Closeted Homosexuality in Angels in America
The characters in the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner all struggle with their own sexuality. Prior, Belize, Louis, Joe, and Roy all deal with their own sexual issues in this play. Prior is the most openly homosexual character while Roy is the most closeted. Prior is chosen as the prophet, a symbol of virtue and morally righteousness he represents the good in this play, whereas Roy, represents evil. Belize, Louis, and Joe fall somewhere in between Prior and Roy. By doing so Tony Kushner places a negative stigma on those who hide their sexuality thereby exhibiting a negative opinion of closeted homosexuals.
Prior is one of the most openly gay charactersin this play. In act two as Prior is lying in the hospital. He says, “I want Louis. I want my fucking boyfriend, where the fuck is he? I’m dying, I’m dying, where’s Louis?” He shows his need and love for his partner during this time of suffering. Also, just before the arrival of the angel at the end of part one, Prior says, “I can handle pressure, I am a gay man and I am used to pressure”. In act four, in a response to Hannah asking a question about his homosexuality, Prior says, “Oh, is it that obvious? Yes. I am”. He obviously has no problem admitting his homosexuality, even in front of people he does not know. Because of Prior’s openness about his homosexuality throughout the course of the play, he is can easily be considered the most openly homosexual character in the play.
Belize is also very open about his homosexuality and is very much out of the closet. The way he talks to people clearly shows how open he is towards it. After Roy mentions his WASP doctor, Belize says, “He’s not queer. I am”. Then after Roy says Belize has absolutely no reason to try to help him, Belize says, “Consider it solidarity. One faggot to another”. The word is usually considered to be offensive but being able to say that word indicates a great level of comfort with his own sexuality. Through Belize’s comfort level and self-confidence, his frankness about his sexuality reveals itself.
Because Louis is in a relationship with Prior, one would not think Louis would be considered uncomfortable with his sexuality or closeted; however, in the first few scenes, the audience sees Louis hiding his homosexuality from his family. When he and Prior are at Louis’s grandmother’s funeral, the two talk about how Louis does not like to be open around his family. Louis says, “Sorry I didn’t introduce you to….I always get so closety at these family things” (Kushner 25), to which Prior responds with, “Butch. You get Butch. ‘Hi Cousin Doris, you don’t remember me I’m Lou, Rachel’s boy.’ Lou, not Louis, because if you say Louis they’ll hear the sibilant S” (Kushner 25-26). This conversation proves Louis’s insecurity about his homosexuality when among family members. Because of this, Louis cannot be considered completely open with his sexuality.
Joe is definitely not comfortable with his homosexuality. His marriage to Harper confirms his closeted-ness. In act two when Joe comes out to Harper, he flat out tells her, “I don’t have any sexual feelings for you, Harper. And I don’t think I ever did” (Kushner 84). The lack of sexual attraction he has towards Harper further supports the falsity behind their marriage. A little earlier on, he reveals his desire to change, “I thought maybe that with enough effort and will I could change myself…but I can’t…” (Kushner 83), once again indicating dissatisfaction with the homosexuality within himself. When he finally realizes or admits his homosexuality to himself, he decides to come out to his mother. When he does tell her, however, he begins by saying “Yeah, well, it gets worse from here on” (Kushner 81). This negative attitude towards homosexuality further supports Joe’s discomfort with his true self. He obviously considers being gay a bad thing. Because of the multitude of reasons evident in the text, Joe is obviously in the closet.
Roy has the most extreme case of fear and denial of sexuality in the play. He has a very negative opinion of gays. His negative outlook on the homosexuality within himself clearly indicates how closeted he is. The way he talks to his doctor in act one shows his insecurity about being labeled a homosexual: “Because what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man…who fucks around with guys” (Kushner 52). The kiss between Roy and Joe in act five further supports the negative opinion Roy has of the gay community. He can only embrace his sexuality when it will not have any repercussions: after he’s dead. He clearly feared expressing his true self in life.
Prior is very open about his sexuality. He represents virtuosity and good in the play. When Louis seeks forgiveness at the end, Prior says, “I love you Louis” (Kushner 273). His goodness allows him to admit the love he still holds for Louis. The generous act of forgiving him after everything he has done is something capable of only truly good people. In Prior’s last lines, he praises and blesses the audience. “You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life” (Kushner 280). These heartfelt lines also show his benevolence.
Belize is also very much out of the closet. To correspond with his openness, he stands alongside Prior in his morally uprightness and virtuosity. His goodness is most evident in act five after Roy has died and Belize wants to thank him for the pills and say the Jewish prayer to the dead for him. He asks Louis to say it because Belize does not know it. Upon Belize’s request, Louis snaps, “I’m not saying any fucking Kaddish for him. The drugs OK, sure, fine, but no fucking way am I praying for him…I can’t believe you’d actually pray for [him] (Kushner 255 – 256). Belize says in response, “Louis, I’d even pray for you” (Kushner 256). He reveals the true goodness of his nature through this statement, and he goes on to talk about why he thinks even the most evil character in the play deserves a prayer, further supporting his goodness: “He was a terrible person. He died a hard death. So maybe….A queen can forgive her vanquished foe. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t count if it’s easy, it’s the hardest thing. Forgiveness” (Kushner 256). According to Belize, forgiveness is the hardest thing to do. Since he forgives Roy, something only capable of truly good people as mentioned in the above paragraph, Belize falls into his place right next to Prior as being morally upright and virtuous.
Louis’s self-consciousness about his homosexuality surfaces only around his family. He is only partially closeted. He loves Prior, but chooses to leave him due to his discomfort surrounding Prior’s AIDS. This act is forgiven near the end of the play, and Louis and Prior remain friends. The act of forgiveness occurs in act five scene eight when Louis says to Prior, “I really failed you. But…this is hard. Failing in love isn’t the same as not loving. It doesn’t let you off the hook, it doesn’t mean…you’re free to not love” (Kushner 273). To this, Prior says, “I love you Louis” (Kushner 273). And Louis comes back with, “Good. I love you” (Kushner 273). Louis knew that what he did was wrong, so he went to Prior and sought forgiveness. Louis only has a minor flaw in the play, for which he is forgiven. To correspond with this, he is only partially in the closet.
Joe, having recently discovered or realized his homosexuality, abandons his wife to explore a relationship with Louis. Harper never forgives him for this. Ultimately, he is incredibly self-centered. Even while apologizing to Harper, he is conceded and thinks only of himself. He tried to convince her to stay when he said, “I don’t know what will happen to me without you. Only you. Only you love me. Out of everyone in the world. I have done things, I’m ashamed. But I’ve changed. I don’t know how yet, but….Please, please, don’t leave me now” (Kushner 272). Everything revolves around him, and nothing concerns her—which should not be the case in this particular situation. In the general scope of the play, however, this type of behavior is only in the middle of the flawed scale. So to correspond with Joe being partially out of the closet, he is partially flawed.
Roy’s sexuality is the most closeted. He represents evil in the play. Act five shows his evil nature. Roy is in a hellish place after his death talking to the ultimate being about how Roy could represent him in this particular case. Roy says, “Yes, I will represent you, King of the Universe, yes I will sing and eviscerate, I will bully and seduce, I will win for you and make the plaintiffs, those traitors, wish they had never heard the name of” (Kushner 274). The liar, cheater, and malicious nature in Roy make a final appearance in this speech. He clearly represents the evil in this play, and to go along with that, he denies his sexuality the most.
By reading this, one can see the obvious correlation between how flawed these characters are and the degree at which they are in the closet. Simply stated, the further one is in the closet, the more flawed or evil one is. By making this startling correlation in his closeted characters, Tony Kushner places a negative bias on those that are not open about their homosexuality. Obviously, being a homosexual himself, he has a negative opinion of closeted gays. He chose to express this in a very interesting manner through the closeted characters in his play. He also goes to the next level to say that coming out of the closet is not the only thing needed to become virtuous. Louis receives forgiveness from Prior; but Prior also tells Louis that he cannot come back. Prior says, “But you can’t come back. Not ever. I’m sorry. But you can’t (Kushner 273). With regards to Joe, he realizes and explores his homosexuality midway through the play. He is not commended on coming out, but rather criticized for continuing to want to be self-indulgent and abandoning Harper. Harper responds to Joe asking her to call him. She, not forgiving him in the slightest, says, “No. Probably never again. That’s how bad. Sometimes, maybe lost is best. Get lost. Joe. Go exploring” (Kushner 273). This supports that Kushner’s opinion of closeted gays goes even further down to say that they not only need to come out of the closet, but seek to redeem themselves for the sins they have committed. Even if they do find redemption, it may not be enough. Roy is another example of this, only he never comes out himself. The public learns how he dies, thereby finding out about his homosexuality. He, never coming out willingly, is the only character in the play that dies. And he died un-forgiven by the world. This shows Tony Kushner is trying to relay the message that those who never come out of the closet or seek forgiveness for their sins will ultimately get what they deserve — death. This conclusion can be generalized and not taken literally, and in that way applied directly to everyday situations. Even so, this remains another startling conclusion gathered from Tony Kushner’s work.
In his play, Tony Kushner writes about flawed homosexual characters. While doing so, he develops an interesting relationship: the farther in the closet one is, the more flawed or evil one is. By making this startling correlation, Kushner places a negative stigma on those who are not open about their homosexuality. Through this evident relationship, Kushner strongly conveys his negative attitude toward closeted gays; thereby adding startling depth to his play, Angels in America.