Coulson: Goddammit, Fury, another acronym? What is it with you and acronyms? Is Fury even your real name, or is that an acronym, too?
Fury: It stands for Fucking Unbeatable Righteous YOLO.
Fury: It's got a second acronym inside the first, as backup.
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’.
One does have to disregard “Lion’s Mane” where Holmes is attracted to Maude Bellamy. (Holmes does so many or if character things in this story that it is fairly easy to do… but it’s worth a mention.)
The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane is interesting in that respect. It’s one of the only times in which a Holmes expresses physical interest in a woman, but it isn’t a matter as simple as sexual attraction. The exact quote is:
'Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed.'
In other words, he is saying that her draw for young men (and he himself is elderly at this point) is unsurprising. It reads more like an appreciation of her beauty than of direct personal attraction, which also makes more sense in context - Holmes chided Watson for romanticising his work, so it seems unlikely that he would make such a comment unless it were relevant to the case, which it is. He makes a similar comment about Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia:
'I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.'
Again, this reads more as an acknowledgement that she would be attractive to others - which is, again, relevant to the case - than personal attraction.
It’s important to remember that people did not commonly distinguish between romantic and sexual orientations at this time, and we know that Watson, who was reporting this speech, did not believe Holmes to be in love with Adler - ‘It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind’ - and nor did Doyle, as noted above (‘Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage’s Calculating Machine, and just about as likely to fall in love’).
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve found people stunningly beautiful in the past without desiring them sexually or romantically. Aesthetic attraction is not synonymous with sexual or romantic attraction, or else we’d all be attempting to marry sculptures.
The Periodic Table of Storytelling
I think an excellent and challenging exercise for narrative writing would be to select at random a handful of elements from The Periodic Table of Storytelling* by James Harris. It’s wonderful:
[make sure to click through for the full version]
*fair warning to teachers: unfortunately, some of this is probably not quite safe for the classroom.
short list of actors who have not won an oscar:
- james dean
- johnny depp
- brad pitt
- helena bonham carter
- robert downey jr
- glenn close
- will smith
- samuel l jackson
- liam neeson
- sigourney weaver
- tom cruise
- julianne moore
- ralph fiennes
- laura linney
- ed harris
- gary oldman
now will you please for the love of christ shut up about leonardo dicaprio