winner Ben Platt) gave voice to the helplessness, aloneness, and fears we all face in our lives.
The words to one of the musical's incredible songs, You Will Be Found, resonated even louder in my heart last night...
Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?
The journey our son has been on for so many years can be found in those words, especially in terms of the beginnings. The uncertainty, fear, questioning, even self loathing involved as a person slowly begins to connect with their inner truth leads to a self imposed isolation of sorts. A pulling back, pulling away from others for fear of being found out, seen, before that person is ready to utter the words out loud.
We saw it with Toby. And while we are now two years and many emotional miles away from those first steps, I look back and have a far greater understanding of just how dark and isolated was that place in which he had moved himself. When you are trying desperately to understand yourself, it is impossible to believe that anyone else could understand you.
As with Toby, finally saying the words out loud does not fix everything for a transgender person. Yes, there was relief at confiding in his family and not being rejected, but it also opened a whole new can of uncertain worms - What did it mean? What steps could he take? Where was life going to go? Who would he lose?
Faced with more questions than answers, it is not surprising that he suffered panic attacks, clouds of depression, anger, sadness. But as I have always believed, the questions are far scarier than the answers, and as we began to formulate our own answers, our lives began to mirror another DEH lyric:
When it all feels so big
'til it all feels so small.
We all stood together as everything felt not only big, but HUGE for Toby. And as we moved forward through planning and bringing plans to fruition, the "big" started to feel, maybe not "small" but manageable. Again, there is no set path forward, no map you can buy, just the love you have for your child and the will to walk through the darkness with them.
After leaving his college and the soccer team he had grown to love, more questions settled in - How would my teammates react when they found out? Who would I lose? Would they ever communicate with me again?
Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand
Posting his coming out video was as much an act of courage and relief, as it was one of faith. Courage because taking a stand for yourself is rare in this world; relief that everything would be out in the open, no more hiding, pretending; faith that his words would reach the hearts of the people he had loved for so very long, that they would reach out their hands.
As I have written over the past year, friends, family, and strangers alike have been amazing, supportive, even awed by Toby's and our family's willingness to be so completely open. Yes, there have been the predictable hatemongers, but honestly? The ugly ones can keep being ugly on their own. The emotional cesspools of their souls will consume them eventually.
The reactions of Toby's friends and former teammates had been universally supportive when he came out, but it was all also supportive from a distance - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, texts. He had not seen any of them in person (save one who came to visit last month).
Until last night.
He and I had driven to Dallas so he could attend a Bleachers concert with his sister Wednesday night. His former college soccer team had a home game last night, and he asked if we could stay to go watch them play. Of course I said yes, but my heart clenched a bit, as it will always do, when weighing the what ifs. My mother's heart will never not fear for his safety, or for his heart as he navigates this world. But my fears aside, he was nothing but excited to see his former roommates, teammates, and other players he had taken under his wing when they were new, frightened freshmen.
Arriving early enough to connect with one of his former roommates when she finished up a class, the hugs and laughs flowed as naturally as they ever had. The same bad jokes, easy affection, and two-way ribbing that grows from sharing living space and field space for two long years. Millie was amazing and it made my worried heart hopeful for what would happen post-game when he saw everyone else.
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found
Watching the game was a mixture of wonderful and sad for this mom - I admit it. I miss watching him play soccer. For almost 15 years I had a front row seat to watch that amazing human being and athlete grow, achieve, lead, dominate. And while we always knew there was an expiration date on the game, and the past two years have been far more important for him than any season of games would have been, I miss it.
So we cheered, we clapped, we smiled. And as parents recognized us, they came up with hugs. Real hugs. They all know our story, they all now know why Toby left. And they expressed their support, that they missed us. Laurel's mom came and sat with us for the entire game, catching up, genuinely happy to see Toby, find out where life was leading him.
And then the final whistle blew, and we left the stands to wait on the field's edge for the players he desperately wanted to see, to see him there.
Laurel got to him first, as did the first tears to my eyes.
Then one by one, they saw him, and came running. Former players who had been seniors when he first started on the team came with hugs. And his "children" - the ones he took under his wing when they came on as freshmen? The smiles, the hugs, the laughter flowed like the water from my eyes.
I was glad to be able to hide my tears behind my sunglasses.
There was no awkwardness, no hesitation, just friends who had loved him, missed him, looked up to him - and still do.
The goodbyes were bittersweet, as he will be moving to Colorado next month, but that's ok. They all parted secure in the knowledge that all was right in their worlds. They had lost nothing, they still had what had drawn them together in the first place.
Driving home to Austin, Toby queued up the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack. And as the words washed over us, I told him, everything that had made them friends, made them love him, respect him as a player and person - none of that had been lost. They still saw the person he has always been. That person has not been diminished or rendered obsolete by the word "transgender". If anything, it has changed them all for the better - they have all grown, learned, and grasped that the heart is what matters, not the packaging.
So let the sun come streaming in
'Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found
Last night I was overwhelmed, today I am still awash in the feelings of happiness and hope - happy that my child's heart still draws people into his orbit, and hope that this generation will teach others to see beyond labels.
Two years ago it all felt so scary, so big. Now it all feels so small. And my child, who spent so long feeling afraid, uncertain, lost - is not.