Primary school and the construction of transgender identities: views from learners.
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This phenomenological qualitative study examines the learners’ understanding of transgender identities in a primary school. My study focuses on how 12 to15 year-old girls and boys make meaning of the term transgender and the factors that shape their understanding of the concept. The research site is an urban primary school, Mbali Primary (pseudonym) which is located in Sydenham, Durban, in the province KwaZulu-Natal. My methodology within this study was aimed at investigating the lived experiences and opinions of particular individuals who made up my sample group. The sample group comprised a mixed group of learners from grades 6 and 7, ranging in ages from 12 to 15 years. I conducted 34 semi-structured interviews and eight focus group discussions. The findings reveal that there is an interrelation between societal ideologies and learners’ understanding of the term transgender. There is a distinct convergence of hetero-normativity, power relations and traditional gender binaries. In this study it was evident that the majority of participants held negative attitudes towards non-conforming identities. Incidentally, participants who were closely acquainted with non-conforming identities demonstrated favourable attitudes. Television and social media were influential in the way in which participants made meaning of transgender identities. They encouraged positive attitudes towards non-conforming identities. The findings indicated that the school curriculum did not provide adequate scope in terms of sexuality and gender. This creates a lack of awareness which perpetuates into transphobia and the marginalisation of non-conforming identities. The findings provide insight into the position of transgender learners within schools and societies and the reasons that some children are reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or identity. It will also become more evident why many heterosexual learners are reluctant to interact with transgender identities. This study concludes by recommending amendments to school policies, ways to improve school functionality as well as general interventions to promote tolerance of learners irrespective of their transgender orientation.