Title: Roy Cohn: A Study in Toxic Masculinity

In the play, “Angels of America”, Tony Kushner explores many ways men demonstrate masculine traits and express their masculinity. The character, Roy Cohn, exhibits many characteristics that align with the concept of toxic masculinity. This includes presenting oneself as infallible and expressing aggression, especially in regard to affection. Tony Kushner explores the manifestation of toxic masculinity through the actions and dialogue of Roy Cohn in “Angels of America”.


Roy Cohn frequently presents himself as infallible in regard to his sickness. This is extremely prevalent after his conversation with Joe in the stage directions given for Roy, “(Roy doubles over in great pain, which he’s been hiding while Joe was in the room)” (116). These directions explicitly make clear to the readers that Roy was acting tough, acting masculine while talking with Joe even though he was feeling extreme pain. Another example of Roy acting dismissive toward his illness is shown during his dialogue with Ethel. By claiming that, “[he has]  forcedR [his] way into history. [He] ain’t never gonna die” (118), Roy is emphasizing his accomplishments as reasoning for his survival, essentially stating that because he has done such great things, that he has to be immortal and nothing will ever knock him down. 


In addition to presenting as infallible, Roy Cohn also expresses affection in an aggressive way. Aggressive behavior, especially when seen in tandem to affection, is a main trait of toxic masculinity. In the play, “Angels of America”, Roy Cohn demonstrates aggressive affection toward Joe. This is extremely prevalent when Roy says, “I love you, baby Joe. That’s why I’m so rough on you” (115). This quote demonstrates the juxtaposition between love and pain, suggesting that in order to be loved, you must endure pain. Essentially, Roy Cohn is exhibiting toxic masculinity ideas in the way that he will only show love in an aggressive way.



2 thoughts on “”

  1. I mostly agree with your thoughts on Roy Cohn. Kushner chooses to contrast his character with Prior Walter, which is interesting because Prior’s idea of masculinity is much more fluid than Cohn’s. I think this is particularly apparent in Prior’s dream/Harper’s hallucination when Prior is in drag. He is also good friends with Belize, another drag queen. Prior is willing to be campy in his behavior (slashing his neck with lipstick when Harper says he’s a man) which is not traditionally masculine. Also, interestingly Prior is one of the only male characters to have a genuine conversation with a woman in the play (albeit, in a dream). Prior treats Harper with the respect he would one of his friends, and he listens and converses with her about her problems and his own. It is one of the only conversations Harper has with a man where she is not being infantilized, discounted, or blamed. Here, we can compare Prior’s masculinity to Joe’s. Joe ignores his wife and expects her to be a perfect homemaker even as he is off pursuing homosexual relationships, a betrayal to their marriage and their religion.
    I think ultimately it’s interesting to compare the fragility of masculinity in men who are out vs. men who are not, in the context of this play. It seems that the closeted men are much more protective and touchy concerning their perception as a man versus Prior who is out and has accepted who he is, even in the face of a long line of seemingly heterosexual Priors before him.

  2. I agree heavily with your interpretation of Roy, he basically embodies the term toxic masculinity. I think he hides into it to tell himself he’s not head. In my opinion, Roy believes masculinity = heterosexuality. Also, Roy is so so aggressive. Most of the time if he isn’t hating on gay men he is loud and rude.

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