Alley Stoughton is willing to answer questions about life as a transgender person if it will smooth the path for those who follow her.
"It's hard for the individual to bear the weight of explanation," said Stoughton, an associate professor of computing and information sciences.
An executive order signed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius should eventually ease that burden. Executive Order 07-24 includes gender identity in its language protecting state employees from discrimination and harassment.
Stoughton is a transgender woman. "I think it's wonderful that there's movement" toward recognizing and protecting that status, she said.
To that end, the order also requires training, which K-State's Division of Human Resources will fold into its existing programs and such campus initiatives as SafeZone, according to Clyde Howard, director of affirmative action.
"Societal change can feel challenging, even threatening," said Joyce Woodford, a counselor who has worked with transgender students. "But that doesn't stop the process, nor the need for the change.
"Within Kansas, as within our campus community, I expect the executive order to heighten awareness of transgender peoples' needs and rights," Woodford said.
That awareness should lead to protection in such areas as employment, housing, marriage, child custody and access to medical care.
Stoughton, who had been living as a woman while off campus but maintaining a male presentation as a professor, decided only last fall to "just be the same everywhere."
Last week she was able to change her sex in governmental records as a consequence of having undergone surgery this summer.
"Walking into a classroom dressed as a woman for the first time, there was a little trepidation," Stoughton acknowledged. "But the students were wonderful. My colleagues have taken it in stride as well."
She points to one solid measure of support: "My teacher evaluations that semester were at least as good as they had been."
K-State is not the first or only university to move toward transgender accommodation, Woodford said. Newman University already provides gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms, for example, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is building housing for transgender students.
"Campuses are quite varied in responding to transgender issues," Woodford said.
The pace of such facilities accommodations at K-State and other state institutions will depend on funding from the state legislature, Howard said.
"Nothing about being transgender is new," Woodford said. "The apparent current 'newness' stems from the availability of information, the willingness of people like Dr. Stoughton to become more public, and the rippling effect of normalizing what has seemed to be an exotic and rare gender status."
Photo: Joyce Woodford and Alley Stoughton have encouraged recognition and support of transgender concerns on campus and elsewhere.