"Mean Little deaf Queer" Review
Terry Galloway’s memoir, Mean Little deaf Queer, was an interesting, but often frustrating read. The story she wove was often disjointed and extremely difficult to follow and to even care about. Although there were a few poignant moments I was more often bewildered. Her tale jumps back and forth in time to various points of interest in her life as she discusses topics ranging from theater to her deafness, affairs to deaths.
When Galloway discusses her deafness she often refers to it as a disability. I found this to be quite offensive at first, but after finishing the book I understood why she felt this way, though it still frustrates me. Galloway began to lose her hearing around age nine. Her mother had taken certain antibiotics while she was pregnant that would, unbeknown to her, would severely damage her daughters bodily systems. Around the same time Galloway began to lose her hearing she experienced visions of herself flying into the air where she overlooked her body below. To the young girl she believed that she was given a special gift that no other child possessed. She describes the satisfaction it gave her knowing she had this secret.
Once it became clear that her hearing loss and visions might be connected her father took her to see several doctors. After having her examinations she walked out of the office with a new hearing aid system that hung from her neck and connected to the pieces in her ears. She recalls how she stood on the steps and watched as her father sat down and wept for his little girl. Galloway then asked him “Will I be this way forever”? Galloway then thinks to herself “This next part of my life is going to suck. I bet I can milk it for every tear it’s worth.”
One very important time in Galloway’s life is her time at the Texas Lions Camp for Crippled Children. Galloway details a few moments that shed some light on why she feels the way she does about being deaf. She speaks very fondly of a quadriplegic girl she falls in love with, despite being only ten. Galloway and the girl would sneak away from the camp and head down paths the campers were forbidden from, to find they were only a bit bumpy, yet they led down to the local creek. There the two girls discuss the camps daily routines. It is here that Galloway realizes what kind of feelings she is having for the girl, and Galloway also realizes that the girl knows it and uses it to her advantage.
Another important point for Galloway at the camp is one day in the swimming pool. Each day a blind girl, a girl with only one leg and Galloway race in the deep end of the pool as the lifeguard watches from above. Galloway is also smitten with the lifeguard whose attention she always fights for. One day during their swim races the blind girl takes the lead, and knowing that she will never catch up, Galloway pretends to drown. With this the lifeguard jumps in to rescue her. The next day is the camp awards ceremony where the lifeguard then awards her with the “Most Valiant Swimmer” award. Struck by how much attention she is given to her by her acting, not by her winning of races the seeds of theatrics are planted in her.
Once back home from the camp Galloway is posed a question by her mother; “Do you want to stay at your same school, or go to a school for deaf children”? Galloway, without hesitation, answers that she hadn’t even considered that silly thought. She felt this way because she already felt so awful for burdening her parents, and wished to avoid putting them in an even worse situation.
Once she finishes high school Galloway attends a local Texas college for a degree in theater. In college she is forced into the costuming department because when she first arrived at the campus she was met by the man in charge of the department and he told her that she would never make it on stage because she was deaf. Galloway bit her tongue and vowed to show him. She did this by attending every outside theater experience she could. These conservatories, classes and generally experimental theater collaborations usually happened outside the campus in people’s homes, closed businesses and even in barns. One particularly important one was an intensive Shakespeare workshop forty-five minutes drive from Austin. It is here that Galloway discovers how well she played the comedic roles and how much she enjoyed playing male characters.
When her stint at college comes to a close Galloway begins taking odd jobs from screenwriting to house painting. During this same time she helps found a follies group in Austin where she meets a middle aged woman who she quickly falls for. During her time in college she only flirted with boys and this new woman would be her first lesbian experience as an adult. The two would pass each other each night during the performance in a hallway backstage where each night they would kiss before Galloway walked on stage. One day the woman’s boyfriend caught them. He did not get upset, but simply invited the Galloway to come to their apartment that night after the show. She spent the next three days having sex and doing drugs with the two. After that she left the follies group.
Depressed, Galloway travels from city to city working on different jobs. She spends time teaching, other times acting. She spends the next few years on this path. She also details having twice as many lovers as she did hours in the classroom or on stage during that time.
She eventually settles with her parents for awhile when her father soon begins to show signs that there is something wrong with him. He one night becomes disoriented and is rushed to the hospital. There the doctors find that he has a tumor the size of a plum in his brain. Some medication makes him coherent enough to understand what is happening to him and decides that he does not want to go under the knife and instead wants to spend his remaining days at home with his family. His situation quickly escalates and he dies within two weeks. Galloway describes that the entire week before he sat in front of the television constantly switching channels. On his last day he decides to quietly watch a channel devoted to the international space station, where her father watches the men and women floating without gravity or sound.
It appears that this really changes Galloway’s outlook on life. She moves then tours across Europe with an acting troupe where she teaches a workshop on theater for the disabled. It is here her view of those she once went to camp with all those years ago comes full circle. She realized in theater each person had a different role to become, each difference was an opportunity on stage. As a child she felt at that camp that she wasn’t disabled enough to be a part of it. Here at her workshop she realized her deafness wasn’t a hindrance, but an opportunity.
Upon finishing her tour Galloway moved to Tallahassee, Florida where she starts her own comedy theater group called the Mickee Faust Club. To her this group was North Florida’s tongue-in-cheek answer to the famous mouse club of Orlando. Galloway would play Mickey’s twin brother Mickee who was left in the sewers after Mickey was saved by Walt Disney. The club was filled with offbeat actors of all different shapes, sizes, creeds, religions, and abilities. I feel that with this group Galloway made amends to those entire she had felt ill will towards in her youth.
After leaving the Mickee Faust Club to its own devices Galloway continued to travel and teach. While in New York she met and began a relationship with a fellow teacher. Their relationship was short lived though as soon after, while on a visit to Austin she met her now partner of twenty odd years, Donna Marie. The two quickly fell for each other.
At this point the book begins to discuss Galloway’s lifelong existential crisis. She attributes her constant need for attention and approval to her deafness, for she feels that it made her always feel that once those she loved were out of sight they were gone forever. She says goodnights were always just as painful as “goodbye”s and “I never want to see you again”s.
Once I turned the last page I didn’t know how to feel about Terry Galloway. I admired her persistence in regards to her theatrical career and her creation of the troupe of misfit actors, but I also loathed her affairs and pitying of those she felt were beneath her. While parts of this memoir upset me I am still glad I took the time to know her story. I may not agree with all she believes, but I walked away with knowledge of a different perspective.