Rhode Island Home to 1st Transgender High School Coach

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 3, 2013

Stephen Alexander has been coaching boys' soccer at Ponaganset High School in Gloucester, R.I., for the past three years. But what separates Alexander from the average high school coach is that he identifies as transgender.

Alexander made history recently when he came out as transgender in an interview by Outsports.com, making him the first openly transgender public high school coach in the country. Alexander sat down with EDGE to discuss his transitioning from female to male, and the reactions from family, friends and others.

Growing up in the tiny rural community of Chepachet, located in the northwest corner of the state, Alexander was a female who went by Jen Dandrow. Alexander was a tomboy, involved with sports, like football and basketball, and was a star athlete on the girls' basketball team.

Though Alexander excelled in sports, he was having an internal battle with his emotions.

"I felt different," Alexander told EDGE. "I was always jealous of boys. I wanted to be a boy."

At the time, there was little to no discussion of LGBT issues at the school and there were no openly LGBT students or faculty members to go to for support.

"It was never talked about," Alexander said. "No one came out as gay. Looking at social cues, it was frustrating not to be myself or to reveal myself, so I never felt comfortable in the dating world. It felt unsafe for me to do that."

Despite having an inner conflict regarding his gender identify, Alexander focused his attention on sports and his studies. He was friends with mostly girls, but also palled around with a few male friends.

After high school, Alexander attended Stonehill College where he was a religious studies major. He also studied philosophy and psychology.

While in college, Alexander never imagined changing his gender from female to male, but after researching into gender identity and sex reassignment surgery, as well as meeting with other trans people, the idea of transitioning became more viable to him.

"[I thought] if other people could go through [the transition], so could I," Alexander said.

Telling his family was another challenge, however. He first told his sister, who initially had a negative reaction to his announcement. He then told his parents, who had a difficult time with the news as well.

"It was like the death of a child," Alexander recalled. "It was a new thing for them."

Alexander moved to New York City for his gender reassignment surgery and applied for a legal name change. His parents eventually came around and were fully supportive when he went through with the transition process.

"I think it's difficult for anybody to transition at home," Alexander said. "Because they know they have this environment where they have somebody deciding whether they're a boy or a girl. I felt it was too difficult to transition at home so I moved."

Alexander has already coached five different sports from middle school to high school: basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer and baseball. He's coached both girls' and boys' teams and has been an assistant coach and a head coach.

Reaction to his announcement has been "overwhelmingly positive" from Ponaganset faculty and students, Alexander said, but the adjustment to his new gender continues.

"I'm still self-conscious," Alexander said. "I'm still battling self-doubt."

Alexander wants to educate others about the feelings trans people experience. He believes a support system is needed for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. He hopes to travel around the world and visit with friends who knew him as Jen.

"I want to see how the world relates to me," Alexander said.

Alexander is also now working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and LGBT sports pioneer Pat Griffin on convincing the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to include protections for trans athletes. The RIIL oversees all interscholastic high school sports in the state. NCLR's Helen Carroll said there are at least 15 states plus Washington, D.C., with state interscholastic association policies or legal protections for transgender student-athlete participation.

Alexander has written an initial letter to the state asking for adoption of a trans-inclusive policy. He's currently waiting for a response.

Alexander said he would like to see more LGBT athletes coming out in the future, noting someone's sexual orientation is a "non-issue."

For anyone struggling with his sexuality or gender identity, Alexander offers some advice: "They can do anything. Follow your passions. It gets better. They have to know that."

Providence-based Youth Pride, Inc., offers a Trans Support Group for transgendered youth. For more information, call 401-421-5626 or e-mail [email protected]. Borderlands Support Group, presented by Lifelines Rhode Island, is open for all transgender, transsexual, gender variant, and intersex (TGI) people in Rhode Island and surrounding regions. For more info, call 401-369-9680 or e-mail: [email protected].

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.