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Understanding teachers’ construction of transgender identity: perspectives from primary school teachers in Amanzimtoti within KwaZulu- Natal.

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A dearth of research of primary school teachers’ knowledge of transgender people in South African education led to this research. The experiences of transgender people in South African society are not well documented although evidence of inequalities based on sexual orientation exist. The research design involved individual interviews (using a photo elicitation method) with teachers in a working-class suburban context. Two research questions underpinned the study. Firstly, the study sought to examine the meanings that primary school teachers make of transgender identities and secondly, the processes through which such perceptions and understandings were made. Data analysis was influenced by thematic analysis which structured the research findings. The findings from the data analysis displayed the intersection of primary school teachers’ construction of gender identities with that of the gender binary, compulsory heteronormativity, age, and power dynamics in relation to sex, sexuality, culture, and religion. The research findings indicated limited knowledge of the term transgender as well as the meaning that individuals who identify as such attach to it. Further, teachers viewed sex and gender as one and the same, attributing this notion to male-female differences, thus further perpetuating the outdated theory of essentialism and naturalism. Coupled with the failure of the national sex and sexuality curriculum (Life Orientation and Life Skills) and teachers’ reluctance to effectively teach learners about sex, gender, and sexuality education, tended to create a schooling culture that was intolerant and harmful to learners who were gender non-conforming. The dissertation concludes with recommendations aimed at addressing transgender in South African schools through processes and interventions that ensure that teachers and learners, obtain greater understanding and acceptance of transgender learners and individuals. This can promote an inclusive and more all-encompassing learning environment and school culture that is accepting, tolerant, and non-discriminatory towards learners based on their gender and sexuality.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.