Roy Cohn, a Gay Man in Sheep’s Clothing

In Tony Kushner’s play Angels of America, the character Roy Cohn depicts a complicated version of masculinity, that he exhibits through brash dialogue and a big ego, but he says certain sexual things that make it clear that he is a part of the gay scene he has so much hatred for. In Act 1. Scene 2 when Roy says “I wish I was an octopus, a fucking octopus. Eight loving arms and all those suckers…” (Kushner 11). The underlying sexual tone is evident with words like “loving”  and “sucking” which are sensual words Kushner uses to imply the hidden gay life that Roy lives. Despite this Roy relentlessly tries to distance himself from any queerness that could be associated with him by enforcing the masculine elements of himself. After being told he has AIDS Roy defends himself by claiming that he is, “a heterosexual man…who fucks around with guys” (Kushner 47). Since Roy presents himself as a straight man but he’s actually a closeted gay man the internalized homophobia and the hatred that he has of himself has manifested into a persecution of people he thinks are wrong.

One example of this is his part in the death of Ethel Rosenberg. In Act. 1 Scene 5 Roy proudly exclaims, “I pleaded till I wept to put her in that chair…Why? Because I fucking hate traitors” (Kushner 113). Roy was so adamant that Ethel dies because she represents a part of himself that he hates. Throughout Angels in America Roy is a traitor to his own masculine values and he expels that hatred to anyone who he deems as in the category of people who also go against his values this is shown as he calls other gay men in the play “sissy” or “faggot.” This hatred persists as he endures AIDS and up until his demise.

2 thoughts on “Roy Cohn, a Gay Man in Sheep’s Clothing”

  1. Roy perfectly exemplifies my current working theory that some of the most homophobic people out there are most likely in the closet. As you really eloquently described, Roy goes to great lengths to rationalize/situationalize away his sexual attraction to men as “not gay.” Whether it be the active villainization of the queer community or genuine misinformed discourse, non-heterosexuality can be REALLY hard to accept, and consequently can show up as fear projected in a very hateful mannor. When I was 13, I had my first queer experience with a girl at my summer camp. We were classic ‘instant best friends’ who just constantly needed to be hanging out, preferred to steal away somewhere private, and were always engaging in some sort of benign physical touch. Even though I knew our relationship was clearly not platonic, as I knew I felt love for her that was different than the love I felt for my other friends, I had a tremendous freak-out when she kissed me. I remember I wanted her to kiss me so badly, but felt such a deep, immediate fear of being judged for kissing another girl that I awkwardly played it down and ruminated about it for months. When we left at the end of the summer, I told the girl I was uncomfortable with her coming onto be because I wasn’t gay and that we had to stop talking. I didn’t tell any of my friends it happened, but expressed to them that I couldn’t come back to camp next year because I was scared everyone thought I was a lesbian. The camp was extremely progressive and they OBVIOUSLY didn’t care if I wasn’t straight, but I had internalized SO many homophobic messages that I let my sexuality cut me off from things and people that I loved on the mere premise that someone, somewhere might judge me. This turned into a sort of tangential annecdote about me when I was younger. But being an out lesbian adult, I look back on that series of events and can empathize with people that are scared so deeply into the closet that they feel like they have to prove their ‘straightness’ at the expense of others. Even Roy, who is made out to be a pretty irredemable character, is just so scared of being considered different that he makes enromous strides to tear down the people who are just like him.

  2. I agree. Undoubtedly, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community has led many people to repress their feelings and to be afraid to show themselves as they are. This repression is often manifested as hatred and anger, mainly against people who manage to see what they are trying to hide. At the same time, as has been mentioned in other posts, we can see in Roy a toxic masculinity and a contempt for everything feminine that makes him an even more discriminating character. Finally, this situation is aggravated when in the middle we find differences in social classes, races and privileges, as is the case with Roy. Roy has the possibility of hating because he is a man, white, a lawyer and with money.

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