Roy Cohn on Sex and the Pecking Order

Princess X

ROY M. COHN, a successful New York lawyer and unofficial power broker:  This disease…

HENRY, Roy’s doctor: Syndrome –

ROY:  – whatever – it afflicts mostly homosexuals and drug addicts.

HENRY: Mostly. Hemophiliacs are also at risk.

ROY:  Homosexuals and drug addicts. So why are you implying that I…What are you implying, Henry?

HENRY: I don’t think I was implying anything.

ROY:  I’m not a drug addict.

HENRY: Oh come on Roy.

ROY:  What, what, come on Roy what? Do you think I’m a junkie, Henry, do you see tracks?

HENRY: This is absurd.

ROY:  Say it.

HENRY: Say what?

ROY:  Say, “Roy Cohn, you are a…”


ROY:  “You are a…” Go on. Not “Roy Cohn, you are a drug fiend.” “Roy Marcus Cohn, you are a…” Go on, Henry, it starts with an “H.”

HENRY: Oh I’m not going to…

ROY:  With an “H,” Henry, and it isn’t “Hemophiliac.” Come on!

HENRY: Why are you doing this, Roy?

ROY:  No, I mean it. Say it. Say, “Roy Cohn, you are a homosexual.” And I will proceed systematically to destroy your reputation and your practice and your career in the state of New York, Henry. Which you know I can do.


HENRY: Roy, you have been seeing me since 1958. Apart from the facelifts I have treated you for everything from syphilis…

ROY:  From a whore in Dallas.

HENRY: From syphilis to venereal warts. In your rectum. Which you may have gotten from a whore in Dallas. But it wasn’t a female whore.


ROY:  So – say it!

HENRY: Roy Cohn, you are…You have had sex with men. Many, many times, Roy. And one of those men, or any number of them, has made you very sick. You have AIDS.

ROY:  AIDS. Your problem, Henry, is that you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with? They don’t tell you that.


ROY:  No. Like all labels they tell you one thing, and one thing only: where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain, in the pecking order? Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. Not who I fuck or who fucks me, but who will pick up the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men, but really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men.  Homosexuals are men who, in fifteen years of trying, cannot pass a pissant anti-discrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me, Henry?


ROY:  No. I have clout. Lots. I can pick up this phone, I punch fifteen numbers, you know who’s on the other end in under five minutes, Henry?

HENRY: The President.

ROY:  Better, Henry. His wife.

HENRY: I’m impressed.

ROY:  I don’t want you to be impressed. I want you to understand. This is not sophistry. And this is not hypocrisy. This is reality. I have sex with men. But unlike nearly every other man of whom  this is true, I bring the guy I’m screwing to the White House, and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand, because, what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys.


ROY:  And what is my diagnosis, Henry?

HENRY: (after slight hesitation) You have AIDS, Roy.

ROY:  No, Henry, no. AIDS is what homosexuals have. I have liver cancer.

From Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America (1991)

Sculpture by Constantin Brâncuşi: Princess X (1915)

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