Occasional Paper Series #45

Keep Yourself Alive: Welcoming the Next Generation of Queer and Trans Educators

by Harper Keenan

Dear new queer/trans educator,

Welcome to the work of education. I am glad that you are here to take part in the wonderfully challenging task of supporting young people to learn more about how we might be together. I often think of classrooms and other educational spaces as something like a dance floor, where people who may not know one another gather together and learn how to interact and relate to one another in shared space.

While the word “educator” might be a new way of orienting yourself, chances are that you have been practicing a kind of education for a long time. Those who now call themselves queer and trans people have been teaching the world since before those words even existed—the acceleration of queer language development and reclamation over the last century is but one example. You have important knowledge to bring to the work of education.

Queer and trans communities have historically embodied ways of being and relating that go beyond the categories written onto our lives. To paraphrase the timeless words of Rihanna (Harris, 2011), we have found love in hopeless places. We have built ambiguous friendships in classrooms, hatched plans in hallways, studied books in library corners, lusted after each other on school trips. To do so, many of us have broken the rules.

About the Author

Harper Keenan is an assistant professor of gender & sexuality research in education at the University of British Columbia. Harper’s work examines how adults teach children to make sense of the social world. His primary goals as an academic are to help shape the teaching and learning of young children and their educators and to shift public thinking about children and childhood. Harper believes in pedagogies that engage young students in meaningful and rigorous inquiry driven by social experience. Broadly, Harper’s academic interests include queer/trans pedagogies, anti-racist education, history & social science education, early childhood and elementary education, and teacher education.

Harper Keenan

“Ambivalent Legacies: A Response to Harper Keenan”

by Jen Gilbert

Harper Keenan’s generous letter to beginning queer/trans teachers hinges on the question: How do we stand in that impossible moment when we are welcoming newcomers while still acknowledging our debts to those who’ve come before? Jonathan Silin, whose work this issue celebrates, grapples with these questions of legacy in an essay that reflects on his contributions as an early childhood educator and researcher and a gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist.

Read Full Response Essay (pdf)

Jen Gilbert