Sunday, September 23, 2012
Transgender surgery led to whole new world for Cynthia Tebbetts
Cynthia Tebbetts has settled into a comfortable routine. On weekdays, she wakes up and feeds the cats, Lola and Skippy, before heading off to Cummings Printing, where she works as an estimator, crunching numbers all day.
On Wednesday nights, Cynthia volunteers at the Manchester Animal Shelter. On Thursdays or Fridays, she might grab dinner and drinks with the girls. Saturdays are often spent at the racetrack, socializing over one of her favorite sports.
Life is good now. Happier, calmer, more predictable. Cynthia has traded jeans and T-shirts for dresses and skirts. She gets her nails done and wears more makeup. She no longer thinks about suicide.
Nearly five years have passed since Cynthia underwent life-altering surgery to say goodbye to her old self – her male self. Cynthia, a transgender woman, was born John Jay Tebbetts. John spent most of his life wanting to be a woman, and much of that time trying to hide those feelings.
The Telegraph chronicled Cynthia’s transformation from male to female in early 2008 as part of a series of stories on New Hampshire’s transgender community. Now, she has been highlighted in a new book from Transgender New Hampshire, and The Telegraph caught up with her to find out what life is like after gender reassignment surgery.
Cynthia, now 48, has developed a new love for chocolate and ice cream – possibly a side effect of the hormones. And a half-hour isn’t enough time to get ready anymore.
But the most pronounced difference, as Cynthia and her close friends have observed, is a shift in attitude, demeanor and mental health.
“I’ve been so happy since that, I haven’t had a need for a support group or to see a therapist,” said Cynthia, who lives in Goffstown. “John was kind of introverted, kind of a loner. I’m much more secure than John ever was. I don’t have that chip on my shoulder.”
On a recent Thursday afternoon, a tall, broad-shouldered woman walked into the Starbucks in Epping. She wore a light purple blouse and a black skirt with a purple and white floral print. Her curly blond hair grazed her shoulders. Her strides were quick, confident.
She removed her sunglasses and replaced them with eyeglasses. She ran her fingers through her hair. After waiting in line for a vanilla chai, she sat down in the middle of the busy coffee shop, ready to reveal intimate details of her life.
“John wouldn’t have been sitting here right now,” Cynthia said. “John wouldn’t have done this.”
For much of his life, John didn’t understand why he had such a strong desire to wear women’s clothes. His earliest memory of the feeling was in second grade.
In high school, John liked sports and was attracted to the opposite sex, but he also wanted to dress like the girls, and began doing so in private. Putting on a pair of women’s stockings gave him a rush and boosted his confidence. Then he felt shameful and confused, determined to keep whatever this was a secret. He’d eventually grow out of this phase, he thought.
Yet by 1982, just after graduating from Manchester West High School, John knew the truth, even if he couldn’t admit it to anyone else: He would never be happy as a boy.
The cross-dressing continued, and progressed, throughout the ’80s and ’90s. John had girlfriends and he developed a passion for racing, working as an official and traveling across the country in his free time. He watched hockey, went to Patriots game parties and had beers with the guys after work.
John kept the cross-dressing a secret from almost everyone. One of the few people he told was co-worker and close friend Nicole Garvin. It was the mid-’90s, and the two were sitting at a bar after work.
“He just came right out and said he enjoyed wearing women’s underwear and bras and pantyhose,” said Garvin, 38, who remains one of Cynthia’s best friends. “I was a little taken aback, but it didn’t scare me. … I thought John was a great guy regardless of what he liked to wear.”
Finally, about a decade later, John decided it was time to come clean to the world. He had been drinking too much and was spiraling out of control under the weight of his secret. He was battling depression and thoughts of suicide. The feeling that he was really supposed to be a she was so powerful, it could no longer be ignored.
John’s transition to Cynthia officially began in late 2005 with hormone therapy. The legal name change came in November 2006, and Cynthia began dressing as a woman full-time. The sexual reassignment surgery took place in January 2008, after years of mental and physical preparations under the guidance of Dr. Anne Boedecker, a psychologist and gender specialist in Bow.
Before John began the transition to Cynthia, he and Garvin had a tumultuous friendship. Both had strong, stubborn personalities. Their similarities made them fast friends and kindred spirits, but also led to friction.
“When I was John, we would have fights and would go months without talking,” Cynthia said. “Now we’re able to work it out.”
Garvin said John’s behavior back then was indicative of someone who wasn’t happy with life.
“John could be difficult to get along with at times, moody,” she said. “Cynthia is softer, not as argumentative. Cindy is just a great, great girl.”
Mike Douglas met John more than 30 years ago through racing. Douglas, 59, of Auburn, is one of the racing buddies who stuck by Cynthia through the transition. Other old racing friends started turning their heads when they ran into Cynthia in public.
“I said, ‘Well, if that’s what you want to do.’ It was a surprise, but it wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Douglas, who runs an automotive shop and owns a race car that competes in the Modified Racing Series. “Who am I to judge? Everybody is different.”
Douglas said he has the same relationship with Cynthia that he had with John. They joke around, pull pranks and tease one another. There are physical differences, of course, and Douglas has noticed that Cynthia is more confident and outspoken than John ever was.
“She’s more opinionated than she was then. She says what she feels now. There’s not much that gets held back,” Douglas said, pausing. “Maybe that’s a female thing. I’ve been married for 40 years, and my wife doesn’t hold back.”
For the friends Cynthia lost, she gained others. She stopped getting invited to some of the “boys club” events, but she has come to terms with that. These days, she said she’d rather have dinner and drinks with the girls than spend all night at the bar.
Her friendships with women have changed – they open up to her now.
Her friendships with women have changed – they open up to her now.
Cynthia’s relationship with her 87-year-old mother is still rocky, but improving.
Her mother came from a generation when the kind of feelings John had were never discussed, let alone acted upon.
“On a rare occasion, she’ll floor me by saying, ‘You look nice today,’ ” Cynthia said.
Just this past May, Cynthia decided she was finally ready to date.
“I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin first,” she said.
Cynthia is still mostly attracted to women – 98 percent, she said – but she recently started to consider dating men, or “boys,” as she calls them.
“My next goal is to get into a relationship, hopefully long-term,” she said. “Of course, you can’t force it.”
As Cynthia has transformed over the last five years, so have cultural attitudes about the transgender community.
More states are revising their anti-discrimination laws to include transgender people, and a growing number of Fortune 500 companies are providing health care coverage for treatments related to gender dysphoria. But equal-rights groups say there’s a long way to go.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a legal group that also fights for the rights of the transgender population, recently released a book profiling transgender people living in New Hampshire. Cynthia was one of nine people featured.
The goal of the publication is to promote education and awareness, and to eliminate some of the fear surrounding what it means to be transgender, said Janson Wu, a staff attorney for GLAD in Boston.
“We also wanted to highlight the stories of success,” Wu said. “Cynthia’s story is a wonderful example of that.”
Cynthia, armed with her bolder personality, is pursuing her own advocacy and outreach.
She speaks to a class at Southern New Hampshire University once a year. She jokes with the students, tries to level with them, and explains that being transgender doesn’t necessarily equate to being a flashy, drag queen, Cher look-alike.
“I love educating the masses, teaching people that we aren’t freaks,” she said. “I like hockey and punk rock.”
Cynthia has taken several trips back to Montreal, where her surgery took place, to reach out to other patients. She visits those who are recovering in the same convalescence home where she stayed.
“I’m a graduate of the class of 2008,” she tells them.
During one visit, she came across a transgender woman who had made the trip alone. The woman had lost most of her friends and family members because of the transition.
“I took her under my wing, gave her a hug before the surgery,” Cynthia said. “She was so thankful. I was a complete stranger.
“I love doing things like that. I can’t let anyone go through a major surgery alone.”
Cynthia looks back at her life as John with a few regrets. Maybe she could have spent a little more time with ex-girlfriends and a little less time at the racetrack. But there were plenty of great times, and she hasn’t thrown those memories away.
Today, Cynthia is simply happy to be alive. Five years after the surgery, she remains convinced that suicide was the only alternative to becoming the woman she has always wanted to be.
“I’m lucky,” she said. “Really lucky.”
The video (that was found on top of this page) was moved. It can now be found on the immediately above YouTube link