In “Angels in America”, characters Harper and Prior represent the loneliness many find themselves experiencing. Loneliness is an emotion particularly associated with queerness, especially during the era of the AIDS epidemic, when queer people were no less than abandoned. Even aside from that, being systemically separated from the norm creates distance between them and their peers that is difficult to pierce. Harper, a woman married to a man, nonetheless is in close association to queerness as she finds her husband Joe to be a gay man. Queer experiences can be expressed through outlets other than gay characters themselves.
One of the earliest things the reader learns of Harper is that she is addicted to valium. This is a means of escaping her reality, as she creates a friend, Mr. Lies, in her head to keep her company. She experiences such intense isolation that she turns to the imaginary, a theme throughout the play. She believes herself to be in Antarctica, telling Joe, “I can have anything I want here – maybe even companionship, someone who has… desire for me” (3.3.14). She exits the reality of everyone around her because to be surrounded by such loneliness, of others and hers, is ironically too much to handle. Harper being a straight woman represents that societal issues, that people such as Reagan like to fence up in a single community to be ignorable, cannot but escape those walls. Her intense loneliness illustrates that AIDS is an issue that society must deal with, because if empathy isn’t enough of a reason, it affects more people than imaginable.
Prior’s experiences, though vastly different from Harpers, mirror hers in his loneliness. His nurse suggests he see a therapist, for “loneliness is a danger” (3.8.116). Drawn to medicine and fever induced visions and abandoned by his society to die uncared for, he finds himself also barely able to deal. However, he embraces his ability to stand alone. He slips up and introducing himself, says, “I am… abandoned” (3.7.2.). He draws strength from his isolation. “Angels in America” represents the ways loneliness, especially among queer people, can create different experiences.
Patti Smith wrote her biographical nonfiction “Just Kids” about her experience growing up alone in NYC with her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti goes through a lot of self discovery as a person and as an artist, while Robert does the same, learning to express his identity as a gay man in his art. He and his boyfriend end up dying of AIDS in the 80s. The book is about his journey, her journey, and their journey coming to terms with the barriers of sexuality. Smith describes the book as a sort of eulogy.
Opening this book I didn’t know much about either of the two and left it that way, taking it as it came in Patti’s own words. I rapidly attached to Robert’s character a mirror of understanding: my own discovery of my sexuality was pretty late compared to what feels like a lot of folks have so even reading his story in the past year was life-changing. Smith approaches him with such understanding and love I was blindsided, and to watch him fade away into another statistic hit my heart.
Angels in America’s image of AIDS-related celebrity death comes from a different perspective within the same era, a lack of acceptance in a wildly different environment. Robert became respected in his time in art and photography subcultures, and remained so, able to sell his collection to a famous museum before dying. I think it would be a good perspective on the cards different queer people are dealt and how they deal with their relationships. His with both Patti and both sets of parents reflect queer issues in fascinating and specific ways.
“…In the 1960s and 70s, the powers-that-be in the public schools, government, and industry taught us that trees and fish, rather than being endless, were renewable,” (Clare 22), writes Eli Clare in his book Exile and Pride. This perspective on sustainability in not only the 60s but modern politics can provide insight into how we view queerness in society. Social issues such as these often become so baked into our self-organization that the simple passage of time, while removing the ability to directly quote, cannot remove an aura of bias. Everything Clare speaks of will forever remain relevant due to its existence in history. Clare’s “worldview developed, layer upon layer” (23). Time adds without ever subtracting. Society taught him not to question that the salmon runs and clearcut forests might be the problem, instead of a lack of hatcheries and replantings. Queer people growing up in this world of ageless time don’t get to believe in themselves as a silent human essence. We never stand alone; there is always noise. We are permitted only to consider tree farms, replacing what was cut down, unquestionable passive action. While we try to fight it, education is viewed through a lens of permanent conveyed knowledge. Until we view it as an inherently biased and active experience, queer people’s escape from the band-aid lens will be a difficult journey.
Dirty-haired boy, my rascal, my sacrifice. Never
an easy dream. I watch him wrestle my shadow, eyelids
trembling, one fist ready for me.
Sacrifice is an often repeated message in Jones’ work. These lines reveal irrepressible struggle, creating the impression that “sacrifice” is not necessarily a choice. While canonically within the context of the biblical father/son struggle, I read it differently. To live truely gay men exchange one happiness for another, the pretend bliss of being closeted and accepted for that of their joy being known. “Eyelids trembling” is an example of the contrast, the struggle Jones draws. “Trembling” as a word often implies fear, but eyelids may tremble also when one is falling asleep, fighting it, falling. “Never an easy dream”. Fear as well as rest. The “ready” fist could be prepared for attack or protection of the narrator; perceived protection of self expressed in striking out at him, he who draws back the blinds over vulnerability. These lines can be interpreted to convey the intersection of bliss and utter violence, physical and not, that can be within gay love.