Repository logo

Teachers’ constructions of transgender identities in rural secondary schools.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study seeks to examine South African teachers’ understanding of transgenderism. Although there is ample evidence in South African society of inequality and discrimination based on sexual orientation, teachers’ understandings of transgender identities are not well documented, especially within educational settings. The study utilised a qualitative research design that involved individual interviews with twenty-four teachers across three schools in a working class African rural context. Three research questions underpinned the study. Firstly, the study sought to examine rural secondary school teachers’ constructions of transgender identities and, secondly, the study examined the influence of socio-cultural norms on these constructions and, lastly, the accommodation or rejection of transgender identities in the classroom. Data analysis comprised of thematic analysis to present the research findings. The research findings indicated that teachers had a limited understanding of transgender identity and, further, that teachers’ constructions of transgender identities closely relate to gendered ideologies. The study revealed that teachers’ lack of understanding of transgender identity produces discrimination against gender non-conforming learners, including tolerating homophobia. The research identified heteronormativity, compulsory heterosexuality and related socio-cultural norms as major components which shape how teachers construct transgender identities in their respective schools. Conversely, teachers who identified as gay demonstrated an understanding of gender fluidity by supporting and advocating for the rights of gender non-conforming learners in the school context. The research also found that teachers are not willing to discuss or teach topics involving gender and sexuality as they regard these topics as sensitive. Rather, teachers opt to focus solely on prescribed subject content, indicating that the teaching of gender diversity should fall to Life Orientation teachers. The study also found unequal representation of genders in the Life Orientation curriculum, which results in the erasure of certain genders whilst normalising others. The research concludes by proposing that transgenderism should be addressed in South African schools through ensuring that both teachers and learners obtain a greater understanding of transgender identity. Further, that the prevalence of socio-cultural norms focusing on compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity, and gender binarism should be disrupted within school settings. The hidden curriculum can play an important role for all teachers to ensure an inclusive learning environment that does not marginalise gender nonconforming learners.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.