WHEN do you decide that you have no choice but to put yourself before your family and your heritage? Most gay people will ask themselves this question at some point in their lives. A distinguished historian and pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies, John D’Emilio tells the story of his rebellion against the world into which he was born in his latest book, a personal history of his early years.
His was a loving rebellion. D’Emilio’s parents were working-class Italian immigrants, whose first son, John, was born in 1948. The family lived in Parkchester, a housing project for middle-class families in the Bronx that D’Emilio remembers as “the closest thing to paradise this side of Eden.” They could walk to the Catholic church and the Catholic grade school, and, most important, to his maternal grandmother’s house, where the large Scamborlino clan gathered every Sunday for dinner. At these dinners, the adults talked about the Yankees, the Giants, and the conservative, anti-Communist politics they shared. Children were the focus of this close-knit community; they had delicious food, safe playgrounds, and toys and games. D’Emilio’s mother also made sure that he had books, because she had decided early on that education was in his future.
Daniel A. Burr, a frequent contributor to this magazine, lives in Covington, Kentucky.