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My Life in the Times

Gender-Bending Grade-Schooler Attracts Notice

One local boy’s locks sends shockwaves throughout his community, and a clear message to the world of fashion: The younger generation plays by a new set of rules.

GREENBROOK, Ill., July 15, 1977—Move over, David Bowie. The androgynous look you pioneered has a new champion: seven-year-old John Warner of Greenbrook, Ill.

Mr. Warner’s career in gender-bending fashion was launched near the back of a school bus transferring local YMCA Wally Y day-campers to the municipal pool for their daily swim lessons. Benjy Dent, a 10-year-old fellow camper, gets credit for discovering Mr. Warner.

“Hey, everybody,” he shouted above the usual din that is a bus filled with young children. “This kid looks like a girl.”

Soon enough, the entire bus had caught the wave, chanting, “Girl! Girl! Girl!” over and over while pointing at Mr. Warner. Indeed, the young gentleman is indistinguishable from the girls of his same age. His unruly mass of blond hair rests uncomfortably between a Prince Valiant and a Dorothy Hamill as styled with an eggbeater. When dressed in the same camp T-shirt as the other kids, you wouldn’t know John Warner from Lindsay Wagner.

Seeing him routinely trounced by the girls in the all-camp relay races and leg-wrestling contests only increases the confusion.

The excitement over Mr. Warner’s foray into a genderless childhood quickly spread beyond his bus and into the entire camp once they arrived at the pool and Mr. Dent insisted that Mr. Warner use the girl’s locker room.

“Boys to the left, girls to the right,” Mr. Dent called out, shoving Mr. Warner rightward. “I said to the right, dickless,” he reiterated.

Mr. Warner flailed at Mr. Dent with his puny fists in a frankly girlish manner, trying to get past to the boy’s room.

Eventually a camp counselor put an end to the confusion, but for a while, it seemed as though there might be a truly groundbreaking moment in children’s fashion.

His older brother, Michael Warner Jr., said that as a toddler John Warner repeatedly asked for a baby buggy to play with. When we caught up with Mr. Warner for comment, he burst into tears and ran away screaming, “I’m a boy! I’m a boy! I’m a boy!” He did stop long enough to give credit (in his words, the “fault”) to his mother for his unique image.

“Isn’t his hair gorgeous?” his mother, Sue Warner, exclaimed. “He gets it from his father. Mine is thin and wispy, but John has curls. It’s so cute, don’t you think?”

Child psychologist Dr. Elaine Eberhardt is not surprised by John Warner’s emergence. “We’ve known for a long time that gender is not genetic, but is instead a construct of society. It’s entirely possible that as his identity develops he will have a more fluid vision of his own gender. Either that, or he’s just a helpless little nancy-boy.”

His older brother, Michael Warner Jr., age 12, said that as a toddler John Warner repeatedly asked for a baby buggy to play with. “If that doesn’t make him a girl, I don’t know what does,” he added.

Mrs. Warner confirmed the baby buggy story. “He used to push that thing all over the house. Cute!”

Phyllis Wilcox of Parents Unusually Concerned about Everything (PUCE), thinks it’s more dangerous than cute. “Boys and girls are simply different. Everyone knows that boys are made of snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails, while girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. This child has a bit too much ‘sugar,’ if you know what I’m saying.”

Leading fashion figures, however, are intrigued by this new boy on the scene. When shown photos of Mr. Warner, cutting-edge designer Buffy St. Laroux remarked, “It is hard to imagine an eight-year-old boy with dried grape jelly on his face as the next fashion icon, but then, most people don’t have my imagination. I wouldn’t be surprised to find someone snatching him up and designing a whole fall collection around his look.”

When asked where Mr. Warner should go next, Ms. Laroux said, “I see him in legwarmers and casually ripped sweatshirts. They’re going to be big.”
 

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TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner