Sunday, April 21, 2013

And sometimes, after a case, they cuddle . . .

It's a new day for Holmes and Watson's sexuality.

One of my favorite scenes in all of movie-dom is the ballet sequence from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in which Watson freaks out after having his heterosexuality questioned. One can image poor Private Life Watson's reaction were he to encounter modern slash fan fiction. They'd probably be locking the poor chap up in Dr. Seward's sanitarium in the room next to Renfield. The very question of possible homosexuality was horrific to Private Life Watson, but then, he was also horrified at the possibility that Holmes had his way with a beautiful naked amnesiac client. Private Life Watson seemed to be quite the sex-negative chap, when you come right down to it.

Since neither Holmes nor Watson had known offspring in the original Canon, we can't be sure that either of them actually had sex. Holmes was focusing on the detective art above all else, and Watson liked to keep even his marital status rather confusing. (Hmm, were Watson not Watson, one would wonder if he did that on purpose to keep his opportunities open.) Fanon has Holmes and Irene Adler eventually having some honeymooning vacations together, sometimes resulting in the birth of Nero Wolfe. And Watson, if the tin box pastiches are at all true, had some descendants.

To me, it always seemed like Holmes was too career-driven to even take vacation trysts with Irene Adler, but if the more romantic Sherlockians wanted him to get it on with her, well, I suppose that was okay. Everybody deserves a little happiness now and then. And besides, in the Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett sort of Sherlocks, our favorite detective was past his sexual prime anyway, and the question really didn't matter. Nigel Bruce as a ladies man is almost impossible to wrap your head around.

Now, with two younger actors in the roles of Holmes and Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman seem like a Holmes and Watson who could definitely be sexually active. Watson dates, Holmes's observational powers shut down when he sees a naked Irene. (And really, you know he could deduce even from naked if he wanted to -- he's just that good!) They have that Starsky and Hutch buddy thing going that fan fiction has always been able to easily slide into a comfortable gay pairing.

The name "slash" in referring to gay fan fiction comes from old Star Trek fanzines that used to denote stories of Kirk and Spock as lovers as "K/S" for easy reference. I first ran into it in the early eighties and it always fascinated me that it wasn't created by gay men, but straight women. It's taken decades for Sherlock and John to catch up to Jim and Spock as a major source of slash fan fiction, but thanks to Cumberbatch and Freeman, the day is finally here. And kind of like Holmes and Irene going off to conceive little Nero, it's not a part of my primary headcanon, but I can see how it might be in some alternate universe.

Elementary, as always, is an entirely different animal. One would think, with the absence of so many major female characters, that show would be Slash Central. Holmes/Gregson, Holmes/Bell, Holmes/Rhys, Holmes/pre-op Miss Hudson, Holmes/Marcus. And there is a bit of it out there, but with a relationship between Holmes and Joan Watson off the table so far on the show, that relationship seems to be begging for the relief of fanfic's black market satisfaction first.

Recently, star of The Avenger's Mark Ruffalo, when confronted with Bruce Banner/Tony Stark fan art, was as accepting as Martin Freeman is well known for being, and said, "I endorse [this art] one hundred percent. You know what it is? It's open-source creativity." He really hit the nail on the head.

Some really great art has always come from unfulfilled needs on the part of the creator. It's something that resonates in our minds and hearts and reminds us that we are all much the same on those levels. When it comes to Holmes and Watson, there are great areas of untapped creativity still to be explored, with places fans will now go that previous fan generations and the two or three existing ancient male-only Sherlockian societies are afraid to touch. (Literally. Snicker.)

Slash fiction with Holmes and Watson may not be for everyone, but it's becoming a part of our culture that is going to be around whether one supports it or not. Robert Downey Jr.'s antics in promoting his last Holmes movie has to make you wonder if a gay Holmes and Watson might not even be coming to the big screen before too much time has passed. The idea is out there.

But as long as Sherlock Holmes remains a solid, entertaining Sherlock Holmes, and as long as John Watson remains a solid, entertaining partner and friend to him, what they do in their private lives is their business, as far as I'm concerned. In their public lives, on the big and little screens, though, I might prefer it if we continue to get a naked Irene for every naked Sherlock, as Stephen Moffat so graciously provided last year.  If not?

Well, I might have to brush up on my art skills and start doing fan art of my own.


  1. And besides, in the Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett sort of Sherlocks, our favorite detective was past his sexual prime anyway, and the question really didn't matter." Middle-age men past their sexual prime? TMI.

  2. What was it you said about unfulfilled needs? lol We'll see if Elementary's Irene keeps her clothes on or not!

    As far as slash in Sherlockian fandom goes I'll freely admit to reading and enjoying it as I do more typical pastiches. I'm with Oscar Wilde in that a book is not moral or immoral but either well or badly written. But sweet mother of Doyle, is this a taboo subject in certain Sherlockian circles!

    I hope you are ready for the consternation you're probably going to get from some Sherlockian traditionalists for even bringing up the topic of Holmes'sexuality. It's long been accepted that Holmes was asexual even though statistically that is the least likely orientation. And because Conan Doyle didn't make him overtly gay (not that he could and still get published) then, my goodness, that is not possible! And Watson couldn't have been gay, either, because he got married several times and everyone knows gay men never marry wo... oh never mind.

    Only Conan Doyle can say with certainty what went on in the bedrooms in 221b, and he ain't saying, but it irritates me that no one can even entertain the possiblity of Holmes/Watson or Holmes/insertnamehere without receiving the censure of their Sherlockian peers.

    So thank you for this post. It's refreshing to see someone with BSI after their name -- and a male someone at that -- bring up this topic and decide it's no big deal. Because it really, really, isn't.

  3. "It's taken decades for Sherlock and John to catch up to Jim and Spock as a major source of slash fan fiction, but thanks to Cumberbatch and Freeman, the day is finally here."

    Erm... no. There's been Holmes/Watson slash fiction out there before Sherlock. I know some resonating from the Granada series - although I really never could see those two getting it on.

    Apparently there were some grumblings regarding the sexuality panel at 221B-Con as it was felt that the lady holding the panel didn't know what she was talking about.

    1. Sorry, but you kind of skipped the words "major source." I was aware of the slash from Granada, but in the pre-internet days, it was a very minor part of the fanfic I saw at cons.

      And that lady holding the panel at 221B Con? They're right. She was a self-promoter who was bugging both old school Sherlockians and new school Sherlockians alike. I knew one person who avoided every panel she was on. Not expecting the crowds they were going to get, the organizers accepted whoever stepped up early on, and got one or two clunkers.

  4. I take issue with your comment that "the Rathbone/Brett sort of Sherlocks" were past their "sexual prime." Brett was 51-61 years old when he played the great detective. My husband (16 years my senior) was 42 when we married. He is now almost 59. I can speak from experience when I say, in that department, some men, like fine wine, get better with age.

  5. Ah, you're right, sorry. Kirk/Spock was more prominent then than Holmes/Watson.

  6. David R. McCallisterMay 24, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    It's taken me a little while to work through a good pastiche I got in April at the 221B-CON, "Kissing Sherlock Holmes" by T. D. McKinney and Terry Wylis. While reading this book, I have in my minds eye a Cumberbatch/Freeman-ish pair (not to mention the character-avatars from the CON). That vision has made all the difference. While Brad can tell you I'm more of an "old-school" Sherlockian, I thought this was very well done, and I'd like to think it is right on the mark for the current trend. If you want to take the plunge into some non-objectionable homoerotic pastiche, Kissing SH would make a good first choice and I recommend it. It may not be the Canon, but I'll gladly read more from McKinney and Wylis - and look to see them at 221B-CON #2 in Atlanta next year (BTW,neither could possibly be the person negatively decribed above - they're great folks).

    I wasn't always of this point of view. Probably twenty years ago- 1992 or so, I got "The Sexual Adventures of SH" at the Mysterious Bookstore in NYC. I have to admit I was sort of warned against it by the clerk, but got it anyway, and was hoping for "sprightly" material. In fact it was very un-appealing and very homosexually violent. Later I read some of the SH-meets-Oscar Wilde stuff, and most of it seemed a little too agenda-pushing for my taste. If I want sex and gender agendas, I prefer Irene types in vamp/domina modes (although maybe I'm more into Isadora Klein territory these days - and do pass the langur, Professor). Even now, I expect that the soft-touch non-confrontational approach won't be to everyone's taste, but I think McKinney and Wylis have it right- at least in this genre.

  7. Brad - I, too, must take issue with the very notion of Jeremy Brett being past his sexual prime. The man was still absolutely stunning when he portrayed Holmes. And while Mr. McCallister may visualize a younger pairing--and Cumberbatch/Freeman are adorable--, I had Jeremy Brett in my head all during "Kissing Sherlock Holmes." And a very lovely visual it was, too.