Choosing Social Work as a Transgender Career

transgender symbol

I am about to enter into the last semester of my Bachelor of Social Work program at Washburn University in Topeka. My focus is increasingly toward my future. As a soon-to-be, 56-year-old college graduate, there are many choices available to me; including entering the seminary, entering law school, pursuing an MSW and working for an MBA.

The decision regarding my choice of career has been a process of looking at impact and matching with passion. I spent the first 48 years of my life in a passionless trudge through the existence of not being my true self. The total impact of my first 48 years on the planet can be summed up in these few words: alcoholic, homeless and spiritually dead. Passion and impact are extremely important to me.

A person might ask, "Why do you say a transgender career? " I would respond by saying that I am a transgender person. It is a label I choose to place on myself, knowing full well that I am really a person who is transgender, and transgender is only a part of who I am. But also knowing that being transgender is something that has had an encumbering influence on every aspect of my life.

Like it or not, right or wrong, being transgender has been a pervasive part of each of the some 384 million breaths I took in those first 48 years. Why should it not be as significant a part of the some 64 million breaths I have taken since I began to embrace myself as a woman, and however many breaths I have left to take?

The point is, that the words I am typing will inevitably be read by someone who identifies as a transgender teenager. They will undoubtedly wonder what type of transgender career they can possibly have in a world that continues, to a large extent, to identify transgender people completely by our transgender-ness. I want that transgender teen to know that they can be whomever they truly are, and become whatever it is their heart desires. Being transgender should never be an encumbrance to living your life.

I have decided to continue my education in pursuit of an MSW, and with the hope of becoming a licensed clinical therapist, or perhaps, leading a national transgender awareness initiative. But, why social work? The answer is easily found in the following excerpt from the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics:

The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession's focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. "Clients" is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities and other social institutions to individuals' needs and social problems.

In truth, I knew I wanted to be a social worker long before I became familiar with the NASW Code of Ethics. In no small part, this is because of the social worker who embodied this code as she enabled me to move beyond existence as a man, into life as a woman. She empowered me to find my own feet, and to walk with dignity and self-respect.

When we met for the first time, she knew even less about transgender than I did. But she knew how to create a space of kindness, and fostered an environment in which I was able to talk openly about my gender identity without the fear of being judged. Together, we learned about the transgender things we needed to learn. And I learned that I am a person who happens to be transgender. And being a person, I am endowed with the right to dignity and respect.

I have come to know, over the last eight years, that this amazing social worker was living the mission of social work, "to enhance human wellbeing." It is a most noble profession. I am honored to have chosen social work as my transgender career. The enhancement of human wellbeing, the promotion of social justice and the empowerment of people who are oppressed. Seems like a pretty good way to spend the however many breaths I have left to take.