- Mean Little Deaf Queer: A Memoir
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.—Joan Didion, The White Album
What if you could no longer hear the stories of your life? What if the sounds you had used as evidence of your belonging disappeared and left your "body feel[ing] no evidence of their presence, not a trembling of the air, not a prickling of the skin. . . . feel[ing] no trace of those sounds being there." This is the way Terry Galloway describes the experience of losing her hearing as a young girl. Mean Little Deaf Queer is Galloway's eff ort to answer "no evidence of their presence" with sounds and shapes and stories that prickle the skin. Galloway is writing her existence into the world.
Galloway divides her memoir into three neat compartments: "Drowning," "Passing," and "Emerging." The overarching metaphor is clear, and maybe a little obvious—these tropes line up with the unfolding of her life: "Going Deaf," "Being Deaf/Acting Hearing and Being Queer/Acting Straight," and "Coming Out." On one level, then, this is a coming-out story like so many others—Galloway starts with an impending sense of not fitting in. What's notable about this narrative is less the newness of it, the originality of it, but exactly the opposite—this story is something completely ordinary. At least, this is how Galloway tells it. Never mind that she is hallucinating, having out-of-body experiences, losing the hearing in both ears. These are, for her, ordinary, everyday things—things that will come to mark her as diff erent, as [End Page 163] extraordinary, as queer; but in the stories, she is just another kid, with obstacles, things that keep her from feeling normal. And why not be just another kid, for these are her stories, the ones she is telling for us. We see all the ways she may not look like us; even her title dares us to concentrate on her diff erence. She's Mean, she's Deaf, she's Queer. But still, Galloway's tone is even—not overly careful, but not reckless either. She's going to tell us what she wants us to hear, and she's going to help us hear it.
Not to say that the trials and tribulations of Galloway's childhood—replete with camps for children with disabilities, torturous audiological screenings with bigoted doctors, hunting and disemboweling rabbits—are generic "What I Did Last Summer" tales we might see on the Hallmark Channel. They're not. What Galloway has endured is extraordinary, but what's spectacular about the way Galloway writes these stories is the nonchalance in her voice. It's as if she's staring these stories down, cool and with no trembling. The part of these stories where I feel Galloway wince is not in the details, but in the eff ect, the self-hatred that comes with erasure by others. When Galloway tells me that "I fell out of love with my own being, my own body, and lost the sense of myself as the center of my own story," I am crushed. I worry she is slipping away from the world, from us, from me.
Of course, once you've read two-thirds of the book, you come to realize that Galloway is a performer—and she is performing here too. Theater, performance art, and comedy become pivotal acts in Galloway's life—transformative, or maybe in a more literal way, formative. She founds the Mickee Faust Club, an alternative theater company, and in doing so finds herself. Bodies—in particular queer bodies, "those same bodies in the context of theater—bodies that invited stares, whose very presence was evocative, bodies that bucked and shook and seized and couldn't be"—are the stories themselves, Galloway's vehicle for proof of life. The Galloway of Mean Little Deaf Queer is the engineer of Galloway's lived experience. She makes her life in this memoir—in the sense that she crafts, builds, positions, and shapes it. The stories of...