all right, so I’m going to attempt to be a bit more articulate now that it’s
morning afternoon (I really need to do something about my sleep habits).
This is about Sherlock.
I’ve tried twice now to start and stop explaining why I get so bothered by things that Mssr. Moffat has occasionally said. Both attempts have degenerated into very long, rambling paragraphs about learning what a lesbian was in sixth grade through playground jeers, about awkward forced coming-out-stories that should never have been necessary, about my mother blaming Xena for my sexuality and once telling me Benedict Cumberbatch would probably not be interested in me anyway because I was bisexual.
All of that is getting a bit distracted from the point, and yet not.
Within the construct of the Sherlock universe, Sherlock’s sexuality is a non-issue. Isn’t that wonderful, Mssrs. Moffat and Gatiss have said, that people look at two blokes living together nowadays and think that they’re gay, isn’t it great that we’ve come that far.
The only sexuality that is at issue in Sherlock is John’s, and that is only to himself. John is the only person concerned with how people perceive his and Sherlock’s relationship- more importantly, how they perceive him. John is secure in his sexuality until he meets Sherlock, when he realizes for the first time what it is like for people to assume contrariwise to what your identity is. Welcome to the queer community, John, where almost everyone knows what it feels like to be assumed straight until proven otherwise, and oftentimes ignoring what they’ve said themselves on the matter.
John’s sexuality (and to a much lesser extent, Irene’s, but she is not a topic in this essay) is the only relevant sexuality portrayed in the Sherlock universe, because he is the only person who cares about it. It is relevant only to himself and to his character. Very distinctly, he is only preoccupied with his own identity. Very, very distinctly, he spells out that Sherlock’s sexuality is not at all the point.
In the very first episode, in a very short amount of time, we are introduced to a universe in which the titular character’s sexuality is deliberately portrayed as an enigma, and that it is not important.
This is phenomenal. Take a deep breath. The air in this town they live in must be incredible.
Because think of a character where their sexuality was irrelevant, now; think of how many shows you may have watched where someone’s sexuality was never once formally addressed and think about how many of those characters it was assumed were straight.
If it is not spelled out for us either through dialogue, portrayed partners or stereotyping, make no mistake modern media does make the assumption that a character with an unidentified sexuality is straight. Sherlock takes it much, much further, to a place that it gives me chills and thrills to go, where it is made clear from the very beginning that you don’t and aren’t supposed to know what his sexuality is. Throughout two seasons we are constantly reminded that Sherlock’s sexuality is not what is relevant or being questioned here; it’s John’s.
Mssrs. Moffat & Gatiss created a world in which the titular character could be straight, could be gay, could be bi-pan-a-sexual, and it does not matter.
That’s why it sort of kills me inside whenever Moffat says in an interview or in response to a fan question that Sherlock, as a character, is empirically straight. That’s why it’s kind of a tragedy, every single time he does it. Whatever his authorial intent was in writing his Sherlock is actually irrelevant, because what Sherlock is isn’t what the author might have thought-or-meant, it’s what is portrayed on screen. On screen we’ve been given this world where it’s all fine. We’re reveling in it. We’re rejoicing in the portrayal of a character who truly could be any ONE of us- bisexual fans, gay fans, straight fans, asexual fans, people who think all these labels are a fucking waste of time- because Sherlock Holmes is not defined by his sexuality and neither are we.
I feel a little bit like screaming something, whenever Moffat says “of course he’s not gay” “of course he’s not asexual” “it’s obvious on screen, isn’t it.” Saying fans are free to interpret and enjoy the work however they like only goes so far as the sentence before it, which is usually “well, obviously not.”
It’s like a betrayal, or at least that’s what it feels like to me, and that’s why I get so so very frustrated. It’s a betrayal of the promise given to us in that first episode that it’s all fine and it doesn’t fucking matter. Feeling a need to say in an aside your authorial intent as a reality of the series undoes everything beautiful you were trying to do IN the series. Isn’t that wonderful, that people assume these two men are gay because they live together and love each other- isn’t that wonderful, but really, you guys, they’re not, but you can think they are if you really want to, but you’re wrong.
It makes me a bit dizzy, this frustration, because it is a very sharp reminder that we do not live in the world that Sherlock takes place in. And our reality is not John Watson yet. It still cares about what we are, oftentimes and tragically more than who.