Once a year, Cynthia Tebbetts takes time out of her busy schedule to speak with students at Southern New Hampshire University about her experiences as a transgender woman. The first thing she tells them: check everything you think you know about transgender people at the door.
“The first thing I tell students is to take all of your stereotypes and throw them away,” Cynthia explained. “I’m a transgender woman, but transgender people, we’re just as diverse as you are. I’m a punk rocker, I’ve seen the Ramones 21 times, I do auto racing—that’s who I am.”
In her day job, Cynthia is an estimator at Cummings Printing in Hooksett, NH, meaning she spends most of her day—as she has for 29 years—in Microsoft Excel, “staring at spreadsheets.”
But her real passion is definitely auto racing. She started out in auto racing in 1980 as part of the pit crew, and in the mid 1980s became an official with the Lee USA Speedway, the Oswego Speedway and the International Supermodified Association (ISMA). In the early 2000s she starting officiating with NEMA, the NorthEastern Midget Association (midget is a type of race car), and worked in that capacity right up until 2007. At that point she decided to retire, but it was to be a short-lived retirement. One year ago, NEMA’s sanctioning body asked her to come back for a show. Now, she’s the organization’s race director, meaning she has control over everything that happens on the track, officiating races across the New England circuit in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire
Cynthia was still racing when she started her transition from the man she was born as to live every day as the woman she’s always known herself to be. And by and large, her friends at the track were supportive.
“I lost a few friends.” she said, “There were a few rumors, and a few people got rubbed the wrong way. But I gained more friends than I lost, I think because I had my sense of humor around it all. Now that I’m back, working, it’s not even an issue and has never been brought up. Even in heated moments, it’s never been thrown in my face.”
When she’s not auto racing, Cynthia is actively engaged in local and state politics. As the former chairman of the Merrimack Valley Young Republicans, a position she held during Bill Clinton’s first run for the presidency, Cynthia considers herself a strong fiscal conservative. But she’s been moving away from the Republican party in recent years.
“The Republican Party of today is not the one that it was in the ’80s and ’90s. They’ve gone the wrong way on social issues. But I’m not really cool with the Dems either. I’m more of a libertarian.”
When it comes to transgender issues, Cynthia says the most important thing lawmakers in Concord can do is listen—something she says they didn’t do when the issue of transgender equality came up in the legislature during the 2008-2009 session. Back then she went to the State House with a group of advocates to present a pages-long list of thoughts and concerns. But in the 30 minutes it took her to drive back to Manchester, lawmakers had already declined to pursue the issue further.
“By the time I got home from Concord, they had already decided to scrap the plan,” she said. “I thought, ‘Gee, I’m glad you took it into consideration.’ I think they had a preconceived notion of what they wanted to do.”
Cynthia hopes lawmakers will take the time to educate themselves on who trans people are and the type of discrimination and harassment they face daily across the state. But she also hopes they’re paying attention to the economic repercussions of discrimination. New Hampshire’s economy could hang in the balance if the anti-transgender policies or rhetoric sweeping other parts of the country come to the Granite State.
“I would hate to see us get in the same situation as North Carolina with House Bill 2, especially with our education funding.”
Ultimately, Cynthia says transgender equality shouldn’t be a heavy lift for the people of New Hampshire, who live every day under the state’s motto Live Free or Die. “We don’t want anything special, just equal is all we’re asking for.”