As an increasing number of young South Africans reveal that their gender identities differ from their sex at birth, schools are learning about the challenges these students face, writes the BBC’s Mohammed Allie from Cape Town.
Three years ago, Alex* transitioned from a boy to a girl. Now eight years old, she wears her blonde hair long and feels at ease among her classmates at a primary school in a leafy Cape Town suburb.
“My friends are really nice,” she says, even if some children in another class “don’t really understand and act a bit mean”.
Alex’s mother Jennifer* says the family was initially advised by a psychologist against allowing Alex to explore her female identity, and was urged instead to reinforce the male gender.
“So we cut her hair and forced her to be a boy, but that turned out to be awful,” Jennifer says. “She was affected badly – there was a noticeable decline in her sense of self.”
Matters only improved after the family – acting on the advice of another mental-health professional – allowed Alex to dress as she wished.
“Legally we haven’t changed the gender marker,” Jennifer says, “but she started wearing dresses to school and they were OK with that.”
South Africa has been getting better at understanding the needs of transgender students, backed by a constitution that is widely recognised as one of the most liberal in the world.
The country remains the only one in Africa that legally prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, guaranteeing equality for all.