I can completely understand and empathize with your feeling. I too have more recently begun to accept the true self, and am starting to look at some “baby steps” as you call them towards what I call the “complete self.” This is something I have struggled with for a very long time.
My journey with this went from “its just a phase…” to “oh, its only a fetish…” to “I am gender fluid…” to now “I am trans female.” I believe for me the journey — stretched out over my 50 years — was my way of coping. I could not accept or handle it in younger days. So I invented an excuse. Easy to see that now in hindsight. Others won’t have the experience I had — they may have arrived at a different place earlier. Others still are far, far stronger and tougher than I am.
As I began coming to grips and accepting my so-called “authentic self” a bit more, I too felt different about how I saw myself in the mirror. Interestingly at first, I could not see it at all. I was either seeing a man if not presenting, or seeing a man presenting as a woman. As my skills got better over the years and I learned more about how to present myself, the shift to seeing a woman became more evident when I presented (this even though I don’t believe I can “pass.”) More recently, I am seeing the “woman” even when not presenting in female garments, wig, makeup. I see her now — always there. Omnipresent.
This now matches more how I feel inside. I have often said to myself the feeling of me being femme came and went. I believe for me — my experience — that was more excuse making and denial. The desire to be a woman is not a desire to be a woman, if I accept that I am a woman, regardless of how I was biologically born. So the feeling is omnipresent and I accept that, and now see it more in the mirror.
I recently joined a local support group as well and am learning so much. It has been so helpful to start meeting others sharing their journey and while different then mine — there are similarities which help me understand myself far more. I believe I will continue to evolve. I try not to get hung up on the “what ifs” the way I once did. Each of our paths will be different, and I sense they are not necessarily linear. I hope that you continue to find your path and find happiness as you travel on it.