Lasse Kekki, Turku (Finland):

Millenium Approaches: The Question of Gay Identity in Tony Kushner's Play "Angels in America"

Tony Kushner's (1956-) apocalyptic play 'Angels in America' I-II (1991, 1992) has been a great success both in America and in Europe. The play tells about AIDS and gays. My purpose is to examine the play as an example of a shifting phase in the gay movement and gay studies.

During the 1980s the field of gay studies was dominated by and endless quarrel of contructionism versus essentialism. For a long time the questions was asked whether homosexuality is something one is born with or something one has to build or construct. Since the beginning of the 1990s queer theory has been trying to go beyond this quarrel. Queer theory is both a political movement and an academic field of inquiry, the best-known representatives of which are Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Queer theory questions such so called natural oppositions as that between gay and hetero.

Angels in America calls into question the idea of a unitary and coherent gay identity. All the main characters in the play are gay, but they are all different. There is a Black gay man (Belize), a conservative closet case (Roy Cohn), a Jewish gay (Prior) who becomes the prophet of the play. The main idea is that there is no true gay identity and that any gay identity is something that is constantly changing.

Moreover, the play is important in another way. It actually homosexualizes American history. Instead of seeing homosexuality as marginal issue, it makes it into a central and important factor in American society. The play undermines the central fact of the American democratic tradition that has been its capability of renewing itself. This time the central motivation for these renewing itself. This time the central motivation for these renewals are the American minorities. Furthermore, the play is a deep moral statement about the catastrophe of AIDS which has plagued the American gay communities since 1980.

About the Author:
Lasse Kekki, born in 1964. Phil. Lic. Research Fellow, Comparative Literature, University of Turku.. Title of licenciate thesis (1996): The Construction and Deconstruction of Gay Identity in David Leavitt's Novels and Tony Kuyshner's Play 'Angels in America'. Now working on Ph. D. thesis concerning the gay identity and gay literature. - Address: Humalistonkatu 2 B A 9, 20100 Turku, Finland. Phone: +358 2 233 46 37; eMail: laskek@utu.fi Zum Anfang