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BOOK REVIEW Mean Little deaf Queer
by Tracy Baim
2009-11-04

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Written by Terry Galloway $23.95; Beacon Press; , 248 pages

"No holds barred" is the best phrase I can come up with to describe writer/performer Terry Galloway. On stage and in her new memoir, Mean Little deaf Queer, Galloway is truly a force of nature—full of passion, anger and mostly a resolve to live life to its fullest, no matter the consequences.

Galloway is coming to Chicago for several signings and performances this month, including Nov. 11 at Women & Children First Bookstore, and Nov. 15 at Victory Gardens Theater, performing her piece Out All Night and Lost My Shoes, which is considered one of the foundational texts of the history of disability performance.

I have read a lot of LGBT memoirs over the years, but few have been as brutally honest as Mean Little deaf Queer. Even the title is an in-your-face claiming of Galloway's fight for her right to live a creative life despite all the doors slammed in her face. And the little "d" in "deaf" is also on purpose, as the book addresses the issues that embroil the deaf/Deaf communities over identity, with Galloway's own deafness, which came on gradually when she was a child, viewed against the other forms of deafness. Her book addresses the controversial aspects of surgical responses to some forms of hearing loss, and her own decision to have surgery.

I first met Galloway recently during the Austin, Texas, screening of Hannah Free. We share a mutual friend in her native Texas, and I sent Galloway the script for the film ahead of time since the festival was not providing interpreters. Galloway is a lip reader, and Hannah Free is a hard film to understand that way. Galloway had also agreed to move her booksigning to the next day, to avoid competing with the film, so I attended her event at the crowded women's bookstore in Austin. This was no normal book-reading; it was a book performance, with Galloway thoroughly engaging her fans.

Her fearless performance certainly made me uncomfortable, as does her book, but in a good way. She does not hold back about her own "bad" behavior as a child and adult, and it serves her story very well. An autobiography can sometimes seem sugar coated, but Galloway wants us to understand her completely, and I feel by the end of the book I do "get" her more than most writers who pick and choose the best of their lives to showcase.

Mean Little deaf Queer starts with Galloway's childhood, much of it spent in Germany where her father was a spy for the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps after World War II. She learned a lot about the "other" in a country full of fear and death. She started to experience visions, and slowly began to lose her hearing, as a result of medication given to her mother at a U.S. military hospital. As a child coping with the awful-looking devices meant to help her eyesight and hearing issues, she started to develop her performing skills, including a fake drowning to get attention and sympathy.

Her queerness, too, was with Galloway as a youngster, as she played with the boys and was intimidated by the girls. She again holds nothing back in writing about her young adult years, speaking of her frequent sleeping around with both genders, and her love of many gay men who died of AIDS-related complications.

Of her sexual escapades, Galloway writes: "One side effect of my deafness is that I'm always presuming a physical intimacy, usually where there is none. … I can't tell you the number of ill-conceived affairs I've had as an adult that started with me putting my hand on someone's collarbone ( which conducts sound like a hollow reed ) and fastening my gaze on their lips as if it were all I could do not to bite. It was an inadvertent pickup technique I ought to have found ( but didn't ) shameful and misleading."

While in Austin, Galloway helped found the still-famous Esther's Follies, a wacky troupe that does just about anything on stage. And from Galloway's telling, she did just about anything offstage as well.

Galloway's ability to tell a story, to lead you from one interesting event to the next, is wonderful, and the book is very well edited. I highly recommend Mean Little deaf Queer for those who fit any of those words, and especially for those who don't.

Galloway will be in Chicago with her long-time partner in life and art, Donna Marie Nudd, who is a native of the Chicago area.

Galloway's Chicago-area appearances:

—Wed., Nov. 11: Women and Children First Bookstore, 7:30 p.m., reading of Mean Little deaf Queer and signing

—Friday, Nov, 13: Access Living, An Evening with Terry Galloway ( performance, reading, videos )

—Sunday, Nov. 15: Victory Gardens, Out All Night and Lost My Shoes, 7:30 p.m., part of the theater's Fresh Squeezed series, 2433 N. Lincoln, $20 advance, $25 day of, 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org

—Monday, Nov. 16: University of Illinois, Chicago, An Afternoon with Terry Galloway ( performance, reading, videos ) , 12:30 p.m., at U of I Chicago

—Monday, Nov. 16: University of Illinois at Chicago, Videos from The Mickee Faust Club's Gimp Parade ( a compilation of disability-themed video shorts ) and a talk-back

Note: Upcoming Victory Gardens Fresh Squeezed performers include Michael Kearns Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m., doing his solo show intimacies. Kearns is Hollywood's first openly gay actor and also has spoken out about living with HIV. On Dec. 7, look for An Evening with Charles Busch and Julie Halston: the original Vampire Lesbians of Sodom are together again. Next year, Tim Miller returns to Chicago, along with Holly Hughes, in March.


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