GLR September-October 2022

spired drama and convincingly demonstrates that modern and medieval theater are parts of an unbroken tradition. As McNally states in the preface: “ Corpus Christi is a passion play. The life of Joshua, a young man from south Texas, is told in the theatri cal tradition of medieval morality plays.” In Pugh’s words: “In the modern theater the medieval past is alive and well, and thus provides an intriguing opportunity to consider the shifting dy namics of queerness from the past to the present.” His well-re searched and convincingly argued book demonstrates not only the value and relevance of the medieval theatrical tradition but also its long-suppressed queerness.

W HEN 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 dis tinguished 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 work ing-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 remem bers 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 Sun day 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. D’Emilio structures his memoir around three schools. His chapters on St. Raymond’s are among the most affectionate rec ollections of a Catholic grade school education that I’ve come across. John was a good Catholic boy. He seldom got into trou ble and was a precocious student who had often finished his reading for the entire term early in the school year. But he was no nerd. He made friends easily, especially after the fourth grade, when the boys were separated from the girls. After school, he played sports with a “gang of friends” who would become as important in his life as his family. At every school he attended, friends gave D’Emilio something his family could not: an entrée into a wider world. John took his religion classes at St. Raymond’s as seriously morously maximize its potential homoeroticism. Pugh’s illuminating readings of medieval religious plays provide a historical context for understanding modern and con temporary “meta-medieval” dramas inspired by them, such as Tony Harrison’s The Mysteries , Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play , and Jordan Harrison’s The Amateurs , as well as plays that are at least somewhat influenced by the tradition of mystery plays, includ ing Stephen Adley Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told . Pugh’s per ceptive discussion of McNally’s controversial Corpus Christi (1998) reveals the potentially subversive power of medieval-in Daniel A. Burr, a frequent contributor to this magazine, lives in Cov ington, Kentucky. 36

Living the Culture Clash

as he took his other subjects. A major fea ture of American Catholicism in that era was the sacrament of confession. The young boy, who feared going to hell if he died in a state of sin, found confession “deeply reas suring,” even after his sins progressed from disobeying his mother to masturbation. A distinctive feature of this memoir is D’Emilio’s ability to capture what he expe rienced at the time without laughing at or


MEMORIES OF A GAY CATHOLIC BOYHOOD Coming of Age in the Sixties by John D’Emilio Duke Univ. Press. 208 page, $29.95

passing judgment upon his earlier self. As a historian, D’Emilio is familiar with the imperative to recreate the past as accurately as possible. Thus, in the next section of the book, describing his years at Regis—the elite all male Jesuit high school in Manhat tan where D’Emilio gained admission through a competitive exam—we encounter an ambitious (and not totally likeable) young man who wants to take the most difficult courses in Latin and Greek, master public speaking, and win debates. He has found a new group of friends who share his interests. Because his mother sees Regis as his pathway to college, she acquiesces when he attends a debate tournament at Georgetown rather than his grandmother’s funeral. High school was also the time when D’Emilio discovered his sexual attraction to males. These feelings, “unnamed, for bidden, and deeply sinful,” do not involve his Regis teachers or classmates. Riding the subway to and from school, he begins to sit next to older men he finds attractive. In his sophomore year, a teacher suggests he read James Baldwin’s Another Country . Suddenly he knows there are men who share his yearnings. Be fore long, the high school student is having brief sexual en counters with strangers in subway restrooms and secluded bushes. As D’Emilio chronicles his own sexual awakening, he provides a historical glimpse into how men had sex with other men in Manhattan in the early 1960’s, prefiguring his future work in LGBT history. Still trying to be a good boy, he regu larly confesses his sins, receives absolution, and resolves to cease his sexual activity. Eventually, his resolve holds. At a spiritual retreat in his senior year, he is convinced he should consider becoming a priest and applies for admission to a Je suit seminary. However, even before his acceptance letter ar rives, he knows he is fooling himself if he thinks the seminary will resolve the conflict between his sexuality and his religion.

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