Sunday Times

The sex-change schoolkids

Lack of depart­ment guid­ance leaves kids’ fate up to prin­ci­pals

- By PREGA GOVENDER South Africa News · Crime · Transphobia · Society · Bullying · Discrimination · Human Rights · Parenting · Family · LGBT · Cape Town · University of Cape Town · International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement · Transgender

● A Western Cape pupil who was regis­tered male at birth will start the new school term with a fe­male iden­tity.

His school took the un­usual step of in­form­ing par­ents last month that the trans­gen­der pupil will wear a girl’s uni­form and be called by her fe­male name.

The school had sought pro­fes­sional ad­vice from a psy­chi­a­trist on the best way to sup­port the pupil and her fam­ily.

Ron Ad­di­nall, a clin­i­cal so­cial worker at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, said he had as­sisted 12 trans­gen­der pupils at Western Cape schools with their so­cial tran­si­tion since last year.

These pupils are the lucky few.

In the ab­sence of a pol­icy from the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion on how to man­age trans­gen­der pupils, some prin­ci­pals have dis­re­garded their plight.

Iranti, a me­dia ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion that de­fends the rights of lesbians and trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex per­sons, said a trans­gen­der pupil in grade 7 at a Western Cape school be­came a laugh­ing stock af­ter the prin­ci­pal in­structed a teacher not to reg­is­ter him as a boy as he was regis­tered as a girl at birth.

“When you call some­body out by their birth name and not their cho­sen name, you are pub­licly sham­ing them,” said Iranti’s direc­tor, Jabu Pereira.

“Of­ten teach­ers get un­com­fort­able and don’t know what to do, so it be­comes a joke.”

Last year the Seshego Equal­ity Court in Lim­popo or­dered the pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment to pay R60,000 in com­pen­sa­tion to a trans­gen­der pupil who claimed her prin­ci­pal in­structed other pupils to pro­voke her in the school’s toi­lets.

Mean­while, a teacher at the school that gave its bless­ings to the trans­gen­der pupil said one of the ques­tions from the pupil was whether she would be al­lowed to use the girls’ toi­lets.

“At the mo­ment that’s on hold un­til this whole thing is out in the com­mu­nity.”

She said the pupil was “very ex­cited and re­lieved that every­thing is now out in the open”.

The school’s prin­ci­pal said the re­ac­tion from par­ents had been very pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive.

A Jo­han­nes­burg mother whose 14-yearold en­rolled in grade 8 at a school this year got the class teacher to delete the words “male” and “fe­male” from the at­ten­dance reg­is­ter in a bid to pre­vent her child from be­ing sin­gled out as trans­gen­der.

Her child was born a girl but iden­ti­fies as a boy.

“I want to see pol­icy and prac­ti­cal guide­lines in place im­me­di­ately. I want prin­ci­pals to re­ceive a direc­tive say­ing, ‘This is how you will be­have.’”

The woman burst into tears as she told how her son had to wear very tight-fit­ting clothes and a bin­der to school to con­ceal his breasts. He will be un­der­go­ing breas­tremoval surgery in De­cem­ber.

She ap­plied to the depart­ment of home af­fairs in June to have his gen­der and name changed.

“At school ev­ery­body thinks he’s a boy.” Ad­di­nall said the youngest child he had as­sisted to so­cially tran­si­tion was in grade 2.

“With pre­pubescent chil­dren, my role has been to meet with the fam­ily and the child and make the de­ter­mi­na­tion that he or she is def­i­nitely a trans­gen­der child. Par­ents have asked me to then as­sist in ne­go­ti­at­ing the so­cial tran­si­tion of the child at school.

“You now al­low the child to start liv­ing the gen­der they ar­tic­u­late them­selves to be.”

He said be­cause of the ab­sence of a for­mal pol­icy from the depart­ment, he had to ne­go­ti­ate with prin­ci­pals when­ever he as­sisted a trans­gen­der pupil at a school.

Most of the kids don’t want to be the ‘trans­gen­der kid’. They just want to be a boy or a girl

Dr Si­mon Pick­stone-Tay­lor Psy­chi­a­trist

Cape Town psy­chi­a­trist Dr Si­mon Pick­stone-Tay­lor, who runs a gen­der iden­tity de­vel­op­ment ser­vice at the Red Cross War Memo­rial Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in the city, said stud­ies showed that one in two trans­gen­der teenagers tried to com­mit sui­cide if they were not sup­ported ap­pro­pri­ately.

He said there were about 20 schools in Cape Town where pupils had so­cially tran­si­tioned.

He said he found prin­ci­pals and teach­ers to be gen­er­ally very open and re­cep­tive.

“I bring up reli­gion in the gen­eral talk be­cause I think all prej­u­dice boils down to ei­ther psy­chi­a­try or reli­gion and it is im­por­tant to dis­pel false be­liefs. A lot of peo­ple equate ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity with be­ing trans­gen­der.”

Said Pick­stone-Tay­lor: “Most of the kids don’t want to be the ‘trans­gen­der kid’; they just want to be a boy or a girl.”

Western Cape ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Bron­agh Ham­mond said the depart­ment was aware of a small num­ber of cases in which pupils had asked to wear a dif­fer­ent uni­form, or be ad­dressed by a dif­fer­ent name. “These cases have been re­solved in a man­ner which has em­braced di­ver­sity and in­clu­siv­ity within the school.”

In 2015 a book­let called “Safer Schools for All: Chal­leng­ing ho­mo­pho­bic bul­ly­ing in schools” was de­vel­oped by the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

It was de­vel­oped in re­sponse to re­ports of bul­ly­ing on the ba­sis of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, re­ported by par­ents, pupils, schools and NGOs “re­quest­ing in­ter­ven­tion that spoke to the knowl­edge gap ex­ist­ing in many schools on the rights of les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der or in­ter­sex in­di­vid­u­als.”

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