Unmanageable Subjects: Trans Childhood and the Challenge of Self-Determination at School
Harper Keenan

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of British Columbia

Primary Discipline

Gender self-determination has been the unifying demand of transgender social movements in the United States since they began to coalesce more than 50 years ago. The challenges still facing trans youth expose the persistent role of schooling in regulating gender, and in managing childhood more broadly. I argue that trans people are positioned as unmanageable subjects within the context of K-12 schools. This phrase has an intentional double meaning, referencing 1) the treatment of transgender existence as a taboo topic, and 2) the challenges trans children pose to the administrative and social regulation of gender. How might educators embrace unmanageability? What might it look like to practice education that resists rigidly scripting the world, including who children can be and become within it? Drawing on two years of multi-site qualitative data drawn from five elementary school classrooms and one after school program in a large urban school district in Northern California, this study examines the struggle for gender self-determination in primary education through more than 50 interviews and 5 focus groups with teachers, 20 play-based focus groups with children, and over 500 hours of participant observation.
About Harper Keenan
Harper B. Keenan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia. He currently serves as the inaugural Robert Quartermain Professor of Gender and Sexuality in Education. Dr. Keenan?s scholarship examines how adults and children relate to each other within the structures of schooling and other educational contexts. He is particularly interested in what the treatment of social and historical topics as complex and/or difficult in the education of young children might reveal about society more broadly. Dr. Keenan received a Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, a dual M.S.Ed. in Childhood Special and General Education from Bank Street College, and a B.A. from Eugene Lang College at The New School. His scholarship has been published in a variety of academic journals, including the Harvard Educational Review, Educational Researcher, Teachers College Record, Curriculum Inquiry, and Gender and Education. He has also written op-eds or been interviewed by popular press outlets like Teen Vogue, NPR, Reuters, NBC National News, EdWeek, and Slate. Dr. Keenan is a proud former New York City elementary school teacher.

Pin It on Pinterest