Sherlock + Interrupting John.
Sherlock + Interrupting John.
But how did Moffat and Gatiss solve the most vexing mystery, Sherlock’s sex life? “There’s no indication in the original stories that he was asexual or gay. He actually says he declines the attention of women because he doesn’t want the distraction. What does that tell you about him? Straightforward deduction. He wouldn’t be living with a man if he thought men were interesting.”
Moffat is not saying that Sherlock, like Austin Powers, misplaced his mojo. “It’s the choice of a monk, not the choice of an asexual. If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stay that way in the end – maybe he marries Mrs Hudson. I don’t know!”
I’m sure many Sherlockians are familiar with the above statement. After all, when the Guardian article was first published in January 2012, it was met with a furious reaction among fans, and rightly so. It’s a classic example of the ‘straight until proven otherwise’ perspective that unfortunately predominates in modernised adaptations of unspecific source material.
The most obvious issue with this is that it places ‘straight’ as the default orientation, an issue which has severe real life consequences. It is for this reason that so many people who do not identify as straight have to come out, a process which can be incredibly frightening and dangerous for many people. People are afraid to express who they are because being straight is portrayed as the norm in our society, and everything else as abnormal, wherein lies the basis of a significant amount of prejudice.
More specifically, however, Moffat’s statement shows a very ignorant interpretation of Holmes’ orientations in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon.
Firstly, let’s look at his ‘straightforward deduction’: ‘He wouldn’t be living with a man if he thought men were interesting.’ Surely Moffat does not mean to say that homosexual = sexually attracted to all men? Surely he is not sexually attracted to all women? I am predominantly sexually attracted to men. However, I am not sexually attracted to all men. I have as many male friends as female, and am very close to some of my male friends. There are several men that I could quite happily live with without ever once worrying about being distracted by matters of the flesh. In the canon, Holmes only ever lives with one man - Watson - and stayed a month with another - Victor Trevor - during his youth. Is it so unbelievable that a gay man could live alongside two men, neither of whom he was attracted to? Certainly not. Gay people are as capable of having platonic relationships with members of the same sex as straight people are of having platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. A rather poor deduction there, Moffat. Holmes would be appalled.
Now let’s look at this: ‘There’s no indication in the original stories that he was asexual or gay. He actually says he declines the attention of women because he doesn’t want the distraction.’
No, Moffat, you’re mistaken. He actually says he declines MARRYING because he doesn’t want the distraction: ‘love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.’ (The Strange Story of Jonathan Small, The Sign of Four)
You must remember that there were strict laws against homosexuality in Doyle’s period - anyone found guilty of sodomy would be sentenced to three years of hard labour which killed most who underwent it. The only legal unions were between men and women. Were same sex marriages legal, would Holmes have specifically stated that he would never marry a woman? I doubt it. It is a romantic union that Holmes is opposed to, not the distraction of women specifically.
This brings me on to another point: Holmes is arguably aromantic, i.e. does not feel romantic attraction to anyone. Moffat makes the unfortunately common mistake of failing to distinguish between sexual and romantic orientations. If he is so keen on gathering evidence to support interpretations, then he is missing some essential ones that support the claim that Holmes is aromantic (or, since there was very little awareness of non-binary sexual and romantic orientations in Doyle’s time, as close to aromantic as a character of his could be written). Most significantly, there is the fact that, on 16th June 1892, a year after he wrote A Scandal in Bohemia, Doyle wrote in a letter: ‘Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage’s Calculating Machine, and just about as likely to fall in love.’ Why is the date significant? Because, on Holmes’ relationship with Irene Adler, he said: ‘I remember when I was reading that story [A Scandal in Bohemia] as a kid, Sherlock goes on and on about The Woman, the only one who ever beat him, and you’re thinking, he’s had better villains than this. And then you click: he fancies her, doesn’t he? That’s what it’s about.’ [x] Not according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Moffat.
In fact, if Moffat is so desperate to disregard asexuality, and is apparently unaware of aromanticism, it would arguably be far more logical to presume Holmes to be gay until proven otherwise than straight. After all, Watson is the only character to whom he ever expresses notable affection. Let us take, for instance, The Adventure of the Three Garridebs:
'In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes’s pistol came down on the man’s head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair.
“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”
It was worth a wound–it was worth many wounds–to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
“It’s nothing, Holmes. It’s a mere scratch.”
He had ripped up my trousers with his pocket-knife.
“You are right,” he cried with an immense sigh of relief. “It is quite superficial.” His face set like flint as he glared at our prisoner, who was sitting up with a dazed face. “By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive. Now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?”’
This parallels the words spoken by a man who killed in the name of love in The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, written prior to The Adventure of the Three Garridebs:
‘In five minutes he died. My God! how he died! But my heart was flint, for he endured nothing which my innocent darling had not felt before him. There is my story, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps, if you loved a woman, you would have done as much yourself.’
Now, as I have said, I believe Holmes to be entirely indifferent to both sexes. That said, this is far more affection than Holmes ever displays towards a woman in all four novels and fifty six short stories, so why is Moffat so determined that he is more likely to be straight than gay (or bisexual/romantic, or pansexual/romantic, or greysexual/romantic)?
Does he require an explicit statement - ‘My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am attracted to men’ or ‘My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am not attracted to anyone’ - to stop presuming that any character who does not do so is straight? If so, he’s not only being incredibly heteronormative, but incredibly ignorant. When Oscar Wilde first published The Picture of Dorian Gray, it caused such an outcry due to its homoerotic subtext that it had to be censored. Alterations included, for example, changing ‘It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman’ to ‘From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me.’ [x] The book was even used against Wilde when he was put on trial for sodomy. Is Moffat really so ignorant as to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could ever have gotten away with writing Holmes (or Watson, or any other character) as gay had he wanted to?
Finally, let’s look briefly at that other statement: ‘If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting.’ According to Moffat, asexuality as boring. Much more boring than heterosexuality, apparently, despite the fact that that is regarded as the default. Sorry, Moffat, but there I was thinking that your programme was a crime drama. I was unaware that sex is so vital to make a detective interesting.
The canon is vague and littered with continuity errors, and Doyle was limited by his period, so when it comes to interpreting Holmes’ sexual and romantic orientations, there is plenty of room for interpretation, and I will accept that there is legitimacy in reading Holmes’ sexuality as repressed heterosexuality. That said, it is certainly not, as Moffat implies, the only legitimate reading, and I would certainly not argue that it is more (or even as) legitimate as various others.
This is so great; I just wanted to add a couple of things, one about canon and one about moffat:
(1) Holmes makes that comment about marriage once—ONCE—under highly suspicious circumstances: his closest companion is about to desert him for marriage. His comments in that context quite plausibly are coloured by jealousy and bitterness.
Why do I have a hard time reading canon SH as a repressed heterosexual? Because he just never seems to like or be interested in women all that much. He seems like he can’t be bothered with them most of the time. There is virtually nothing I can think of in canon (correct me if I’m wrong please!) that betrays repressed longing coming through. There is literally not one shred of evidence for Holmes’ heterosexual orientation…and a reading with NO textual support is a poor reading of a text.
(2) moffat’s comment is actually self contradictory. First he says that a story is “boring” if it’s asexual, if it’s not about deliberately suppressing or abstaining from one’s (erotic) desires. Then he claims that the central relationship in which we view Holmes IS asexual. Doesn’t that make his relationship with John “boring”? Which is it?
I’m not going to comment on BBC!Sherlock or Moffat because I can never do it right. What I will comment on, though, is the fact that it’s actually easier to read ACD Holmes as queer than straight.
Holmes didn’t fancy Irene (no matter what Moffat ignorantly thinks), never married, and the only two people we ever see him linked to are men- Victor and Watson. And his relationship with Watson, whatever form it took, lasted years and was rife with sentiment. Garridebs is a good example of that, as is The Devils Foot, The Empty House, The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton, Thor Bridge, etc… Furthermore, in one of the stories we do get from Holmes perspective, he mentions the absent Watson numerous times and praises him. That’s a big deal.
And while we’re talking about the dates of the stories/ACD himself, lets remember that ACD was a friend of Oscar Wilde, and that his attitude towards homosexuality was not nearly as sever as it could have been. Meanwhile the dating of The Three Students is significant- the start of April 1895 was a bad time to be queer in London, as that was when the trail of Wilde was taking place. Watson was a writer, the most significant person in his life is Holmes, Wildes book was being used against him in court, the press was loving it… Holmes and Watson are not in London during that case.
Tiger has made a whole bunch of posts about this. I’d recommend this one, if you haven’t read it already. There is also this analysis of the canon.
And a reminder that Holmes/Watson has existed for ages, in published works- here and here, for a start. Basically, I find it ridiculous for anyone to deny that there isn’t at least the possibly of queerness in Holmes, no matter what form (homosexual, queerplatonic etc) it takes.
Mallamun has excellent things to say about queer interpretations of Sherlock Holmes stories even in Doyle’s time and how you can’t disallow that reading.
Never have I been happier with additions to my posts than in this case. You’re all marvellous.
I would like to add as a side note that Moffat overlooks …
I read somewhere that one of ACD’s final statements on the series was something along the lines of ‘You can sexualise him, murder him, do what ever you want with him, he is yours’ (that could quite possibly be very misquoted I have got time to search it) In essence, Doyle gave the fans free reign to do with Sherlock what they please. This not only gives us an open door for fanfictions, fanart, and other fan works, but also leaves interpretation up to us.
As you can see from the above comments above it is very easy to see Sherlock as a queer-of-some-degree character, that is quite clearly not as heterosexual as Moffat tries to make out.
BBC!Sherlock is very much an AU … It is the original Sherlock set in a modern day London setting, and the writing is what Moffat, Gatiss and all the other writers, producers ect, take from the original. That is their interpretation, taken with the ‘blessing’ of Doyle, and if we can justify what we see with hardened evidence, as is seen above, in the original where homosexuality is very much outlawed and illegal, then it’s make sense that, in a society where homosexuality is becoming a widely accepted ‘thing’, we are going to make the same comparisons, deductions and conclusions as before. Only in the BBC version it is a lot more prominent.
The quote is: ’You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him.’ Interestingly, he said so in response to the actor William Gillette’s request to alter Holmes in the play in which he was performing as him. I say interesting because William Gillette was supposedly gay.
Here’s the thing with Moffat and sexuality….
I think we all need to stop talking about what he says in interviews so seriously and just analyze his writing.
In Scandal, it has some of my favorite depictions of how wide of a range sexuality can be.
Irene, identifies herself as a lesbian, has fallen in love with a man.
John, identifies himself as straight, doesn’t refuse when Irene presses on and on about Sherlock and John being a couple.
Sherlock, doesn’t identify with a sexual orientation, gets attached to a woman but not because of physicality, but because of her intellect.
C’mon… give Moffat credit where it’s due. If you never read his interviews, would you think so poorly of him? Analyze his work. His interviews could be misquoted or exaggerated for all we know. Or his actual words, or he could be joking. He has a strange sense of humor.
The first rule of writing literary or media criticism or analysis is to examine context. What people write is informed by the opinions they hold outside of writing.
I actually thought that sexuality was handled very poorly in A Scandal in Belgravia.
Irene’s homosexuality was never explored outside of an erotic setting, i.e. her work as a dominatrix. Her claim that she is gay is not textually supported - while she is only shown with a female client, all the others she mentions are male, and her relationship with Kate is never fully explored - there are no romantic implications beyond flirtation. She is really more an object of heterosexual male fantasy than a representation of female homosexuality (and definitely not homoromanticism).
John does contradict Irene - “We’re not a couple!”; “Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes, but if there’s anyone out there who still cares, I’m not actually gay!” Yes, he gives in when she says “Well I am. Look at us both”, and yes, that would have been a really positive moment, had it not been for a) the fact that, as stated before, Irene’s sexuality exists more for male pleasure than representation, b) John continues to assert his heterosexuality throughout the programme, and c) the word ‘bisexual’ is never mentioned once in the entire programme. Sexuality in Sherlock (or at least in ASiB) is portrayed as binary with exceptions - certainly not a particularly positive representation.
There’s no evidence that Sherlock doesn’t identify with a sexual orientation - other than John and Irene, no characters explicitly discuss their sexuality. Furthermore, his attraction to Irene in the BBC canon is exactly what this entire article is about - the fact that Moffat (in my opinion incorrectly) argued that the canon better supports a reading of repressed heterosexuality than any other, and attempted to nullify queer readings.
As to your last comment, it certainly doesn’t read like humour, particularly if you read the entire interview (and I included a link). As to ‘If you never read his interviews, would you think so poorly of him?’ - that’s nonsensical. The more experience you have of a subject, the more qualified you are to discuss it. I’d have been less qualified to have written this article had I not read plenty of interviews with Moffat (all of which follow the same lines regarding Sherlock’s sexuality - I doubt he’s been so significantly misquoted so many times that every interview in which he discusses it follows the same gist).
I do wonder, though, whether Moffat could be bluffing, at least about the gay part. After all, there’s more textual evidence in the programme to support reading him as such than as straight, and Mark Gatiss has commented that Sherlock’s relationship with Irene was purely intellectual and ‘doesn’t have to be something as mundane as a love story’.
it’s always interested me how watson gives extremely romantic descriptions of male physical beauty while acd avoids overt implications of homoeroticism by throwing in lines such as ‘very well equipped to steal the heart of a country girl' and 'which might easily hold an irresistible fascination…
Holmes & Watson + so heterosexual
Many people, myself included, have already written on the ‘love triangle’ trope as explored throughout series 3 (and the many implications of ‘The Sign of Three’ as a title), and I touched on this very aspect in a former post, but I wanted to post it as a stand-alone observation and analysis because I think it’s a particularly interesting aspect of the storytelling of The Sign of Three with regard to John’s relationships with other characters.
On three occasions, John speaks about Mary and Sherlock in connection with one another:
'See, the thing about Mary – she has completely turned my life around; changed everything. But, for the record, over the last few years there are two people who have done that… and the other one is- a complete dickhead.'
'Oh, look at you two. You should have got married.’
and, perhaps most interestingly of all:
‘I want to be up there with the two people that I love and care about most in the world. … Mary Morstan… and… you.’
It’s certainly interesting that he himself draws parallels between his wife and Sherlock and implies that he perceives them as similar, especially in the context of the last quote - using the term ‘love’ (surprising, for someone who was, in series 1 and 2, keen to avoid anything holding the slightest implication of interest in/attraction to men) without distinguishing explicitly between romantic and platonic love, or discussing either as superior to the other.
In The Sign of Three, a piece of dialogue that particularly gripped my attention was this:
JOHN (chuckling at something on his screen): “My husband is three people.”
MARY: Table five.
SHERLOCK (looking at a list): Major James Sholto. Who’s he?
MARY: Oh, John’s old commanding officer. I don’t think he’s coming.
JOHN: He’ll be there.
MARY: Well, he needs to RSVP, then.
JOHN (firmly): He’ll be there.
MARY: Mmm …
JOHN (reading from his phone): “My husband is three people.” It’s interesting. Says he has three distinct patterns of moles on his skin.
SHERLOCK (standing up and speaking quick-fire): Identical triplets – one in half a million births. Solved it without leaving the flat. Now, serviettes.
My first thought was this: what is the relevance of mentioning this case? It is immediately resolved by Sherlock, and the solution was a very obvious one, in my opinion - I don’t know about you, but I guessed that it was a case of identical triplets before Sherlock said so. The case was never investigated, it made no impact on the criminal investigation aspect of the narrative. So what was it doing there?
I then considered that it was between the first and second time that John reads out “my husband is three people” that Major Sholto is introduced. Major Sholto, you have have noticed, is twice discussed in such a way that creates strong romantic undertones. The first is shortly after we meet Sholto at the wedding:
([John] looks down, then raises his eyes towards the entrance and looks surprised.)
JOHN: Oh, God, wow!
(The scarred uniformed man we saw earlier has just walked in.)
MARY: Oh, G… Is that…?
JOHN: He came!
(As Mary smiles with delight, John walks over to the man and they salute each other. Sherlock walks over to Mary.)
SHERLOCK: So that’s him. Major Sholto.
(His voice sounds disapproving.)
(Sherlock narrows his eyes as he looks at the two men.)
SHERLOCK: If they’re such good friends, why does he barely even mention him?
MARY: He mentions him all the time to me. He never shuts up about him.
SHERLOCK: About him?
(She takes a drink from her wine glass, then grimaces.)
MARY: Urgh. I chose this wine. It’s bloody awful.
SHERLOCK: Yes, but it’s definitely him that he talks about?
(At the entrance)
JOHN: I’m very, very glad to see you, sir. I know you don’t really do this sort of thing.
SHOLTO: Well, I do for old friends, Watson… John. It’s good to see you.
JOHN: You too.
(Sholto nods, then looks around the room.)
SHOLTO: Civilian life suiting you, then?
JOHN: Er, er, yes, well… (he gestures towards Mary) …I think so, sir.
SHOLTO: No more need for the tricyclics?
JOHN: No, I-I go now and then. Sort of a top-up.
JOHN: Therapy can be very helpful.
(Sholto looks away.)
JOHN: Where are you living these days?
SHOLTO: Oh, way out in the middle of nowhere. You wouldn’t know it.
(Back at Sherlock and Mary.)
SHERLOCK: I’ve never even heard him say his name.
MARY: Well, he’s almost a recluse – you know, since …
MARY: I didn’t think he’d show up at all. John says he’s the most unsociable man he’s ever met.
SHERLOCK: He is? He’s the most unsociable?
SHERLOCK: Ah, that’s why he’s bouncing round him like a puppy.
(Mary grins and hugs his arm.)
MARY: Oh, Sherlock! Neither of us were the first, you know.
(He looks round at her.)
SHERLOCK: Stop smiling.
MARY: It’s my wedding day!
Here, Sherlock displays very clear signs of jealousy, and Mary saying ‘Neither of us were the first, you know’ on what she then reminds him is her wedding day is very telling. Again, there is no narrative reason for this discussion between Sherlock and Mary - there are plenty of other ways to establish that Sholto rarely makes public appearances. In fact, the dialogue between John and Sholto does that itself. John is apparently far more comfortable with male intimacy this series than before - he even goes so far as to speak frequently with Mary about a man he was evidently very close to, yet hasn’t seen for a while. Is it that he feels that his engagement/marriage provides him with a layer of security from ‘assumptions’ about his sexuality? After all, would the man who, in The Great Game, was “glad no one saw that” really admit to having been taught to slow dance by another man?
The second is during the flashback to John and Sherlock’s conversation on the bench while investigating the case of what will later be referred to as the ‘Invisible Man’:
(They sit in silence for a few seconds.)
SHERLOCK: So why don’t you see him any more?
SHERLOCK: Your previous commander, Sholto.
JOHN: ‘Previous' commander?
SHERLOCK (briefly closing his eyes awkwardly): I meant ‘ex’.
JOHN: ‘Previous’ suggests that I currently have a commander.
SHERLOCK: Which you don’t.
JOHN: Which I don’t.
SHERLOCK (with a small smile): ’Course you don’t. He was decorated, wasn’t he? A war hero.
JOHN: Not to everyone. He led a team of crows into battle.
JOHN: New recruits. It’s standard procedure; break the new boys in – but it went wrong. They all died; he was the only survivor. The press and the families gave him hell. He gets more death threats than you.
SHERLOCK: Oh, I wouldn’t count on that.
JOHN: Why have you suddenly taken an interest in another human being?
SHERLOCK: I’m… chatting.
Both the words ‘why don’t you see him anymore’ and the term ‘ex’ are, of course, most frequently used in reference to romantic relationships. Even John notes his unusual level of interest in ‘another human being’ (and ‘chatting’, Sherlock? really?) - remember that at this point in the narrative, when the flashback scene actually took place, Sherlock was not aware that Sholto was the intended victim of the ‘Invisible Man’. The parallel that Sherlock draws between himself and Sholto (implying that he is John’s current comamnding officer) is also notable, given that he is evidently jealous of him and discusses him romantic terms.
Then there’s the dialogue between Sherlock and Sholto through the hotel room door:
JOHN: Whatever you’re doing in there, James, stop it, right now. I will kick this door down.
SHOLTO: Mr Holmes, you and I are similar, I think.
(John turns away from the door and Sherlock walks closer.)
SHERLOCK: Yes, I think we are.
SHOLTO: There’s a proper time to die, isn’t there?
SHERLOCK: Of course there is.
SHOLTO: And one should embrace it when it comes – like a soldier.
SHERLOCK (firmly): Of course one should, but not at John’s wedding. We wouldn’t do that, would we – you and me? We would never do that to John Watson.
(Sholto closes his eyes. Outside, Sherlock steps away from the door and John walks closer, leaning towards the door and listening for any sound from the room. He straightens up and takes his jacket off.)
JOHN: I’m gonna break it down.
MARY: No, wait, wait, you won’t have to.
(The door opens. Sholto glances briefly at Sherlock, then lowers his eyes before looking at John.)
SHOLTO: I believe I am in need of medical attention.
JOHN: I believe I am your doctor.
(He follows Sholto as he turns and goes back into the room. Giving Sherlock a quick smile, Mary follows him. Sherlock closes his eyes for a moment, then follows them.)
Sherlock knows very little about Sholto (as much as Sherlock can know little about someone), yet he sees himself in him through their affection for John. Mary, too, acknowledges that again here in realising that Sherlock’s words will have convinced Sholto to let John do what he does best and save his life.
This series doesn’t just establish a subtextual Sherlock/John/Mary love triangle, but a Sherlock/John/Sholto love triangle as well.
There are three people present at John’s wedding who are evidently of significance to him - Mary, Sherlock and Sholto. This triplicity, the triplicity of ‘The Sign of Three’ as a title and the “my husband is three people” case could coexist coincidentally, but the universe (and the media industry, known for being obsessively precise) is rarely so lazy.
This is derived from my meta on romantic conventions in Sherlock, which can be read here.
really if you’re arguing that John can’t be in love with Sherlock because he’s straight (we don’t even know that) then I really hope you’re arguing with equal vigor that Irene was never in love with or had a crush on Sherlock because she’s gay
P.s. Even if you DO read John as straight, one of the major themes of A Scandal in Belgravia was the fluidity of sexuality and the possibility of falling for someone outside of your generally preferred group (“Well I am [gay]. Look at us both”) and to quote Steven Moffat’s earlier programme, Coupling, “Conversion can happen, course it can. Sure, it’s just the matter of meeting the right person.”
So what happened to Sheik? … Don’t worry, Sheik is back.
Zelda and her Phantom in SSB4
David Tennant | favourite rolesHappy 43rd Birthday, DT [18.04.1971]
Good luck.AU Crossover: Doctor Who/Harry Potter -> 3x10 “Blink”
Happy 43rd Birthday, David Tennant! (April 18th, 1971)
b. April 18, 1971