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25 June 2017

Joe Tish (1924 –) performer.

Joseph Touchette, often known as Tish, was raised the eldest of seven children in Dayville, Connecticut, in a French Catholic family.

Soon after World War II, Joe met Norman Kerouac, a first cousin of Jack Kerouac the beat writer. They decided to have a wedding in Providence, Rhode Island – despite there being no gay marriage at the time. A minister officiated, friends who worked in a bridal salon provided outfits for the bridesmaids, and a lacy white wedding gown for Joe – the first time that he was ever in drag. He liked it, and someone said that he should be a female impersonator.

He was working in a factory, but took dance and singing lessons in Providence. He then performed in local clubs. When Joe and Norman broke up in the early 1950s, he moved to New York City.

For forty years Tish worked as a female impersonator, sang and danced across New York and along the East Coast, often in Mafia-owned establishments. In particular he performed at the Moroccan Village at 23 West 8th Street (owned by the Genovese family). In the late 1960s he had a long-running show at the Crazy Horse. He was also in the 1960’s travelling act, French Box Revue.
Tish, on the right, at Crazy Horse.  Supplied by Queer Musical Heritage 


Tish was one of the few performers who sometimes left the club dressed as female. Once a club where he was performing was raided by the police, but they shooed him away assuming that he was a woman. Joe would be refused admission to the Stonewall Tavern when in costume, although he was so admitted at some uptown straight clubs, where his artistry was recognized. It was to Joe’s apartment that Tammy Novak ran after escaping from a police paddy wagon on the first night of the Stonewall riots; however Tish was performing in upstate New York.

In the 1970s one of Joe’s lovers, being of the next generation, went beyond stage performance, and transitioned as Eve. Tish was not keen that she should do so, but he continued to take care of her. She was a sex worker and died during the Aids epidemic. Tish still has her urn.

He continued doing drag shows after retirement, even performing at retirement homes. Tish is now in his 90s, and being taken care of by his room-mate.

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