My name is J, and I'm a hetero cis woman who absolutely loves you two. Your podcast is wonderful and I truly enjoy listening to your conversations.
A little background on why I'm asking this question, I live in a very conservative area of the Midwest and there is not a lot of exposure for the trans community here. My former roommate and current best friend is a trans woman but due to our environment and personal struggles, she has not been able to openly present herself as a woman to society. I'm the only girl friend that she really is herself with and since we're so close, we both really want her to be involved in my wedding this fall as a bridesmaid. So here's my question: what advice would you have for us to help make her feel more comfortable being in front of a large group of my friends and family in a dress when she struggles with her body dysmorphia and fear of being vulnerable in public?
Thank you so much for sharing your friendship and closeness with your listeners, I hope to hear back from you!
Thanks so much for writing to Dana and I, and for listening to our podcast. You are super kind and sweet with your compliments towards us, so thanks for that. In regards to your friend, wow, you are super sweet for wanting her in your wedding! That is so nice of you to put yourself out there to help her! So cool!
Dana and I will be recording again late this next week and we will for sure discuss this. Dana has lots of experience in speaking with many trans individuals and I'm sure she has her own thoughts on this matter. Being as it may be at least a couple of weeks for our discussion to make it live on our podcast I wanted to try and write to you personally now and attempt an answer to your question.
To that end - in general, in order to become more comfortable being in front of people dressed as oneself, your friend would need to begin doing it now. Over time, comfort, joy, and relaxation can come about. I personally began by going to the movies, museums, and other locations where no one knew me. I was also super fortunate to have my wife by my side most of the time. I would encourage you and your friend to get out together and begin exploring if the realities of doing such a thing is what both of you actually want.
The reality is, I would have never felt comfortable in actually being in that wedding until I had transitioned, or at least had come out to my circle of humans. There would have been a terrific desire to do it, and an extreme sadness if I didn't, but I would never have felt comfortable doing that while I was closeted.
There may have been some things that have helped me to feel more comfortable though. As you stated in regards to your friend, she has two main issues, 1 - body image concerns, and 2 - social concerns.
For issue number one, body image, that can be combated in a few different ways. The first way that I dealt with my own body insecurities was learning how to dress it. Clothes come in many different cuts, fabrics, styles, etc. By trying on vast amounts of different clothes one can eventually find something that actually looks good. I have found this to be true, regardless of one's personal body "type." Thus for a wedding, the right bridesmaid dress can make all of the difference. Many AMAB (assigned male at birth) humans have wider shoulders, thus a dress that shows more shoulders is often not flattering on their bodies, for example.
Another helpful tactic is realizing the vast variations that exist in bodies. Not every AFAB (assigned female at birth) human has shoulders and hips at the same width. Not every AFAB has greats breasts that show their decolletage. Not every AFAB looks undeniably like an AFAB. Variations happen, and are totally natural and expected. Not everyone looks like that standard female image that media tosses in our face on a regular basis.
My personal body image issues have also been helped by working with my therapist for the past two years and bugging her constantly about the evil voices in my head that try and convince me that I will never be seen as anything but an AMAB desperately trying to pass as an AFAB. In addition to talking to her about my own body image issues, I have tried to talk to many other people about it. I have spoken to college classes about it, my wife extensively, my sister, my coworkers, my friends, and total strangers! I believe that insecurities are wounded by being brought into the open, and that they thrive in the darkness of our minds.
Another small, but powerful, thing I have done to help with my body image issues is to take a large number of pictures of myself. This may seem counter-intuitive as humans with body image issues tend to not like their images at all. But, over time, with lots of practice, and learning about the medium of photography, I have been able to see myself in a totally different way.
Lastly, the largest thing I have done to help with my body image issues, is to have changed my hormones. That has helped the most as that has actually changed my body to be better aligned with what my brain thinks my body should look like. Thus I am beginning to feel like me, and not like I am playing a version of me.
Okay, so, for issue number two - social concerns, I have a harder time in coming up with more options. The first, and by far the easiest, is to dress in one's preferred presentation and go to locations where it is all but assured that you won't see anyone who knows you. That limits the potential side effects of your entire world discovering your secret. But it also allows one to begin to interact with other human beings while dressed in a manner one is not familiar with.
Another option to transgender people is to come out of the closet. It does not mean one has to transition. People can open up about their gender variance even when they are not sure what it may mean. I came out to my sister as a transvestite about fifteen years ago. A few years after that, I came out to some friends and described myself as a cross dresser. After that, I came out to some other friends as gender non-conforming and non-binary. It was not until a few years later that I began telling people I am a transgender woman. Anywho..... when you begin to open up, and come out of the closet, it helps to ease the social pressures.
Coming out is not an easily undertaken event. It takes large amounts of bravery, and support. It can lead to horrible rejection and large amounts of ignorance. But, it can also lead to freedom. The freedom to actually be able to be oneself, in front of anybody, and everybody. It can lead to a deep sense of closeness and belonging within a community that most transgender people have never felt.
In short, I don't know of anything that can guarantee your friend will be able to be in your wedding and be totally comfortable, however, there are lots of things they could begin to do that would allow them to be in your wedding and feel more comfortable about it.
I hope that in some small way my words will help you and your friend. You truly are an awesome human being and a fantastic friend. Thank you so much for being so kind and caring to others. Your friend is very fortunate to have you in their lives.