A new woman
Surgery completes the transformation
The countdown began more than 100 days before. Back in September, a thick cushion of weeks separated Cynthia Tebbetts from the moment her life would be transformed. Landmark days came and went. Christmas was a blur. New Year's a mere flash. Then came her last day of work. Her last dinner out.Finally, in late January, it was time.
As a boy growing up in west Manchester, John Jay Tebbetts felt something wasn't right. As a teenager, he realized he didn't want to be a boy.As an adult, nearing his 40th birthday, he plummeted into a depression that ushered him to the brink of suicide.
That scare forced him to throw a light on a secret he'd been keeping even from himself: in order to live, and to be happy, John Jay would need to change. And so, he embarked on a transformation to become Cynthia Nicole.
For the last couple of years, Cynthia has seen a therapist and taken estrogen to soften her skin and grow breasts.
Since 2006, Cynthia has lived full time as a woman. She has come out to her friends, family and co-workers. She has changed her name on all life's vital documents. She has been happier than ever, except for one thing: She was still biologically a man.
In the last half of 2007, Cynthia was shoring up for the most dramatic step of all: sexual reassignment surgery, which she believed would turn her into the woman she felt she was meant to be.
By summer's end, Cynthia had enough money for the operation: roughly $17,000 at the Centre Metropolitain de Chirurgie Plastique in Montreal.
By the beginning of 2008, the waiting game was nearly over.
Suddenly, after 43 years, it could be measured in hours.
And then, in single ticks of the clock.
The three hours before surgery were an eternity. Cynthia passed the time on her laptop, punching messages to anxious friends. Later, a friend from work called, gushing about her bravery. "I'm a sappy chick now," Cynthia replied with a watery smile.
She called her brother, Richard Tebbetts, in North Carolina. She left him a message. Said hello, told him her surgery was in an hour and then thanked him. When she hung up, her voice quaked. "This sucks. Being emotional. It's not how I used to be." She paused, letting the words simmer up. "It's a pressure valve. "The steam's coming out, little by little."
She did not call her mother, Helene Tebbetts, who has had a very difficult time with the transition.
Her mother has made strides in recent days, Cynthia said. Fussing over Cynthia's preparations. Making her a steak dinner.
But on the morning she left, Helene Tebbetts asked again.
"Why are you doing this?' Cynthia responded simply. "I have to do this. I'm going." She left her mother in tears. In 43 years, she'd never made her mother cry.
Cynthia arrived in Montreal five days earlier, on Jan. 23. Before long, she broke down. "It took me years to get here, and now, it's finally here," she recalled. "It hit me." She felt scared. Alone. Didn't know a lick of French. And this would be her first major medical procedure.
But then, Cynthia took in her surroundings.
She had checked into a convalescence home owned by Dr. Pierre Brassard, a renowned plastic surgeon who would eventually perform her operation at the hospital next door.
The home, an attractive, calming respite, houses transgender men and women before and after their surgeries and provides them around-the-clock nursing care. At the home, Cynthia met a half-dozen people like her. Through them, she could see her future self: hobbling and pained at first, but progressing. Getting stronger.
Cynthia had had plenty of time to think about the no-going-back nature of the operation "Nobody knows everything for sure," she said. "Marriages end in divorce. You think your job is secure, and then the market crashes. "But," she added, "I've never felt better in my life."
At last, she wouldn't have to worry about people confusing her appearance with her license, where the gender marker still read "M" for male. She could move past the mental anguish. In her mind, she would be the woman she was supposed to be. She would be complete, she said, "in the way I always saw myself."
In the hospital's pre-operative room, Cynthia laid down on a gurney. Nurse Solange Mendoza covered her with a blanket. "You could imagine you're going to the Bahamas," Mendoza said. "It's hot." "Where's the bar?" Cynthia cracked. "The bar is over there," Mendoza said, playing along. Cynthia mockingly ordered a double. "Later!" Mendoza exclaimed, with a grin.
Brassard appeared. He softly asked if she had any questions. She did not.
Outside the hospital, snow blanketed the Riviere des Prairies, the "river of meadows ."Inside, light violin music played. Across the room, another patient lay silent. Then, an assistant, Serge Lelievre, arrived.
He wheeled Cynthia down a hallway and into the operating room.
Cynthia's friends Gail Doolittle, Michelle Lavigne, Linda Kimel and Carrie Kelly made the five-hour trip
from New Hampshire to support her in the days leading up to surgery.
from New Hampshire to support her in the days leading up to surgery.Cynthia, an avid modified racecar fan, met them more than a year ago on an online forum dedicated to that sport. Now, she's a member of a group they call the "Mod Chick Mafia." Her MySpace.com page features a slideshow chock full of Mod Chick pictures.
"We're all like sisters," Doolittle said. "I just wanted to do what I could do. "Hopefully, we can keep her mind off being scared."
Kimel told Cynthia that while crossing the Canadian border, a gruff patrol agent hammered them with questions about their destination."I was seconds away from saying, 'We are here because our friend is becoming Cynthia,'" Kimel said. 'Permanently. For good.'"
The group headed to St. Catherine Street, a busy thoroughfare where they gawk at showy window displays and hunt for souvenirs. Her friends joked and laughed; Cynthia remained quieter.
Internally, she recalled, she couldn't stop the ticker in her head: "Last day, last day. Last day as-is."
At one end of the operating room, monitors beeped. The sun spilled through two large windows. More light emanated from giant, saucer-like fixtures above the table.
All around her, four or five nurses buzzed around. Medical supplies were arranged neatly on trays. Sharp metal instruments. Snow-white gauze. Syringes of powerful painkillers.
They laid out sharp, silver tools. They counted batches of gauze.
Cynthia lay in the center on a narrow table. In the center of this storm. There, but not there.
Her mind had gone away to the Montreal of dreams, the one where she comes back as a whole woman.
Then, she will visit the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where her idol, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono once held a peace demonstration.
Then, she'll take in a hockey game, and the Bruins will squash the Canadiens.
Then, she'll see the lights of Notre Dame Basilica.
Above her, a nurse, Irene Ayotte, held a mask over Cynthia's face. Its gases made her sleepy, along with an IV that dripped into her arm.
"Open your eyes," Ayotte said.
The nurse touched Cynthia's lids.
There was no response.
Inside a lecture hall at Southern New Hampshire University, the students of a human sexuality class were waiting. On this night, they were to have a featured speaker. Her name is Cynthia Tebbetts, and 23 days before, she had a life-changing surgery.
The class's instructor, Traci Belanger, invited Cynthia to talk about her life and answer the students' questions.
"I thought this was a rare opportunity," Belanger said. "There's a very good chance they don't know anyone who's in this situation."
If life before surgery was a series of lasts, then life after it is a set of new beginnings.
This opening up thing is not something John Tebbetts would have been capable of. But for Cynthia, it is a chance to start new. To help others understand the transgender community and urge them not to make rush judgments.
"Many people associate some in the transgender community with boas and heels, Cher, Liza Minnelli and musicals," Cynthia told the class. "I'm still a punk rocker, and I still like racing."
As she talked about her life, the students asked about her childhood, hormone treatments, losing friends, her take on religion, her hopes for a relationship. And of course, the details of her surgery.
On her MySpace page, Cynthia described the pre-surgery detail:
"It was like a NA$CAR pit stop. . . People flew at me from all four corners, with IV, needles, blood pressure . . I . ..checkers, etc. I remember them putting the boots on my feet and then . . had . woke up being rolled into the recovery room. Three hours or so.. . passed.
"I was a new woman."
A quiet, male student in the back asked if she missed having male anatomy.
"Now, no. But, I will miss it when I'm stuck on Route 93 in traffic."
She admitted she is still sore. Movement is ginger, and she can't stand for long.
Then, there was the issue of straightening out some paperwork.
But when another student asks if feels her journey was complete, her answer is simple.
"It is, and I do."