Exploring the world of Sherlockian shipping is, to me, kind of like staring into a fire.
Primal, beautiful, of infinite variety . . . yet a true mystery of the universe I will never understand on a gut level. I can build one, sure. I known the combination of tinder, sticks, and wood that will start such a fire on the technical side of things. But do I know what goes on inside the flames? Not at all, even though I've had it explained to me many a time. And yet it is so pretty to watch.
As a male, there's something in the female side of fandom's urge to pair male characters that I never will get, something I don't think most gay men even get, because shipping would surely exist even if sex did not. I remember a lot of the printed Granada Holmes fanfic from the eighties -- no sex, but very intense relationship issues between Holmes and Watson. (We still weren't on a first name basis with them back then, something I enjoy about BBC Sherlock's upgrade to our world. We're so "American" about it now.) And thanks to internet publishing and Sherlock fever, however, we're seeing just how far that the art of shipping can go.
The best "college course" on Sherlockian fan fiction that I've found so far is the Three Patch Podcast, which I got started on at 221B Con. It's not for the dabbler, with its in-depth discussions, because the ladies of Three Patch go deep during their shows, segmented like Sixty Minutes and going on for hours. But they themselves get into the subject of why women are so attracted to shipping, and there are some very insightful thoughts presented. Listening to it in my car means I can't take notes or easily quote it here, but trust me, I've heard some things there that really give one cause to think . . . and discuss with your friends.
I can understand why a Sherlockian from the old school might be put off by this crazy world that dives headlong into Sherlock and John having sex, just at it's basic level. When you get to Sherlock and Jim Moriarty in a sado-masochistic dom-sub relationship with Sherlock as the sub, it can almost hurt your brain to try and even consider that thought. But the key to it all is that it's just a study of Sherlock Holmes in a language that so many of us aren't used to speaking in, and may never be quite fluent in.
I've taken a lot of heat for my absolute rejection of Elementary as a Sherlock Holmes incarnation, and the fact that I can have those thoughts and embrace fanfic as a valid way of exploring Sherlock will, as usual, seem utter hypocrisy to those critics. But exploring the relationships between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Jim Moriarty and Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes, Molly Hooper and Jim Moriarty, etc., etc., and a giant ETC. through emotion and sex will always seem like a more valid Sherlockian past-time than just shoving Sherlock Holmes into a formulaic television format staple with creative strictures involving allowing for commercials and avoiding BBC lawsuits because someone thought they could make a buck copying another's success.
Even if I don't quite get it, and even if the idea of Sherlock and John french-kissing gives me the willies.
Because on an intellectual level, Sherlockian shipping is like watching a fire to me. Except unlike fire, which has to destroy to get the pretty flames, Sherlockian shipping uses creation to fuel its blaze of light and heat. There are some fires that don't quite catch, sure, just like there is a range of quality in any other field, but when they do light, they can be something to behold . . . even if I don't really want to stick my hand into the middle of one of those fiery, hot, chaotic things.
You don't have to understand something to think it's beautiful, whether it's fire or fanfic.