About the Book
When Terry Galloway was born on Halloween, no one knew that an experimental
antibiotic given to her mother had wreaked havoc on her fetal nervous system.
After her family moved from Berlin, Germany, to Austin, Texas, hers became a
deafening, hallucinatory childhood where everything, including her own body,
changed for the worse. But those unwelcome changes awoke in this particular
child a dark, defiant humor that fueled her lifelong obsessions with language,
duplicity, and performance.
As a ten-year-old self-proclaimed "child freak," she acted out her
fury with her boxy hearing aids and Coke-bottle glasses by faking her own drowning
at a camp for crippled children. Ever since that first real-life performance,
Galloway has used theater, whether onstage or off, to defy and transcend her
reality. With disarming candor, Terry writes about her mental breakdowns, her
queer identity, and living in a silent, quirky world populated by unforgettable
characters. What could have been a bitter litany of complaint is instead an
unexpectedly hilarious and affecting take on life.
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"This is not your mother's triumph-of-the-human-spirit memoir. Yes, Terry
Galloway is resilient. But she's also caustic, depraved, utterly disinhibited,
and somehow sweetly bubbly, a beguiling raconteuse who periodically leaps onto
the dinner table and stabs you with her fork. Her story will fascinate, it will
hurt, and you will like it." Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
"This is a damn fine piece of work which is unbelievably powerful. This
story is true and passionate and fearless and funny as hell when it is not heartbreaking.
I expect this book to charm the hell out of great numbers of people, piss off
a few, and give hope to many more." Dorothy Allison, author of
Bastard out of Carolina and Cavedwellers
"Funny, poignant, raw, uplifting, and exuberant. It is my new favorite
book, and after you read it, it will be yours, too." Ann Hood, author
of The Knitting Circle
"A frank, bitingly humorous memoir." Kirkus Reviews
[Galloway] is dexterous in her use of words and devastating with a sense
of black humor that brings numerous laugh-out-loud delights. There is no political
correctness here, only a poignant life journey of unexpected challenges.
The Gay and Lesbian Review
"Galloway was born a storyteller, and her narrative gifts are in full
force throughout, spinning yarns about herself and her family that mesmerize."
Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle
"You don't have to be mean, little, deaf, or queer to take heart from
this miraculously unsentimental, deliriously funny, refreshingly spite-free,
joyously weirdo-embracing memoir. All you have to be is human.
that transcends its hilarious particularities to achieve the universality of
true art." Sarah Bird, author of How Perfect is That and
The Mommy Club
"A gripping memoirat times harrowing, at times starkly movingthat
chronicles a life beset by two enormous challenges: growing up gay in a very
red state, and growing up deaf. Lesser mortals would fold, but Galloway navigates
the highs and lows of her life with grace, insight, and unflinching candor."
Doug Wright, playwright, librettist, screenwriter, and winner of both
the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama
"Cast by society as an outsider for most of her life, both in her queerness
and her deafness, I am reminded, reading Terry Galloway's brilliant memoir,
that most good writers create from an outsider position, a place of inner isolation
and silent engagement with the deep issues of life." Robert Olen
Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange
An unconventional and barrier-busting story filled with sexual experimentation
and a desire for a life lived at the extremes, all ably described in this compelling
memoir. A good choice to strengthen disability, feminist, and gay studies collections,
too. Library Journal
"Deaf with bad eyes and queer with a hard sense of humor, Galloway's account
of her survival induces the most uncomfortable laughter of the season."
"Told with understandable rage, quirky humor, and extraordinary humanity,
this remarkable womans engaging account deserves a large readership."
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About the Author
Terry Galloway is the founder of the Actual Lives writing and performance programs;
a founding member of Esther's Follies, Texas's legendary cabaret; and the cofounder
of the Mickee Faust Academy for the REALLY Dramatic Arts. Her solo theater piece
Out All Night and Lost My Shoes is considered one of the foundational texts
in the history of disability performance. She lives with her partner in life
and art, Donna Marie Nudd, and splits her time between Austin and Tallahassee,
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Questions for Discussion
- Mean Little deaf Queer is prefaced with a quote from the author's
sister, Gail Galloway Adams, in which Adams writes that her "sister is
persistent. She wants to get the story straight, or as straight as she wants
it for her own purposes." What does Terry's relationship to the truth
seem to be in the book? What is the function of "straight" truth
in a book whose very title indicates that its subject is "queer?"
- Galloway knows exactly where her disability comes from: a doctor in Germany
"injected my gorgeous little mother with a mycin antibiotic" (p.
3) that was known among American doctors to cause "unforeseen complications"
(p. 4) in pregnant women and, especially, in fetuses. Her sexual and romantic
attraction to women, however, is not something she can trace back to any one
source. How does this difference between two important facets of her life
seem to impact her ability to claim those identities?
- Early in the book, Terry identifies a "popular mantra" among her
disabled friends: "Lucky to have made it, no thanks to them," with
"the them shifting with the circumstance, the story" (p. 9). Who
is "the them" in your own stories? Have their been times when someone
has looked at you and seemed to see you as less than human? What about times
when, looking back, you may have looked at someone else that way? How did
those experiences make you feel?
- As a child, Terry and her family played "scare," a spy game in
which the children hid away to keep themselves "safe," (p. 11) and
she pitied peers who seemed to lack the skills necessary to play the game
well. As an adult, she found that her deafness made her cautiousness, keeping
her from adventures she imagines that she might have had without her disability.
What kinds of caution did Terry's childhood games impart over the course of
- The book is divided into three sections: "drowning," "passing,"
and "emerging." What function do these divisions fulfill? Do you
see them as primarily chronological, mostly thematic, or as doing another
kind of work altogether?
- At camp, Terry feels a tension between a sense that she was "not handicapped
enough" (p. 52) in the eyes of the other disabled kids and the experience
of having her deafness cost her the swim race. How does she negotiate between
the frustration that her disability causes her and the frustration of feeling
labeled as disabled "enough"?
- Galloway repeatedly discusses the importance she places on physical closeness
to people she loves, citing how "like a child, things seem to just be
gone as soon as they are out of sight." She also references a love she
shares with her relatives of family stories. How does the desire for physical
closeness to loved ones relate to Galloway's fondness for hearing family stories?
- Galloway writes of her love of clichés, because of their predictability
(p. 224). Do you see these preferences reflected in this book? How does Galloway's
writing conform to, depart from, or use cliché?
- Galloway says she was "a child who hated goodbyes," wondering
if it is her "inbuilt quietus that makes all my goodbyes feel the same"
(pp. 5960). How does her anxiety about goodbyes affect her ties with
her family? How might we see it reflected in the way she handles the endings
of various romantic relationships?
- Terry's "visions" are a staple of her late childhood and early
adolescence. These visions come to an end on the opening night of her high
school play, when "aloft in the air on opening night, I felt so damn
angry to be missing my anticipated moment of seductive triumph," (p.
89) and she vows never to leave her body again. What kind of coming-of-age
moment is this? How does the sexuality that Terry's role in the play embodies
change her relationship to her body?
- Terry writes about "queer epiphanies" during drag performances
when she could experience the "reckless joy, the sense that even if what
you ere doing was dead serious, it was being done in a spirit of play"
(p. 109) that fuels her love of theater. What is it about dressing as a man
that allows Terry to connect to performance on such a deep level?
- Terry had a lot of fears about coming out to her parents as a lesbian. When
she actually told them about her relationship with Isabelle, she writes both
that her parents "reactions were everything I'd hoped for" but that
she "was not prepared for kindness" (p. 139). When have you been
surprised by the ease with which a situation played out, after preparing for
a negative outcome? What did that experience teach you?
- Terry relates her fear of abandonmentthe "deep-seated dread of
being left behind when things start going to hell" (p. 167)to her
disabilities. She suspects that "if I'd grown up with all her senses
intact, I wouldn't be as anxiously needy as I am." What do you make of
this speculation on her part?
- In Texas, Terry realizes that Donna is "the woman my New York lover
had specifically forbidden me from seducing" (p. 179). How does that
realization shape Terry and Donna's relationship?
- Terry writes extensively about "beautiful boys" (p. 190). How
does she portray the relationship between masculinity and beauty?
- Mean Little deaf Queer is a memoir by a performance artistthe
material that Galloway gathers from her life has become the basis for both
the book and her work in theater, especially in Actual Lives. What do you
think that the memoir format allows Galloway to do that she might not be able
to do in live performance? What might be missing in the book that could exist
in theater work?
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This reader's guide was created by Naomi Sobel.
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