Mean Little Deaf Queer (July 6, 2009)

Mean Little deaf Queer (the lower case “d” is empathically intentional) by Terry Galloway, is a “special” memoir.

However, in this instance “special” does not refer to the nebulous, often negative connotation of the term, which Galloway both accepts and rejects as forever the albatross to be borne about the neck by members of the disabled community.

No, the work is “special,” because it is, quite simply, one of the finest, most nakedly honest and humorous autobiographies out there to be read.

Rendered deaf at the age of nine through the tragic use of an experimental antibiotic on her then-pregnant mother, Galloway’s rich language resonates with the lifelong bitterness of person who is well aware of exactly what she’s lost.

As if finding yourself in a sudden world of soundless confusion at such a tender age were not trying enough, the author had the bad karma to be born a gay woman during the Cold War – in the South.

Add “box size” hearing aids and huge glasses into the mix, and Mean Little deaf Queer has all the makings of a tragedy, a Lifetime movie of the week about an inspiring woman of limited means.

But to view the memoir through this two-dimensional lens would be a tragic mistake of another kind. The work is so many things, like the formidable author herself: partly David Sedaris-esque in its slice-of-life essay moments, part slapstick farce, so very real, and always laugh out loud hilarious.

The work does more to put a “human” face on the lives on the disabled, gay community than anything I can remember in well, a long time.

I challenge you not to look at blind, deaf, or otherwise impaired people we mostly sweep our eyes over each day, in a different way after reading this memoir.

Because if there is one thing that Galloway makes clear – she is not a victim. She is every bit as flawed, nasty, bitter, funny, loving and complicated as the perfect specimens she often feels closing in around her – in many cases, her own family.

Perhaps nowhere does Galloway make her aching humanity more painfully, and side-splittingly obvious than in the chapter entitled “The Performance of Drowning.”

I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say, never has such un-PC, sociopathic behavior been so funny. I felt deliciously dirty afterward.

There are so many poignant moments in the book, often placed right next to the gut busting laughs.

This easy flow of emotions feels both organic and invigorating due to the author’s oft declared love of, and skill with, language. Galloway writes, on page 70, “I was enthralled by the effects spoken words could have, like another kind of music.”

That a hearing impaired person would grow to revere speech in this manner is at once heartbreaking, and indicative of enormous thoughtfulness.

Terry Galloway takes a fair amount of potshots at herself in the memoir: everything from her appearance, to the inherent comedy of her physical challenges, to her innately dramatic flair.

This is perhaps one of the most disarming and endearing aspects of the work. The woman is not afraid to laugh at herself, even while admitting things in print many of us would find difficult to say, even to ourselves.

Galloway makes no bones about her childhood desire to be a “beautiful boy”, a desire it seems, that never wholly subsided. She frankly discusses the vengeful hierarchies of the “Deaf” (congenital) versus “deaf” (due to illness or accident after birth) communities.

The reader is left with the impression that there is nothing Galloway won’t say, no tough issue off limits – and we are assuredly the better for it.

In essence, the young Terry Galloway is a deaf, queer Bridget Jones, only with a lot more sex, drugs and alcohol. It is one of the feats of Galloway’s work that the reader is left oddly comforted knowing that the physically challenged as morally messy as the rest of us.

At the same time, it is impossible not to rejoice in the happiness she eventually finds in the arms of her partner, Donna Marie.

In the Prologue, Galloway writes of her affection for the memoir, stating, “it’s the crappy ones I’ve lost my heart to.” Rest assured, there is nothing “crappy” about this life story.

You don’t have to be disabled, gay female, or even an avid reader to be most entertained with this completely honest, engagingly entertaining work of literature

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