Change is a human constant. As we live, we are always growing and changing in one direction or another. Often, change is gradual, so slow as to be almost imperceptible, due to an amorphous confluence of contributing factors, and we only realise it's occurred after the fact. Other times, it's rapid and fundamental. And sometimes, we can watch ourselves changing fundamentally before our own eyes.
For me recently, it has been the latter. Over the past three months, I've had front-row seats to watch my entire personality rearrange itself from the inside out. It's an utterly fascinating process, which I have only recently begun to understand completely. As I write this, I am fully aware that the process is continuing. Those who read further will find my thoughts on that process, on its causes and its nature, and on the way in which one person can have a profound and lasting effect on another without even knowing it.
I'm definitely not the same person I was just four months ago. I don't feel the same, and I'm not acting the same, either. I painted my nails twice this past week. In the past, I've painted them that many times in the course of two months. I've begun redecorating my bedroom, arranging all the pretty things that had been collecting dust in remote corners in prominent places on my overflowing bookshelves. The fragrances, the jewelry, and the various cosmetics containers, with their shapes and colours, seem to be declaring: There's a girl living here.
I've suddenly begun paying more attention to and taking more pride in my appearance. The morning beauty rituals of leg-shaving and makeup-applying, which I had generally viewed as tolerable drudgery in the service of presentability, have stopped being drudgery and have actually become pleasurable. I actually have fun putting on makeup in the morning ("morning" here is a term of art meaning "the time at which I get up, including, but not limited to, dusk"). Though I've always tended to beat my hair into submission, blow-dry it, and be done with it as soon as possible, now I'm actually taking care of it, and putting some work into making it more than just presentable. At night, I'm actually bothering to remove my makeup properly and put on some moisturiser before going to sleep.
On a more core level, the changes are even more significant. I'm more confident than I've ever been before. My self-image has expanded, and my whole outlook has changed. For the first time in my life, I'm actually able to express affection in a non-artificial-sounding way, and I have more psychic energy than I've had in years. In the mornings (used again as a term of art), I actually wake up happy. As I gradually regain consciousness, I am momentarily filled with a sort of giddy happiness, and one of my first thoughts is: Damn, I'm glad I'm a girl.
Others have noticed changes that I wasn't even aware of. My body language and my walk have reportedly become less clunky and choppy and more at one with my state of mind. My movements are apparently more graceful and feminine than they had been. I'm also said to have become nicer and easier to get on with. I also recently discovered that I somehow managed to lose 15 kg while eating the same large amounts of the same foods as I always do. It's the first time I've been under 100 kg in years.
Even my cat seems to have noticed the difference. She tries to spend much more time with me than she ever did before, and snuggles up next to me at every chance she gets.
Over the past two weeks, due in part to spring holidays and in part to a quadruple wisdom tooth extraction that left me unable to do much of any thing else, I have been reflecting on these changes, and have finally begun to understand them.
It all began this winter.
In November 2003, my normally lackluster dating career experienced a sudden and significant upswing. I met a girl named Liliana, an adorable, fiery, sweet, affectionate, funny 150 cm half-Cuban, half-Colombian soft-butch who was working for the moribund Ben Chandler gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky. He'd already lost the election (to a man who was on TV about a hundred times more often than he was, but whose last name I nevertheless have never been able to remember) when we met in November, and she was soon to return to her native New Jersey. Before she left, she did want to get to see Cincinnati, and so we decided to make an evening of it. After a delicious dinner with an excellent Chilean red wine, a movie (Love, actually), and a game of pool, she was going to drop me off at home. The weather, however, had other plans. It was raining so hard that we couldn't even see through the windscreen, so she asked to spend the night.
The night before her flight back to The Garden State, she paid me another visit, and again spent the night. I've never felt as good in someone else's arms as I did with her. Having her next to me in bed, I felt utterly content.
After she returned to the East Coast, we kept in touch by e-mail, IRC, and the phone. In December, she decided to spend some time in Worcester, MA with friends from Smith College, her alma mater, and invited me to come up to Massachusetts and see her. I couldn't believe it. I was going to get to see her again, spend actual time together with her. Fall asleep next to her knowing she wouldn't be leaving in the morning.
I wasn't disappointed. The week we spent together in Massachusetts will surely go down as one of the best times of my life. I met her friends, who were very nice, interesting people, and I spent plenty of quality time with Lili. Apart from coming down with a cold, I loved every moment. In bed, we made up for lost time. We spent hours holding each other, talking, kissing. While the sex was lovely, other things come to the forefront when I think of those nights. I had never experienced such profound, wonderful intimacy in my life. Though I spent a long time trying to avoid prematurely labelling it, I was falling in love.
But the root of my psychological growth spurt was not such much how I felt toward Lili as it was how Lili made me feel about myself. Though her words and her actions, she gave me confidence in aspects of myself that I'd never been particularly confident in. One evening, when we were talking online, I got up the courage to ask her the question I'd always wanted to ask girls I'd slept with: How did you like it? I was rewarded with the knowledge that she loved it. I was, in her words, "very attentive and affectionate." In addition to making me feel quite proud of myself, the question opened up the lines of communication between us on that and related subjects. Through those newly open lines of communication, I also found out that she had spent half of Love, actually trying to decide whether to put the moves on me.
The way Lili treated me, both in bed and out, combined with her answers to my questions, created the climate necessary for the change that began to take place. She made me feel pretty, feminine, and desirable for the first time in my life; never before had I had any confidence in those aspects of myself. While I've always tended to be more feminine in general, I've never had confidence in my own femininity. Because I lacked the confidence to express that aspect of myself, it basically atrophied. It occasionally showed itself a bit, but not on a regular basis. My general attitude was basically that being female was sort of like having an epiglottis: Yeah, it's there, and it's probably important somehow, but I just don't get what the big deal is. Certainly, I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with it, so I tended to keep it at arm's length.
My self-image was in a similar state. Certainly, there were always plenty of things about myself that I felt good about, plenty of positive attributes that I have always been quite proud of; however, through my conversations with Lili, I got a new perspective. She held up a mirror, and, when I looked into it, I saw someone totally different from who I normally saw. Everything I always saw in myself was there, but there were changes, new attributes: sexy and pretty girl. I'd never thought of myself as being even remotely sexy, nor was pretty girl a term I'd ever have thought of associating with myself.
This changed everything. For the first time in my life, I felt feminine, attractive, even sexy. I suddenly saw myself as pretty. This was a true paradigm shift. I no longer marginalised that whole rather substantial element of my personality. Femininity even downright girliness was no longer something to take out every once in a while and keep tightly under wraps the rest of the time. I was able not only to recognise my femininity, but to embrace it, to love it, to take great pleasure in it. Being a girl and a pretty one, at that was no longer a peripheral fact to be casually and fleetingly noted on occasion and then ignored the rest of the time it began fully integrating itself into my being, subtly reworking the rest of my personality as it went.
I enjoy being a girl
We often underestimate the importance that a single person, a single relationship can have on personality development. Lili certainly found it hard to believe that knowing her had heralded such profound changes. The fact remains, however, that she did, without even being aware of it. It's come into vogue these days to discount the importance of relationships whether romantic of platonic, personal or therapeutic in bringing about core-level personality change. Instead, conventional wisdom has it that the better alternative is a three-month refillable supply of blue pills, which (as we are grinningly informed) "have a low risk of sexual side effects." In these days of incessant adverts hawking conveniently packaged sources of libidoless, impotent, blissfully egg-shaped mental health in a bottle, we must always remember, as I have recently learned: while it can take one person less than one minute to traumatise another for life, sometimes it's just as easy to make an equally permanent change for the better.