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Book Review of "Farm Boy, City Girl", by John Dawson

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Farm Boy, City Girl: From Gene to Miss Gina, by John “Gene” Dawson, is a riveting tell-all memoir that includes intimate details of growing up on share-cropper farms in Iowa during the Tryin’ Thirties. Gene experienced many backbreaking chores as the oldest son of a farmer struggling to make-a-living for his family during the depression, dustbowl, and drought. His recollections provide vivid historical references to the living conditions and farming practices in the 1930s and even information for today’s scientists studying global warming.

 

Gene was born in 1931 and would soon be followed by five brothers. His parents, grandparents, and many extended Irish relatives lived on nearby farms.  Gene’s astounding memories of the trials of scratching out an existence for large families on rented farms with no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing are tempered with his tales of hijinks and school challenges. Gene is able to establish genealogy and family relationships between his large extended family and neighbors. The warmth and love he shows toward his family members are commendable.

Gene recalls being a strong, muscular young boy with strength from hauling feed and baling hay.  At puberty, he recognized that he was not attracted to the girls who friended him. He didn’t know what the derogatory terms he heard meant or if they referred to him. By age 20, Gene and his friends had begun to drink and to visit local bars and clubs.  With a false ID, he was able to explore larger towns, where “cultural shock over the differences between St. Louis and tiny-town, friendly, all-white rural Iowa” opened his eyes. His lifestyle becomes in direct conflict with his Catholic upbringing. A conflict that he struggles with for the rest of his life.

 A friend told him about a gay bar and club where he discovered “queens.”  About this time, he learned of some publications with “controversial” knowledge about the gay lifestyle.  Gene is very transparent about his orientation and interest in cross-dressing. He received a draft notice and tells an intriguing story of induction into the Marines and his honorable discharge.

As a young adult in St. Louis, Gene becomes fascinated with female impersonators. He soon finds himself emulating them by becoming anorexic and effeminate complete with makeup, wigs, or dyed hair, dresses, and high heels. One Halloween, he avoids being arrested for being in full drag. His descriptions of alcoholism and the party scene are honest and revealing of the culture of the time.

Conflict with his family and his chaotic lifestyle cause several periods of fallout and reconciliation as he matured. Gene’s life as a senior citizen in an interesting contrast to his “coming-of-age.” The author is philosophical and honest as he completes this epic story of one person’s double life and his unwavering love for his family.

Farm Boy, City Girl: From Gene to Miss Gina is a nonfictional expose of one person’s life covering gender fluidity with a big jump into drag culture. It goes back to the early 1900s and is full of stunning revelations. 

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