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Gender, Sexuality and Politics in Tony Kushner's "Angels in America"

Updated on April 4, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at | Source

Angels in America by Tony Kushner features men from all walks of life. Some are openly gay, while others have such high political statuses that acknowledging their own true sexual orientation would destroy their lives. This article dissects the many faces of masculinity in the play.

Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman) isn't secretive about his sexuality unless he is around his family. He is openly against Reagan, and anything anti-homosexual -- including Roy Cohn. Louis' real insecurity about the devastating news about his longtime boyfriend causes him to completely lose himself and abandon his morals, unknowingly. It isn't until his friend, Belize, brings his attention to reality that he sees his own hypocrisy. Louis doesn't hide his homosexuality, but he is hiding from the uncertainty of life itself.

Louis: Sorry I didn't introduce you to....I always get so closety at these family things.

Prior: Butch. You get butch.

Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) is religious, and a closeted homosexual. Because of his professional status and religious duties, he has never acted on his sexual impulses. He believes he can pray away his homosexuality, and by staying married to Harper, be a real heterosexual man. It isn't until he meets Louis that he can't suppress his true sexual identity, anymore.

Joe:...As long as my behaviour is what I know it has to be, decent, correct that alone in the eyes of God.

Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) is a closeted homosexual. His political power prevents him from being openly gay. In fact, by living an outwardly heterosexual lifestyle, he can keep his status without objection. He has seen how little power the homosexual community has; therefore, he doesn't see it as a sexual orientation, but rather as a political title for those without power. It is because of his status that he is able to change the label of his diagnosis from AIDS to "liver cancer" in order to avoid losing people's respect.

Roy: I have sex with men. But unlike nearly every other man of whom this is true, I bring the guy I'm screwing to the White House and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand.

Belize (Jeffrey Wright) is an openly gay nurse. When he cares for Roy Cohn, he lets Roy in on the most recent treatments for AIDS, and begs Roy to help him in return since Roy's connections and wealth allow him to receive treatments most other patients with AIDS could never dream of attaining. Belize knows several people with AIDS, and wants nothing more than to help everyone he can, including Roy. Even though he is against the political damage Roy has caused the gay community he feels pain for him as a fellow gay man with AIDS.

Belize: Consider it solidarity. One faggot to another.

Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) does not hide his true identity, his sexual orientation or his HIV status; instead, he has a sense of humor about it. Prior's openness and honesty helps, Joe's wife, Harper learn to accept her husband's sexual orientation because the two of them love unfaithful men, and their unfaithful men are together. Prior even inspires Joe's mother, Hannah, to go from homophobic to an lgbt ally.

Hannah: Would you say you are a typical...homosexual?

Prior: Me? Oh I'm stereotypical.

Prior and Belize are admirable characters when it comes to gender because they do not pretend to be anyone other than themselves. They are gay men in a homophobic society, but are not determined to pass as straight for the sake of reputation and status. They inspire others to be themselves, without fear, and to face the truth.

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