Coming out during the AIDS epidemic

In the play “Angels in America”, Tony Kushner emphasizes the difficulties of accepting ones identity in a conflicting time period. Kushner centers the play on a homosexual man with AIDS during the AIDS epidemic to develop a broader discussion on the political, religious, and cultural significance of the rights of homosexual identifying persons.

Kushner uses Roy Cohn’s character to portray the closeted homosexual mans’ experience during the AIDS epidemic. Typical closeted lawyer in the corporate world, Roy hides from his homosexuality by denying it. For instance, although he has engaged in sexual activity with other men for decades, he argues with his doctor, Henry, in Act I scene 9 about why he was diagnosed with AIDS. Roy affirms that AIDS “afflicts mostly homosexuals and drug addicts,”(44) then denies he is a homosexual man and proceeds to threaten to destroy his doctors reputation if he says anything. Roy’s reluctance to see the truth in himself was and continues to be a common choice for closeted homosexual men. When faced with the repercussions of coming out in their professional lives, closeted LGBTQ persons worry about their reputations when they no longer present the heterosexual normative. To illustrate, Cohn’s character is a representation of many LGBTQ persons during the AIDS epidemic. Hiding a homosexual identity in a time period when that was the most feared and misunderstood, drove many closeted homosexual men to adverse situations in which their sexuality would be exposed regardless. Hence, while faced with his own blood test, Roy separates homosexual persons and himself. He tells Henry, “Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows… Does that sound like me, Henry?” (46). After going on a rant trying to prove to himself and his doctor he wasn’t homosexual, his AIDS diagnosis, and having slept with men for years, Roy is in a deep denial for who he is. Kushner’s use of such a melodramatic character reveals a misunderstood perspective that was hidden during the AIDS epidemic and still continues to be. 

3 thoughts on “Coming out during the AIDS epidemic”

  1. I totally agree with your interpretation of Joe’s character. I think that by itself it was difficult to come out of the closet in a time like the 1990s, this work shows how this situation is even more affected by this disease. Those people who wanted to express their sexual orientation freely not only had to face social, work, family, etc. prejudices. Rather, they had to deal with an illness for which they were considered fully responsible and even deserving. At the same time, I think that those social areas that were against the LGBTQ+ community took advantage of this to blame them and defend their idea that being homosexual was wrong.

  2. I really like how you pointed out the connection between fear of coming out and the impact on all aspects of their lives. I think for Roy specifically, was in denial of his sexuality for two reasons. Firstly, he feared and believed in the stereotypes about gay men’s masculinity. He did not want to be seen as a weak man, especially as someone who craved power and control. Secondly, he was afraid of losing the privileges that he got from his position in society. As rich White man, Roy is used to having many privileges in life. If his sexuality was revealed, he would face a loss in his career and his treatment throughout the wealthy upper class society he is in. It is important to note though that because Roy is White wealthy man, he has more security in life as he does not have to fear not being able to take care of his basic needs while other people would as coming out would impact their financial status more severely.

  3. I really liked your interpretation of Roy’s anger following his diagnosis. Personally, I just assumed it was a show and he was doing it to save social phase, but after looking at the scene again it is clear that he does not even believe the diagnosis for himself. I also appreciate how you highlighted him separating himself from the broader group of homosexuals, exposing the social degradation that came from the label at the time.

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