The World Turned

Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture

The World Turned

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: October 2002

Author: John D′Emilio

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, History > U.S. History, Theory and Philosophy > Queer Theory

Something happened in the 1990s, something dramatic and irreversible. A group of people long considered a moral menace and an issue previously deemed unmentionable in public discourse were transformed into a matter of human rights, discussed in every institution of American society. Marriage, the military, parenting, media and the arts, hate violence, electoral politics, public school curricula, human genetics, religion: Name the issue, and the the role of gays and lesbians was a subject of debate. During the 1990s, the world seemed finally to turn and take notice of the gay people in its midst. In The World Turned, distinguished historian and leading gay-rights activist John D’Emilio shows how gay issues moved from the margins to the center of national consciousness during the critical decade of the 1990s.

In this collection of essays, D’Emilio brings his historian’s eye to bear on these profound changes in American society, culture, and politics. He explores the career of Bayard Rustin, a civil rights leader and pacifist who was openly gay a generation before almost everyone else; the legacy of radical gay and lesbian liberation; the influence of AIDS activist and writer Larry Kramer; the scapegoating of gays and lesbians by the Christian Right; the gay-gene controversy and the debate over whether people are "born gay"; and the explosion of attention focused on queer families. He illuminates the historical roots of contemporary debates over identity politics and explains why the gay community has become, over the last decade, such a visible part of American life.


“A rabble-rousing college student in the 1960s, a gay liberation activist from the 1970s on, and a former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Public Policy Institute in the 1990s, University of Illinois history professor John D’Emilio witnessed first-hand the flowering of gay rights and gay acceptance in American culture, as well as the political backlash. He records these in The World Turned.” — Publishers Weekly

“John D’Emilio’s writing should be required for every gay, lesbian, bi or trans person. . . . The World Turned is a profound work that provides historical context for a decade that was truly transforming.” — Scott Blaine Swenson , Lambda Book Report

“Leading gay activist D’Emilio is one of the great pioneers of gay history. . . . The 16 pieces collected here . . . blend together into a vivid portrait of gay thought in the past 15 years. . . . All academic libraries will want this title, and many public libraries need to consider it as well because the essays are not only inherently interesting but also clearly and accessibly written.” — Library Journal

"The World Turned takes the supposed tension between activism and academia and kicks it to the curb. . . . D’Emilio makes a stirring case for moving beyond fragmented identity politics based on ethnicity or sexual orientation, and for an approach that ‘turns outward. . . .’ D’Emilio sees the 1990s as a decade of enormous social transformation in the political power of lesbians and gay men, a time when indeed ‘the world turned.’ Others have made this claim, but D’Emilio has enough historical perspective to make the case effectively." — Christopher Capozzola , Gay & Lesbian Review

"[A]ll queer historians should celebrate the publication of John D'Emilio's The World Turned. . . . [A] fascinating and important book that will likely help to define research into the queer history of the United States as much as D'Emilio's earlier work has done." — Committee on Lesbian and Gay History Newsletter

"[T]he volume will be of interest to a wide audience. Not surprisingly, activists, organizers, and students of gay liberation will find it invaluable for putting in proper historical context what they may already be familiar with or indeed have participated in. It will undoubtedly inform future thinking on strategy and goals. In addition, scholars of social movements, both sociologists and historians, will find rich narratives that will reefing concepts and rework theories." — Steve Valocchi , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"An impressive return to form from the founding father of queer historical studies. . . ." — Gay Times

"D'Emilio is at his best when he writes history that is also his story, and the first part of the book. . . . is most palpitating when the subject touches him directly. . . ." — Louis Godbout , Labour/Le Travail

"D'Emilio's latest collection of essays adds up to significantly more than the sum of its parts. . . . This volume is an eloquent and sincere collection of wisdom about social movements, community, radicalism, and reform." — David Schleifer , Archives of Sexual Behavior

"Prowling through the dense, exotic terrain of American pop culture, John D'Emilio returns with a detailed map that charts the migration of gays to the center of our national consciousness during the last decade. The scapegoating of gays by the Christian Right, the controversy simmering around the gay-gene theory, and the influence of the great AIDS activist Larry Kramer, are just a few of the topics surveyed in this collection of essays, all of which read like savvy coffeehouse banter rather than jargon-cluttered academics. . . . D'Emilio shows us that the world has indeed 'turned,' that instead of looking the other way, it faces us head-on, acknowledging our presence in ways it never has before." — Tony Peregrin , New City Chicago

"There is much to nourish the curious queer mind in The World Turned, D'Emilio's academic but nicely accessible collection of a decade's musings on assorted queer concerns. . . . Each of the 16 pieces is thoughtful and engaging - even one as slight as a eulogy for a friend - and though there is no particular theme connecting the selections, they share the common thread of D'Emilio's friendly intelligence and inclusive take on the queer community." — Richard Labonte , BookMarks

“John D’Emilio is the best sort of troublemaker, one who provokes us to see the world with fresh eyes. In this age of arcane academic jargon, D’Emilio writes with clarity and grace. As a historian who dares to walk where others fear to tread, D’Emilio brings an acute sense of time and changing social context to his accounts of sexuality, gender, race, class, politics, the economy, and their links. His careful empirical research provides solid ground for his considered interpretations. These essays are smart, sane, thoughtful, and a joy to read.” — Jonathan Ned Katz, author of Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality

“This insightful and absorbing collection confirms John D’Emilio’s stature as the gay and lesbian movement's premier chronicler and analyst. D’Emilio is a rare scholar and activist whose writing is clear and direct. Each essay tells vivid stories, shares wisdom earned through participation and observation—all in an engaging and inclusive voice. This is one of the most interesting collections on contemporary gay and lesbian history yet to be published.”—Urvashi Vaid, columnist for The Advocate and long-time activist — N/A


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John D’Emilio is Professor of History and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 and Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (with Estelle B. Freedman). He was the first director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute.

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Winner, 2003 Lambda Literary Editor’s Choice Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3023-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2930-5
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