One of the major changes since I began transitioning has been something that didn't fully register as even existing until it began to change.
The simple way to describe it is this: I had never been able to feel attractive. At all. Partners could tell me I was attractive. They could be noticeably excited by being with me. I could find out someone had a crush on me, and I would chalk it up to something in my personality.
I could never understand or accept, on any level, that someone found me physically attractive.
In fact, compliments about my appearance usually had the reverse effect. I'd get uncomfortable, and it could even trigger dysphoria. I remember instances with partners in intimate situations where the wrong comment - intended to be positive - would absolutely destroy me. Any focus on my body at all would ruin any chance I'd be able to be comfortable with them right then.
It meant that I dressed down. Always. Daggy pants and at best a t-shirt with a logo or pop-culture reference on it that I liked. If I did nothing to ever give people reason to comment - even positively - on my appearance, it made things easier.
In rare situations where I was forced to wear a suit or the like, I would walk around in a funk, in dread of someone acknowledging it. Calling me handsome, or some equally masculine bit of praise.
Over time I began to get a little more used to it - I sometimes dressed a little nicer, but usually not by much. My fear of feeling deeply uncomfortable when receiving a compliment on my style or looks was too high.
That's begun to change now.
Compliments feel good, and have the reverse effect. Positive comments on anything from my hair to my makeup to my clothes to just general observations are often enough to put me in a good headspace for hours to come. Not so much out of a desperate desire to be seen to be attractive, but that physical compliments are almost invariably gendered, and can, cumulatively, serve as a bulwark against dysphoria.
Then there finally came experiences where people made me feel sexy. Genuinely sexy. It's not compliments on a conscious level that do this, either. It's that feeling when someone is kissing you, lying next to you in bed or wherever, when you see it in their eyes that they're absolutely, really and genuinely into you.
When they say something like "you're so fucking hot", and there's an absolute energy to how they say it - like it's not a voluntary thing to do. They just have to say it.
I'd seen that kind of thing before, but it always made me feel uncomfortable. If someone thought I was an attractive male, I felt terrible. When a partner is clearly attracted to me as a woman, however they express it... it feels so different.
It feels right. It brings elation and confidence and the sense that things will be okay.
It's a feeling I didn't know I was missing from my life until I first began to feel it.
On some level, partners were, I suppose, never able to fully express any attraction they felt for me, as my reaction was so negative. Most learnt to just not try, although I'm sure none had any real idea just why I reacted like that - I sure didn't.
Essentially, I was never able to be fully comfortable in a relationship. The closest I ever felt to being 'myself' was when I was briefly able to forget my physical body and avoid any treatment which in any obvious way gendered me.
Which was rare.
It feels, now, like I'm finally able to be with someone fully.
I love how they can make me feel sexy now, and I love trying to make them feel the same.