Interview with a Superstar – Terry Noel
VR: Who is Terry Noel?
TN: Terry Noel is the person I always was, but it took 29 years for her to come into existence. I grew up in a very small town in Kentucky whose population was about 350 people.
VR: What part of the USA are you living in these days?
TN: I live in the Greater Cincinnati, OH area at present. My family lives in this area and I have returned here to be near them in my “golden years.”
VR: I know a lady never tells her age, but I have to ask, how old are you now?
TN: I will turn 69 years old on August 31, 2005. However, I don’t feel my age. Actually, I feel nearly the same as I did when I was 20, minus the confusion. I know that’s a hard thing to believe, but it’s true. Fortunately, my mind seems to be hitting on all cylinders.
VR: I know this is a hard question, but can you tell us what your life has been about, say in the first 30 years?
TN: Well, that IS a hard question. I’d have to say that it was all about growing up sane, getting some education and trying to find out who I was. Trying to fit into society and not knowing what I was all about left me feeling lonely and frustrated. I just didn’t seem to belong anywhere.
VR: When you were growing up and each morning when you would look in the mirror, did you feel that the wrong person was looking back at you?
TN: I always had that feeling. I just felt that the person looking back could not possibly be me. It was almost a feeling of being a third person looking at the scene. I didn’t particularly feel that I should be female, but just that something was wrong, big time. That feeling started when I was about 10 and continued into my 20s.
VR: Who was your inspiration when you were a youngster?
TN: As I say, I grew up in a very small town. I began taking piano lessons when I was 9 years old and started playing in church when I was 10. I think my piano teacher was the most influential person in my life at that time. She seemed to me to know about beauty and precision and all things harmonious and lovely. She was a special person to me. I would love to say that my parents were my inspiration, but I can’t, unfortunately. Our home was full of tension and disruption and not a place of comfort and peace.
VR: Were you a very femme type of boy growing up, or did you grow up like other boys playing sports, rough housing and what have you?
TN: I guess I was somewhere in the middle of that description. I was certainly femme to a point and didn’t participate in sports and the like, but, because I was living in a small town, everyone seemed to accept me and didn’t cause me any trouble. I was a popular kid, made good grades and people appreciated my music. I was also on the cheerleading squad.
VR: At what age did Miss Terry Noel start to appear?
TN: That’s hard to say. I could say at about 10 I knew I was different from the other boys, but as far as Miss Terry Noel is concerned, I guess it was when I was about 21 and first dressed in female clothes. I had seen an article about Christine Jorgensen when I was 16 and finally realized that I was not the only person on earth who was “different.”
VR: What made you start to perform as a female impersonator and where did you get your start?
TN: One Halloween, I entered a drag contest at a bar were I used to hang out. I won the contest even though I could hardly walk in the heels. Shortly after that, I saw a magazine that had pictures of the Jewel Box Revue in it. There was an address to write to, so I wrote a letter and sent pictures of myself from the contest. Doc Benner, one of the owners of the Jewel Box Revue, called me and hired me for the show. I joined the Jewel Box Revue in Asbury Park, NJ in the spring of 1959. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
VR: Do you think back then that you were a nice person or do you think you could be a bitch at times?
TN: Well, I guess we each have our breaking point, but, all in all, I was always a laid-back, peace-loving person. You know, the one who tries to settle disputes between people and keep the peace. I have always hated confrontation. Although, there was one time when I was at the 82 Club when a performer who used to be in the show came backstage one night. She was the performer who used the name “Titanic.” I overheard her make a nasty remark about me to someone else. I read her the riot act and apparently went ballistic. When I finished my tirade, I looked around and the cast was standing there with their mouths open. They had never seen me act that way. I still regret it, although it was a VERY nasty remark and totally uncalled for. I didn’t even know the girl.
VR: Back in those days, were you harassed by the local police or government?
TN: I’ve never had any trouble with police or government, thank God.
VR: Where was the most famous place you appeared and how long were you there?
TN: Well, I guess the most famous place, that people might recognize, was the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC. Many famous entertainers had their careers launched from there. I was with the Jewel Box Revue and I believe we were there about a month. I remember on opening night there were some demonstrators out in front of the theater with signs saying things like “Keep the Queers Out Of Harlem!!” Could it be that the people who made those signs were unaware that there were queers already in Harlem and always would be? That dust-up only lasted the first couple of nights. Everyone was so nice to us at that theater. It was a great place for the show and the audiences were so appreciative. The place I enjoyed the best was called Maksik’s Town and Country Club in Brooklyn, NY. We appeared there for three months with an entirely new show with Lynn Carter as the headliner. The club was beautiful and we got to stay in one place all summer.
VR: What did you do as an entertainer? What kind of act did you have? Did you mimic anyone special?
TN: I was basically in the chorus as a showgirl. At Maksik’s Town and Country Club I was part of a singing quartet. We had a cast member who had a beautiful soprano voice. She was from Eastern Europe and hardly spoke English, but she could sing like a bird. The quartet wasn’t really very good, though. Then at the 82 Club, I sang solo for awhile, as myself. I never mimicked anyone. That takes real talent.
VR: Do you remember the names of any of the other girls you performed with, anyone we might have heard of?
TN: There were so many girls I worked with. I’ll mention a few but I don’t know if their names will be recognized. There was Kitt Russell, Lynn Carter, Kim August, Hans Crystal, Tobi Marsh, Ty Bennett, Dori D’Or, Vicki Lynn, Lynn Roberts, Bobby Lake, Robbi Ross, Jan Britton, Jackie May, Dorian Wayne, Dodi Daniels, Ronnie Morales, Vicki Vogue, Vinnie Summers, Jan Taylor, Bunny Lake, Robin Sanchez, Bobbi Day, Ella Funt, Billie Daye, Brandy Alexander and Sandy Rogers. These girls were in both the Jewel Box Revue and at the 82 Club in NYC. I also worked with a famous male impersonator named Storme DeLarverie in the Jewel Box Revue. He was a real sweetheart and was so very kind to me when I was the new girl on the block. I’m sure there are many others whose names I can’t recall.
VR: Was there anyone that you were special friends with that you wish you could find now-a-days, just to say hi to and give a big hug? Now is the time. The internet touches many places. You never know who is online!
TN: Well, I would love to hear from any of the people I mentioned in the question before this one. I would be delighted. I hesitate to mention anyone in particular because they were all my friends. I was probably closer to Kim August and Bobbi Day than anyone else.
VR: I know back then female hormones were hard to find. At what age did you start doing them and did they come from a doctor, or through the black market?
TN: I began by taking hormone pills at age 25 and then was given a weekly injection by a doctor. Fortunately, the doctor was a very kind man who treated me free of charge. I only took the hormones for about 18 months total. They really played havoc with my system. They made me feel silly one moment and sad the next, always on the verge of tears. They also made my skin break out which was a bad thing, right, girls? The doctor decided that I didn’t have to have them on a continuing basis. I never took them again.
VR: At what age did you stop performing and why?
TN: I stopped performing at age 29. I had been trained in Data Processing prior to becoming a female impersonator, so I had some basic skills in office procedures. You must understand that I was never a great “performer”, so I wasn’t going to be able to stay long-term in show business. I was not a star in the FI galaxy. It was time for me to go out into the world and find a career after my SRS.
VR: How old were you when you had your surgery to become that complete woman you are today and where did you have it?
TN: I had just turned 29 years old on August 31, 1965. My first surgery was on September 17, 1965. My surgeon was Dr. Trowbridge, whose office was in Oak Park, IL. I flew to Chicago and met the doctor at his office and he and I drove south into Illinois to a small town called Watseka. I had the initial surgery at a small hospital there. I had two more surgeries, one in 1968 in Yonkers, NY and one in 1971 in Norfolk, VA.
VR: What was the cost back then?
TN: Actually, for the first surgery, the cost for the doctor, surgery and hospital care wasn’t that bad. I would say less than $5,000. The trouble was that part of the surgery was, at the time, illegal. I had to grease some palms, if you know what I mean, for them to allow the surgery to take place. That’s what made it more expensive.
VR: I hear you were one of the lucky girls. You found that loving husband and little white picket fence. Are you still married to this gentleman?
TN: Yes, I was a lucky girl. My husband was a very handsome military man who really turned heads. He was so very attractive, especially in his white Navy uniform. Naturally, I fell head-over-heels when he started showing me attention. We were together 14 years but, unfortunately, he fell in love with a younger woman and we were divorced. I’ll always be grateful to him for the experience. He never knew about my past either.
VR: I also heard that your marriage came with a family. What was it like to go from a showgirl in NYC to a married woman with a family?
TN: There was a long period of time between being a showgirl in NYC and my marriage. In addition, he and I lived together for three years before marriage, so the impact of it all was gradual. He had a son who was living in France with his ex-wife. It took a while to get the divorce from her since it involved citizens of two countries. But eventually the divorce was finalized, he and I were married and his 9 year old son came to live with us in the U.S. I adored the boy and he and I had a great time teaching each other to communicate in broken English and French.
VR: The years have past now. Can you tell us, who do you admire these days?
TN: It’s hard to answer that question. Of course, I admire some of the world leaders who work so hard to make us all safe and able to live our lives in peace. That includes all the military personnel around the world fighting in questionable conflicts. They are ALL heroes. Also, the world is full of accomplished TG/TS women who have made important contributions to life and society. I admire them all.
TN: I would say that making a successful transition from male to female and living in stealth mode for all these years is, in itself, an accomplishment. I’m also proud that I went back to school to further my education in computer science, which allowed me to have a 25 year career as a computer programmer/analyst.
VR: What really makes you happy?
TN: There are so many things that make me happy! I’m so glad to have relatively good health and to be able to enjoy the free time that comes with retirement. I love the usual things; the ocean, sunsets, babies, animals, etc. I also love the feeling that most of my battles have been fought and, I think, won, and now is my golden time.
VR: What really makes you sad?
TN: I think base cruelty in all its forms makes me sad. Especially, cruelty to the innocents of the world; children, animals and those who are defenseless touches my heart. Shirley Bassey once recorded a song called Bless the Beasts and the Children. I think that song says it all.
VR: Do you have any pet peeves?
TN: Yes, I do! People who don’t use the turn signal on their cars make me nuts! That and rude salespeople.
VR: What do you think made you stand out above others?
TN: Well, let’s be honest here. I didn’t stand out above the others. I was just a down-in-the-dirt FI/TS who had modest success in whatever I did. I have nothing to crow about.
VR: This is where I usually ask “Where do you see yourself in the future?” but I know the future for you is now. Are you enjoying life?
TN: Now, that makes me laugh! Where I see myself in the future, you don’t want to know!! Life has been good to me, for the most part. I’ve had a good run. I’ve reached a place of contentment and peace, a place that, early in my life, I thought I’d never find. I’m grateful to whatever gods there be.
VR: I know you like the computer and internet, if it was around when you were younger, do you think transgendered people would be more accepted now because we would have seen more easily that “we are not the only TV/TS in the world” at that time? We would have realized how many of us there really are?
TN: Without question, the internet has given access to vast information to everyone. Had the internet been in existence in the 50s, I’m sure I would have had an easier time with being “different” and would have understood that there are many, many people who shared my situation.
TN: There are so many resources in this day and age for anyone reaching out for help. Your family doctor is a good place to start. Tell him how you feel. There are Gender Identity Clinics in most teaching hospitals in large cities. Go there and tell them your story. They will help you. And there is, of course, the internet, where you can find many web sites to get information. Any search engine can find help for you, whether it is Google or Yahoo, etc. Just search for the words “gender identity” or “transgender” or “transsexual”. Most of all, be honest with yourself. Try to figure out who you REALLY are and what path you want to take. If you are considering sex re-assignment surgery, please, please, think it through carefully. SRS is, so far as I know, an irreversible decision. You will not always be young and pretty. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from the doctor who first treated me. He said, “You will not always be 25 years old.” Take that into account. Find someone in whom you can confide and talk, talk, talk to that person about what you think and feel. In spite of what you are feeling now, know that you are not alone. What you have seen on this web site should prove that to you. Good luck and God bless!
VR: Do you have a final statement for our readers?
TN: My life has been one of discovery and adventure, as is every life. While mine has not been a conventional one, my life has been more than interesting. I always followed my heart. Sometimes that was good and sometimes, not. I feel fortunate to have survived the disappointments and problems life threw my way. I am, for the most part, a happy person. My sense of humor in intact, and that says a lot. I am happy to have found you and your web site, Vicki. I feel that I have made a good friend and through you, have met others. I’m grateful to you. I hope we will always be friends. Your web site is one of, if not THE, very best sources for all things TV/TG/TS. In addition to your own information, there are vast numbers of site links that cover everything in the TV/TG/TS world. One last thought. To everyone I say, enjoy every day you live. Each one is a treasure.
As of Jan 1, 2005 my site was 10 years old and you can imagine how many emails I have gotten over the years thanking me for my site. The email I got that day was without question, the one I will never forget. It allowed me to become a friend with one of the most fantastic women I know.
Since that day we chit or chat by email about every 2-3 days. Not so much about back then, more about today and tomorrow.
Over these last ten years I have made many many friends because of my site, I am not trying to brag but a lot of email telling me how much I have helped them, how much I have made them grow and how much they look up to me, because of my site…I know how each of them feel, because that is exactly how I feel about Ms Terry Noel…I love you Terry, you are a very special person to me.