I first met Terre York in 1996 when she drove her van, fully outfitted as a mobile chiropractic “office,” into my driveway.
“There was an idea floating around at that time for mobile chiropractic services,” York says. “One of my patients had become a truck driver, and I realized we had truck stops all around our area, and drivers could use the services. But truck-stop legal counsel said they were concerned it would be seen as a prostitution service. I said, ‘If I were a 6-foot-tall guy, would you still think that?’”
York was born in Wisconsin 72 years ago, the eldest of four, before her family moved west; she was raised in Canoga Park, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. “My mom had come from northern Minnesota and was part Ojibwa (the Native American tribe with the fifth-largest population in the United States). As a child, she had been called a ‘dirty little Indian,’ and she wasn’t allowed to go to the same school with the other kids. She attended junior college, and met my dad and got married. She was a stay-at-home mom all the years we were growing up.
“My mom was always very political, particularly regarding anything related to segregation or civil rights. She said, ‘People are just people.’ She also always said, ‘Whatever you want to do, you can do it.’”
York’s father was, in her words, “the quiet one. He was an aerospace engineer who worked on the stealth bomber. My dad could fix anything and build anything. He handmade my first stroller, and it looked like something from outer space! I learned how to build and fix things from him. I was definitely not a princess—I was his sidekick.
“My dad stayed healthy up until he was 97, and my mom made it to 89. I come from good genes.”
York began working after school when she was 16, in the office of her medical doctor. “I did intake of patients, and later went to medical-assistant school and worked in several medical offices,” she says.
York attended Santa Monica College, studying biology. “I met a woman who was doing cellulite massage for movie stars,” York recalls, “who decided she wanted to study opera. I worked with her (also doing massage) for six months, and she gave me her entire clientele—names like Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn, Raquel Welch and Britt Ekland. I had my hands on some of the most gorgeous people in the world!”
At 28, York entered chiropractic school; four years later, she’d completed her degree and training.
“I thought … the medical community would adopt us,” York says about the chiropractic profession. “Sadly, even now, that isn’t happening. When I first started practicing, we could send patients to a hospital if they needed traction, or for things like MRI tests. It went the opposite way: It’s very restrictive based on insurance companies, big pharma, and the American Medical Association. I had always worked with doctors in Los Angeles, but when I came to the Coachella Valley, it was very difficult.”
York has done a lot of work with sports injuries, including working onsite at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Her philosophy explains why her patients keep coming back.
“Originally,” she says, “the founders used just a bench and hands. Today, they’re known as ‘straights.’ In the 1920s and 1930s, a lot of experimentation began with electrical mechanisms, hydrotherapy and mineral baths. In chiropractics, they’re known as ‘mixers,’ who use X-ray, physical therapy, ultrasound, lasers and tissue healing. I was trained in those methods and comfortable with it all based on my previous experience.
“My attitude is that the body is designed to take care of itself, with a kind of innate intelligence. If you keep the body in alignment, it’s then free to carry out its purpose. What I do is not just reduce pain. My goal is to see patients improve and do better, with a sense of physical wellness, and using fewer drugs. They don’t have to take opiates. I’m not anti-medicine but believe in both sides of the equation. Anything I can do to make someone feel better and heal is good. My job is to keep people at their lowest state of discomfort.”
During the pandemic, York is keeping shorter office hours, because she needs to help her two children, ages 10 and 13, with online learning. York and her partner, Alisa, have now been married for four years.
“She wanted children,” says York, “and I really hadn’t thought about it. We started with an infant foster child who soon went back to her mother, and then another infant who also returned to the birth mother. It was so hard handing them off; we couldn’t keep doing that. The social worker finally said, ‘I’ve got two kids available. Would you like to meet them?’ We fell in love. We adopted them in 2014.”
York says she at first didn’t know for sure that she was gay, although she remembers having attachments to some of her female teachers and friends.
“When the other girls were doing hair at sleepovers, I wanted to play baseball and football with the boys,” she says. “My mom later said that when I was about 5, I told her that when I grew up, I wanted to be a boy! I finally knew at about 25—I had a crush that was reciprocated, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what it’s all about.’ My mom said she was wondering when I’d figure it out, and my dad was OK with it. It was just not a problem; my whole family was just so normal about it.”
York was raised Catholic, but began questioning portions of her faith around age 16.
“I saw the pope and the trappings of the church as kind of frivolous,” she says. “After all, Jesus wore a robe and sandals. I started breaking away from the church, and now I consider myself a spiritual being. I was ordained as a minister of the Church of Religious Science, and even performed a marriage for some friends from the U.K.”
Ask Terre York what her biggest mistake in life has been, and she quickly says it was not going to medical school. “I would have made a very good surgeon,” she says.
But when I ask her about her best decision, she immediately responds: “Going to chiropractic school.”
One of these days, Terre York says she will make it to see the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall of China, even though she doesn’t like long flights. But for now, she is content guiding her children through the pandemic and helping her clients live better, healthier lives.
No matter what, Terre York will continue to be her own person.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.