Hope is Found at the Bottom of Grief

“I’m going to shoot the moon!!!!” —me, believing I can achieve the highly unlikely best outcome in most situations

It has come to my attention that I have a tendency toward optimism that borders on delusional. For the most part, this has worked in my favor (it’s bad; see?). It gives me the confidence and hope to make bold moves, take risks, and experience big rewards. From camping in Masai Mara with lions hunting just outside our back packing tent (I’m sure they’ll just eat the Wildebeest and not us) to maintaining a 4.0 in grad school while nursing my infant and working full time (I’ll sleep when I’m dead), this tendency towards optimism for the seemingly impossible can come in handy. It allows me to reach past the bounds of realism and work with my imaginal vision for what I want to accomplish. Perception shapes, if not becomes, our reality. 

However.

There are some downsides to this indomitably positive facet of my being. I can misjudge or underestimate the consequences of aforementioned bold moves. Like the time I jumped barefoot off a cliff in Maine onto the rocks below. I shattered my right foot upon impact. Fortunately I was with the two best friends for such a situation as this: Nick, a military-trained medic, and Collin, aka MacGyver of the woods. So, all in all, I was fine. We finished out our weeklong camping trip and then I went home and got a proper cast. Lesson learned: don’t jump off cliffs onto rocks 10 feet below, especially barefoot. 

Selling our 64 acres in Vermont was not quite as impulsive as jumping off a cliff barefoot (I was only 18 when I did that, by the way), but—I will say—I did not fully consider the consequences of how it would feel to be 8 months on the other side of that decision. I imagined a month, two months, three months into the decision—but I didn’t picture how I would feel by that following June here after the initial shine of the decision had worn off—especially if things did not go according to plan. The consequences were bigger than some broken bones. 

I would say that until last June, I had never experienced real regret. I had always been able to maintain this idea of “it’s all grist for the mill” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” My belief around the current of vitality from my last post allows me to untether from my small self and plug into the bigger collective of Life Itself.

On June 6 of last year (Collin and my 20th anniversary, incidentally), however, I experienced something that changed my life and forced me to set out on the journey of reconciling some real regret for making such a drastic move, presumably under the influence of optimistic delusion. On that day, a parent with considerable influence and leadership in our homeschool group confronted me about Senya vocalizing about queer and trans rights in the group. Now, if you have a kid who identities as queer—gender queer or queer in their orientation—you know that the statistics are that LGBTQIA+ youth are more than 4 times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. And you would also know that trans and nonbinary youth are 2-2.5 times more likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers (https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/)

I had heard Senya confront some of these kids before, so I knew what this parent was referencing. When two cisgender, heterosexual boys were pretending to be gay, I heard Senya handle the situation with directness but not unkindly. They told them it wasn’t funny to make a joke out of someone’s orientation. When a cisgender girl told Senya that they were “always going to be a girl” and that they “needed to stop running from their true identity” Senya stood up for themself, but again, not unkindly. I know there were more occasions, and I know they probably didn’t always perfect their delivery in standing up for themself, but they were 12 and the only out queer kid in the group. So, they did their best doing a job that the most vulnerable person in a given social group shouldn’t be left to do for themself in the first place. 

So, given those stats above, and the fact that Senya was trying to be an ambassador and advocate for trans and queer rights—for themself and also for others in the group who had come out privately to them—I wasn’t about to apologize to this parent or tell Senya to tone it down. In the moment, when this parent was confronting me, it suddenly dawned on me: people aren’t going to understand. My kid is going to face discrimination in this world and they will be blamed for it. If this can happen in Los Angeles, a city that purports to be progressive and liberal, where can they be safe? 

It leveled me emotionally to have Senya’s identity and their attempt to make space for their existence as a trans-gender, non-binary person put beneath the level of importance of other kids’ hurt feelings or injured pride. “Senya is casting these kids as sexist, and that’s unfair” the parent wrote later in an email. Interestingly enough, another girl (the one who told Senya they’d always be a girl), called boys sexist all the time. And yet, this girl wasn’t getting singled out. 

I am going to just pause and recognize my privilege for a moment here as someone who has been able to mask and protect myself, despite my own queerness, whenever necessary to stay safe. Other more vulnerable members of society don’t have this privilege. This includes other members of the trans and non binary community and also Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and people of racial diversity. The most vulnerable members of society are those that live at intersections of these different facets of identity. It’s important that I note here that I have had the luxury of living a life where this was one of the first and formative moments of prejudice I’ve experienced on behalf of my child because they refused to mask and blend. This experience makes me realize the importance of speaking up and making space for people who are less safe to do so for themself and who do not have the option of masking. This is why it’s important to say “Black Lives Matter” or have policies around inclusivity, signs on institutions and businesses welcoming and protecting diversity, and legislation that protects the rights of vulnerable members of society. It takes saying it out loud, making it formalized, and taking a stance. Because it’s not a given. And if you think it is, it’s because you’ve been privileged enough to think that (as I was).

So, in the initial moments of this parent’s confrontation, I felt the ground beneath me fall away. My friend was next to me, with her hand on my back trying to support me, unable to find the words or actions to intervene in the conversation but sending the signal of solidarity and support by physically supporting me. I was shaking and began crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t think; I just felt bottomless grief for Senya’s journey of being misunderstood, for the shattering realization of how unjust the world was, for all I had given up to be here in Los Angeles. My heart was pounding in my ears, and images flashed across my mind of all the things I loved that I had given up to be here. With this group. The ramps that grow on the hillside in April. The bees we kept that pollinated our plants and shared their abundance of honey. Our neighbors who provided friendship and help in any pinch in which we’d find ourselves. The sunrises over the mountains I’d see from my kitchen sink window. Our pond that we’d ice skate on every February and then swim in every June. Animal friends—chickens, bunnies, a cat— we had to re-home. The chickadee who would sing to me to tell me that spring was on the way. The grief was filling me, choking me, and I couldn’t breathe. I had to leave the situation. And so I did. I went home and crawled into bed at 6:00 pm in the evening. Collin canceled our 20th anniversary dinner reservations and sat next to me in my sadness, sharing the burden of grief. 

In the following days, the parent and I went back and forth in a series of emails each trying to explain to the other our point of view. “All the kids deserve to be accepted” she wrote. Yes, but for some outliers to be included, there need to be changes made in the way we speak and think about gender to affirm their identity. Just like “All Lives Matter” minimizes or negates the specific, systemic oppression that Black individuals face, saying that all the kids’ hurt feelings carried the same weight as the one trans’ kid’s in these particular moments of ciscentric or heteronormative biases negates the specific, systemic struggle that a trans person experiences by virtue of living in a binary, cisgender society. 

By day three of email exchanges, it became clear that there was a chasm between us that could not be bridged with logic, for we each had our own. And while each of our arguments derived from different premises and resulted in different conclusions, they were both logically sound. Without empathy, there is no way across the divide of differing logic and world views. I understood that she was trying to protect the other kids from feelings of shame or judgment. I don’t think she ever understood that I was trying to keep my kid from the statistic likelihood of depression and suicide associated with their trans identity. We each had concerns; the stakes were higher for mine. And without a clear policy and uniform stance on LGBTQIA+ rights, inclusive language, and an overt mission to celebrate diversity, we could not stay in the group. In the absence of a clear, unified statement on inclusion and equity, the default is that each person’s opinion is as important as the next person’s. When it comes to social issues with this much weight and consequence, especially in light of the misalignment I was sensing about such issues, I didn’t feel that Senya would have the support they needed to be healthy. 

And so, we left the group that I had envisioned being our community for the remainder of the kids’ middle and high school years. The group that I had believed would off set the sacrifices of leaving our homestead in Vermont. 

I had to confront the grief and face the regret of the choice I had made. I had sold our home, our land, our beautiful intimate life and there was no going back. Fortunately, the only pragmatic reason we had moved here—for Collin to be physically here for the initial start up phase of his company—had gone better than we even hoped. So, that’s a win. But the life that the kids and I thought we were returning to did not pan out the way I thought it would. I tried to move back to an era, but eras aren’t geographical.

It was important for me to go through this process of grief and of reconciling how my optimistic delusion prevented me from sitting with the cost of the decision to move here. I did not allow myself to stay present with the grief of all we were leaving in Vermont because I steeled myself to make the difficult leap. This was where I went wrong. If you are making a big change, taking a big risk, or leaping for something beyond your reach—it’s important to be present with that decision while you’re doing it. You know you’re truly ready if you’re ready to stay present with the fear, the unknown, the cost, the grief and still make the decision to leap. I had to really embrace this truth prior to this idea of moving to the farm. I have a tendency to think that the answers lie in geography, when in fact, they are within us. I have spent many months soul searching and researching actual data about living here versus living in Vermont. They are both great places with a lot to offer. 

In addition to all the reasons I wrote about in my first blog post, for this season in life, I believe that moving back to Vermont and sending our kids to school is the best option for our family for now. While you cannot predict how each individual person will treat your kids, there is a different kind of peace of mind and support that comes with structural justice and policies that protect vulnerable people. The school where we plan to send Senya and Juniper, Long Trail School (LTS), has an overt inclusivity statement. They backed this statement with action when they went to bat this past year defending their star basketball player. She is a transgender girl and thus plays on the girls’ basketball team. LTS took some heat for this decision in the news and from other schools—one of which refused to play LTS’ team on anti-trans grounds. LTS held strong in their decision and support of their player and their policy that students can pick the team that best fits their gender identity. 

In contrast, we looked at several schools here, in LA, after we left the homeschool group. There was one nature based school that Senya was planning to attend. During their interview with the administration, Senya asked the teachers how they would handle it if someone misgendered them. The teachers said, “Well, if you come in here expecting conflict, then you might find it. It is important for people to assume the best of everyone here. These are all good students. No one would mean to hurt anybody regarding their gender, so if you don’t assume that they will, they won’t.” Essentially, this amounts to: “If you get hurt, it’s your fault.” This is a toxic attitude in general because it refuses to take accountability for one’s actions, but it is especially detrimental when there is a power differential regarding socially vulnerable members of society. Blaming the victim for standing up, speaking up, or trying to make space for their identity is harmful. Full stop. Supposed good intentions don’t justify harmful behavior.

Upon telling a friend that they planned to attend this school here in Topanga, Senya’s friend cautioned them (knowing they are non-binary and knowing their tendency to be vocal about trans rights). This friend informed Senya that she had known a trans student who had been expelled from this school for “disrupting the students” but in reality it was because the student, like Senya, was trans and vocal about their identity and vocal about trans rights. Parents with money and power convinced the school administration to expel the trans student. 

When we asked the same question of the school administration at LTS in Vermont, they said, “for homophobic or anti-trans comments or behaviors, we would likely give a student an in-class suspension whereby they spend their time researching and writing about LGBTQIA+ rights and the history of LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States.” 

There was no talk about intentions or goodness of people’s hearts—because that’s not what we’re talking about when we talk about standing up for justice when there is a power differential. Some of the worst injustices of history have been committed in the name of good intentions. Genocide via eugenics, the Crusades, Conquistadors, the Spanish Missions, The Carlisle Indian Industrial School…the list goes on and on. Just because people think they’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting the most vulnerable members of society. Usually they think they’re doing good and not harm because they’re thinking from their ego-centric, euro-centric perspective and not taking the time to perspective take or decenter their narrative. That doesn’t make the consequences less horrific for the people they hurt. 

I’m not under the impression that LTS will be perfect, and I know that even people who are trying their hardest make mistakes. It’s the fact that there’s a mechanism for accountability that matters to me. And it’s the fact that holistically, even on the worst days, we will have a beautiful home, a nature-based life, and an event barn to host gatherings that bring people together around issues of justice. 

I do want, however, to give a shout out to those who helped us through this difficult year. Brave Trails, the California based LGBTQIA+ youth organization has been so supportive and crucial to Senya’s success. Senya has been part of Brave Trails’ weekly Queer youth group, and they also have met with a Brave Trails therapist weekly. This has been vital for their mental health and has provided much needed social and psychological support. 

I also want to thank all the family members and friends who showed up for us. Queer aunties who adore my children. Loyal friends who took a stand for us, one of whom wrote an email to the group trying to explain the systemic nature of the social harm we had experienced. There were other friends who made time and energy to collaborate on carpooling, activities, and life in general. My niece who is in their twenties, queer, super cool, and works at the local gourmet food store has been a role model and an inspiration to both my kids. All these aforementioned people plus other family members and friends who show up monthly for a potluck. Friends from the former homeschool group made an effort to reach out and stay close even though we left the group. All the grandparents who use Senya’s pronouns. All the people who use Senya’s pronouns and just say sorry and move on when they make a mistake (by the way, that’s the most supportive way to handle an accidental misgender. Profuse apologies or anything that turns the energy around and compels the person to caretake YOUR feelings for making a mistake is unhelpful). There is no shortage of good humans here or abroad in our life, and we have been so lucky to have some of the very best in our life.

It’s just been a long road of difficult learning, especially because I leapt without really calculating the cost of what we were leaving behind. In this next move to Vermont, I am trying to stay very present with how much we do indeed have here. We will be leaving a lot of people we love and a lot of resources in that regard. I’m scared, and I think that’s important to acknowledge and keep top of mind. I also know it won’t be perfect because nothing is. Our beautiful age of homeschooling is ending, and this path in Vermont seems like a pretty good fit for who we are now and the era ahead. 

This was a difficult post to write because it articulates my personal experience, but I want to impress upon anyone reading this how not unique our story about facing discrimination regarding trans identity is. I have come to hear similar experiences from other parents of trans and nonbinary kids. Some of whom, like us, had made huge moves to be in places they thought would have the resources their kid, being gifted and exceptional, would need. There is a huge overlap in the Venn diagram of identity traits where queerness and giftedness overlap. Therefore, if you move for giftedness without knowing that the resources will also be supportive of queerness, your kid can end up lonely and hurt. Fortunately, we have found some communities that make space for both; Talent Development Institute in Vermont, for example, is a camp for gifted kids, but it also is extremely inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people. There is a girls dorm floor, a boys dorm floor, and an all-gender floor. It’s accommodations like this that make all the difference for someone whose gender identity doesn’t fit into the binary.  

This is a critical moment in history; while LGBTQIA+ rights are moving forward in some ways (Thailand recently legalized same sex marriage) 2024 was a record breaking year for anti-trans legislation in the United States. Donald Trump has already made it clear that, should he become President again, he, promises to roll back LGBTQIA+ rights. In conjunction with the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) he will propose Project 2025, which details a host of anti-trans legislation and actions. This includes denying federal funding to institutions that don’t discriminate against transgender students (on the grounds that protecting LGBTQIA+ rights equates to violating the rights of people with certain religious beliefs), deleting the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” from all federal rules, and for prohibiting teachers from affirming trans students. One of the worst proposals in Project 2025 equates transgender identity with pornography and states that it should be outlawed (that’s especially rich coming from a guy who, not only had sex with a porn star, but then paid her to remain quiet about it). This proposal suggests that librarians, teachers, and administrative staff that support transgender students or transgender ideology should be registered as sex offenders. These are his plans. You can read more at 

https://www.them.us/story/lgbtq-trump-trans-second-term

https://www.forbes.com/sites/saradorn/2024/05/10/trump-promises-rollback-on-trans-rights-heres-what-hes-said

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/us/politics/trump-transgender-rights.html

I want you to also take away something important: it’s often the parents who have the problem with accepting trans identities. Kids are, by nature, open hearted and open minded. It’s the parents who get worried about their children’s “innocence” (aka fragility) getting threatened by understanding trans identity, issues of justice, or having difficult but important conversations around social inequity that exists. It’s the parents who hold harmful views like, “well, boys and girls shouldn’t have sleepovers together” rather than talking to their kids about sex, the true meaning of consent, mutual respect, and how to communicate your own boundaries and listen to others’. Genitals don’t equal gender and neither gender nor genitals equal sexual orientation. 

I know not everyone is informed on all the nuances of these issues because the nature of privilege is that you can opt out of caring if it’s not affecting you. But I believe we can do better, be better, and co-create a society that holds complexity beyond the binary. I haven’t given up hope, remember? Indomitable optimism. But sometimes, optimism must be tempered with reality. And in this case, it’s important to hold the injustices that exist while keeping an eye on the hopeful outcome. On Monday Senya will find out if they got an internship with Outright Vermont, an LGBTQIA + organization, as a youth organizer and activist. If they don’t get it this year, they will apply again until they do. They are a born and raised activist; it’s their calling, their identity, and all hell can’t stop them. 

Sometimes hope is at the bottom of a murky quagmire of hurt, disappointment, and grief. It’s not always a pleasant journey to dive down to the bottom to retrieve it, but the process is necessary sometimes. 

And as for me, with hope back in hand, I believe we can shoot the moon. 

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8 Responses to Hope is Found at the Bottom of Grief

  1. Joan Dinatale says:

    Oh your mother’s heart! Sen is amazing. I fully expect them to be a vermont senator.
    Now I understand your desire to move to vermont, particularly to Long Trail School.
    You are as brave as Sen, being as vulnerable as you have been in this post and that vulnerability
    obviously comes from your deep deep love for Sen.

    • Lindsay Palkovitz says:

      Thank you, mom! Thanks for sharing the journey with us, even from afar. And yes, deep love motivates us to say and do courageous things. xo

  2. Dad says:

    It has taken me several sessions to read and digest the complexity of your thoughts, let alone formulate my response. I’ll get back to you.

  3. Geo and Doug says:

    Linds you never cease to amaze me! Youre honesty integrity and love shine through your words. We love you guys!!

    • Lindsay Palkovitz says:

      Thank you, Uncles!! This is signed with both of your names, but I’m guessing based on the “Voice” I sense that it’s Uncle Doug. I love you both too–SO MUCH. Thanks for taking the time to read and connect with my writing and my heart.

  4. Tiffany Duzan says:

    ” …you can opt out of caring if it’s not affecting you.” I’m not experiencing your experiences but I’ve been through some things and your words touched my parent heart. You have our support and I wish I could hug you. You’re a wonderful, inspirational, strong, brave person.

    • Lindsay Palkovitz says:

      Thank you so much, Tiffany, for taking the time to read my words and connect with the journey. I wish I could give you a big hug too; being a sincere and loving person (let alone parent) is not for the weak of heart. Whatever it is that you’ve experienced (or are experiencing) that resonated with what I’ve expressed here, I hope you’ve found love, community, and support for the path. In solidarity, 💜

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