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. Silin (2020) asks:
Is it possible to leave behind traditional ideas about legacy, weighted down as they are with commitments to social and biological reproduction, and reimagine it as something more ethereal, more queer if you will, that might lead to unthought possibilities? (p. 55)
Harper’s letter is one possible response to Jonathan’s question. If social and biological reproduction—what Jack Halberstam (2011) calls “straight time”—tend toward conservatism, loyalty, and continuity, then queer legacies will make room for “unthought possibilities,” including the gestures of welcome, like Harper’s letter, that open the door before knowing who has arrived. Harper invites queer/trans beginning teachers into the dance party and introduces them to the guests who came earlier— Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Paula Grossman and Steve Dain, and Jonathan Silin. Harper reminds the new teachers that their welcome was made possible by all these earlier activists. Indeed, the fact that they are able to walk in the front door and call themselves queer and trans teachers was made possible by the protests and politics of activists. For Harper, activism is education.
Gilbert, J. (2021). Ambivalent Legacies: A Response to Harper Keenan. Occasional Paper Series, 2021 (45). Retrieved from https://educate.bankstreet.edu/occasional-paper-series/vol2021/iss45/13