Polyamory, Constructionism, and the Queerness of Hollywood

Two thoughts have been stirring around my brain lately, and they require a bit of creative thinking, potentially: 1) Actors and actresses are, effectively, in on-going polyamorous relationships, 2) performers embody the rejection of (dangerous) ideologies of essentialism. 

Polyamory and Queer Hollywood 

The philosophy of polyamory says that it’s possible, even natural, for a person to be in love (or to be in some kind of sexual/family-like relationships) with more than one person at a time. In contemporary Western societies, such a notion is deemed immoral and unnatural by most people, even though it’s likely the historical norm. Present-day social constructions define the moral and natural, as well as the scope of possibilities. 

Of course, actors and actresses are not the characters they play, and when discussing fictional characters we focus on the fictional character in most cases, but for purposes here, we’re going to place a brief pause on that practice because I want to explore the notion that movie stars (and theatre stars) participate in very unique relationships, very “liberal” or “weird” relationships and these stem from an otherwise very conservative Hollywood institution.

Take the case of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Gosling and Stone have co-stared in several movies where they fall in love (falling in love is a very modern idea in itself – two hundred years ago people who were afflicted with such an “illness” where deemed dangerous to society and deemed weak). In these movies, Gosling and Stone–rather their bodies–share numerous passionate kisses and much more. Throughout these films, Gosling has been married to a woman, and Stone has dated various men. In addition, throughout these on-screen relationships between Gosling and Stone and their own real-life relationships with other people, they have each been in other on-screen relationships with various people.

So, effectively, Gosling, Stone, and the other people they have been in relationships with both on- and off-screen are participating in a very queer, polyamorous relationship–at the very least something very different than the idealized monogamous, patriarchal relationship.  

In another example, think of a long-running television show such as Walker: Texas Ranger or Full House. These shows have people who are in long-term romantic, sexual relationships with their real-life spouses and on-screen spouses. 

Or, think of Meryl Streep. She has been married to Don Gummer since 1978 and in that time span has been in a (fictional) relationship with many, many different men and women through the various roles she has played.

Of course such on-screen relationships are not “real” in the typical sense, especially as they are on a stage of some kind and have dozens and dozens of lights and cameras all around them, but the biological, physical, psychological bond cannot be fully deleted. And, as I have learned in my studies of film and culture, many a real-life relationship between Hollywood stars started when they were brought together in an on-screen relationship.

The real and reel cannot be fully separated. 

Constructionism and Queer Hollywood 

While there are–absolutely–many important conversations about the importance of a gay actor playing a gay character, a Asian actor playing an Asia character, a crip actor playing a crip character and many concerns when Hollywood uses normative White people to play such roles, Hollywood’s approach is somewhat queer from the perspective that it rejects essentialism and embraces constructionism.

Essentialism says who we are is essential to our being and that we are born certain ways. Queer Theory embraces constructionism and how our identities emerge from society and constantly change. 

Hollywood performers can and do identify in any number of ways–as related to ableism, class, gender, sexuality, race–and play characters that identify in any number of ways–as related to ableism, class, gender, sexuality, race. These don’t have to align. A person doesn’t have to identify in real life as a trans man to play such a role and playing such a role does not make the person in real life a trans man. Acting can be, simply, acting. Although, for sure, an actual trans man could bring more legitimacy to the role and help others trans people because representation and visibility matter. 

Attraction, behavior, and identity are all separate, whether we are talking about a person’s real life, fictional life, or the middle grounds where these morph and overlap. That these can be changed and manipulated in fiction is indeed very queer. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda