Printed in the Nashua Telegraph January 20, 2008
Woman finding acceptance with herself
By KAREN LOVETT, Telegraph Staff
She settles into a blue wingback chair. Smooths her white blouse, which today, she's paired with a blackpencil skirt, purse and pumps. Opposite her, in a leather swivel seat, is the therapist. A sign on the bookcase here, in the therapist's home office, reads, "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."
"How do you expect to feel different?" the therapist begins. "Mental," she responds. "Just like the name change. It's a little piece of plastic, but it's a safety net." A little piece of plastic. Her driver's license. It's just a three-inch swatch, but to her, it's proof enough.
Because there it is in writing. Her name. Cynthia N. Tebbetts.
"A sense of humor will make this easier," the therapist continues. "Can you still take a good razzing?" "Oh, yes," Cynthia says. "Does anyone slip at work?" asks the therapist.
"Less and less each day."
Moments later, Anne Boedecker reaches to her desk for a thin, white envelope. With a grin, she hands it over. Inside, a letter recommending Cynthia for sexual reassignment surgery.
"You've got your own style," says Boedecker, a licensed psychologist. "You've got your own identity . . . You've blossomed in confidence and happiness. You're thrilled with how things are going."
Cynthia Tebbetts nods at each affirmation.
Then, ever so quietly, she replies: "If I had to go back, I'd be dead in a month."
A growing secret
John Jay Tebbetts knew early on that something wasn't quite right. His earliest memory of this feeling was in second grade.
It was the early '70s. He, a hockey-playing, dungaree-sporting kid, had become fascinated with girls' clothing. He was jealous that his female classmates could wear dresses and skirts, but he couldn't.
A few years later, on a summer day, he came face to face with this fascination.
The house quiet - his father long dead, his mother at work, his much-older siblings moved out - John slipped into a pair of his sister's stockings.
An immediate, natural high swept him up, as if on the crest of a tidal wave. It was a feeling he later equated to a rebel teen's first drag on a cigarette - only better.
But the rush was fleeting. Moments later, he shucked the stockings and toppled back into reality: He could never tell anyone about this. Whatever this was.
The pattern went on for years. Dressing in secret. Riding the high. Dissolving in shame. Promising to stop. John grew up in a time when such inclinations weren't discussed. His mother was old-fashioned. If you had "those" types of feelings, they stayed locked up.
For John, these feelings did not have a name. They didn't even have a shape.
"We bought him his first bike, and on Christmas day, there happened to be no snow," said Richard Tebbetts, John's older brother by 16 years, recalling a holiday in the early 1970s. "He was out there pulling an Evel Knievel, building ramps and jumping . . . He had long hair when he got older, but that was the style. "We didn't think anything of it."
Candy bars and nylons
In junior high, John saw a Sports Illustrated article about Renee Richards, a professional tennis player who had sexual reassignment surgery in 1975, leaving behind her former self, Richard Raskin. "Why would someone do that?" John remembers asking a friend.
"Because they're gay," the friend replied.
To John, this was all so confusing. As a teenager, he liked the opposite sex, but was also jealous of their outfits, mannerisms, friendships. Playboy magazines were as much about wanting to look like the women as wanting to look at them.
John hated high school. He felt like an outsider and didn't like being stuck. His one comfort, the way he felt happiest, was to dress. During his sophomore year, he walked to a Cumberland Farms convenience store on Granite Street. There, he bought a stash of candy bars and other meaningless items, masking the real bounty: his first pair of nylons.
He started wearing the stockings under his jeans. When he did, his confidence accelerated instantly - 0 to 60. He bought a second pair.
John thought of Renee Richards, the tennis player. Surgery was possible for her, but not for him.
Because this was a phase, he thought. He'd grow out of it. He'd get a girlfriend, get married.
It would all go away.
Finally, in 1982, just after he graduated from West High School in Manchester, he dropped a bucket into the dark well of himself and hauled up a truth: He just wasn't happy being a boy.
Four months after graduation, John told a friend he might be a cross-dresser. The friend told him to say no more. Didn't want to hear it. That was the end of John's confessions, at least for the next few years.
After moving out and working in several different places, John landed a job at C------s Printing in Hooksett in 1987. There, the cross-dressing progressed.
He added bras and women's underwear to his wardrobe, keeping them hidden underneath plain dress pants and collared shirts. If he went a day without wearing an item of women's clothing, he felt dismal.
Finally, in the mid-90s, he again braved to tell a confidante: this time a friend at work. Later, the friend encouraged John to name his alternate persona. A Beatles buff, John chose "Cynthia," after John Lennon's first wife.
Giving her a name, though, didn't stop the weighty, unexplainable depression that had begun to settle in. In the new millennium, John started taking anti-depressants. He started seeing a counselor. He did not tell the counselor about the cross dressing, or the increasingly powerful sensation that perhaps he was not supposed to be a "he."How could he say what he could not yet admit to himself?
By August 2003, John was spiraling. He had broken up with a girlfriend he'd loved. He acted out. Drank too much beer and Jack Daniels. He thought it might be easier to kill himself then to come clean. He'd hit bottom and could not see a way up.
That fall, his counselor sent him to a drug rehabilitation center to get information, but he only made it to the parking lot. It was a cloudless day. Somehow, at that moment, things became clear.
It was time to uncork a 39-year-old secret. He called his counselor.
Days later, he sat down in her office, broke down and finally, broke through.
He said. She said, "I need not to be John."
On a recent late-October day, a woman strode into a Manchester department store. She'd come straight from work, wearing a lilac dress top, jean jacket, plum skirt and black dress shoes.
Her blond, curly hair framed a freckly face and pink lips, freshly coated.
She shopped for nightgowns. Something comfortable, preferably on sale and a size above large to
accommodate her broad shoulders. "I'm looking at a lot of this and seeing my 80-year-old mother," said the woman, handling a pink, cotton gown with a lace-embroidered neckline. "Nothing's grabbing me."
At 5 feet 8 inches and 185 pounds, Cynthia Tebbetts may be larger than the average woman, and maybe her walk is slightly more rugged than refined. But she has come a long way, and is nearly as happy as could be.
In the four years since coming out to her counselor, Cynthia has said a gradual goodbye to John.
Two years ago, she began taking female hormones to grow breasts, reduce facial hair growth and soften skin.
Last year, she shed the name John Jay for Cynthia Nicole, which now appears on all of life's critical documents.
And emotionally, in fully embracing the woman she believes she's always been, Cynthia has also
dispatched of John's sadness, insecurity and loneliness.
This transition has not been easy.
A year ago, at her cribbage league meeting at a bar in Auburn, some local folks eyed her suspiciously, seemingly "out to get the he-she," Cynthia recalled. A friend recommended she split, so she did.
A few longtime friends bailed, and no longer a member of the "boys' club," she doesn't get invited to Patriots game parties. Others remain cool, she said, such as some friends associated with the NorthEastern Midget Association, a car-racing group she's long been involved in.
And strangers. They used to stare, at first, trying to figure out if she was a man or a woman.
Now, Cynthia says, "the more confidence I walked with, the less that happened."
Cynthia's employers at C------s have supported her transition since she started dressing full-time as a woman last November. She says she's gained more friends who have drawn her into their circles for spa dates and dinners.
Cynthia's mother is having a very difficult time. While at the home they share in Goffstown, Cynthia changes into more neutral clothes out of respect. Her brother, Richard, however, accepts Cynthia because in the alternative, Richard believes he'd lose his younger sibling.
With enough key people in her corner, and with her own sensibilities clear and firm, Cynthia decided to take the final step.
This fall, Boedecker agreed with her.
So she gave Cynthia the all-important letter. The passport to herself.
About this series. Today, The Telegraph launches a series designed to inform our readers on
New Hampshire’s transgender community,which has only recently begun coming out of the
shadows. Over the next few months, we will take an intensely personal journey inside the lives of people who feel they have been trapped by their own gender. Some parents may want to review the content as to its suitability for children.
Karen Lovett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-6402.