There is a history of Queer-representation on Western airwaves, and it has evolved as the years have rolled by. Recently though the community is getting a good deal of support from an unlikely source: BBC’s Sherlock – a modern reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series – comes off as more Queer-friendly that you would imagine upon first watching. Though the series isn’t based on relationship drama and exploring sexuality, the message is positive nonetheless.
Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is written and played as asexual. True to Doyle’s oringal, Sherlock seems to be indifferent to romantic and sexual entanglements. Behold a breath of fresh air; in nearly every other modern adaption of the tale, Holmes has found himself entangled (usually with Irene Alder) so it’s nice to see a series where Doyle’s characterization is respected and run with.
Shelock’s asexuality isn’t just in my head or brushed aside by the writers in favor of crime fighting and mysteries. At one point in the first season, Sherlock says over dinner with John Watson that he considers himself “married to his work,” as well as that when it comes to relationships they “aren’t his area.” In the unaired pilot, the statement was furthered by the declaration that “everything else is transport,” referring to the fact that he believes his body as merely support for his brain. The trend continues when Sherlock spurns John’s attempts at dating a woman named Sarah as “Dull. Predictable. Boring”; instead focusing all his attention on solving the cases he loves.
Upon further examination, he seems to spurn romantic attraction in general. A secondary character, Molly Hooper, has something of a schoolgirl crush on Holmes and thus lets him get away with murder at her workplace (St Bartholomew’s Hospital’s mortuary): flogging fresh cadavers with a riding crop, stealing body parts to help solve his cases or complete his experiments, as well as using technology he otherwise wouldn’t have access to. He, on the other hand, deliberately misunderstands when Molly asks him out for coffee (as asking for a coffee order) and puts her under his microscope, as it were, by pointing out her flaws and motivations in a dick-ish manner, often in front of other people for maximum effect.
However, in the second season episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” it is proven that Sherlock is not completely immune to attraction, asexual or not. This is the episode where Irene Alder (in this version a wealthy dominatrix) is introduced, and it is quickly apparent that Sherlock is fascinated with The Woman (the title that he bestows on her – as in she’s the only woman that stands out, the one person he things of when the word “woman” comes up in conversation – as he did in Doyle’s work). But it is an intellectual attraction – she bests him, plays him like a violin, gets him to commit an act of treason, and he still rescues her from her own execution thousands of miles from London when it would have been safer and easier for her to die. The attraction, however, is never consummated, and it is said that Alder doesn’t flirt with Sherlock, so much as at him, as he never responds.
While relationships, sexual or otherwise, are not the focal point of Sherlock, they do feature in it. John dates Sarah in the first season, and one episode is centred on Sherlock crashing their date. John goes on to date three more women off-screen, with the last of which dumping him in the second season premier, affecting his behaviour for the rest of the episode. Molly, the woman who was interested in Sherlock, briefly dated Jim, a man from her work in an attempt to get over Sherlock. Jim turned out to be a violent psychopath named Moriarty, that is to say, Sherlock’s infamous nemesis, but the fact remains that the relationship happened. Greg Lestrade, Sherlock’s ally from the police department, has an ex-wife that he’s trying to get back on friendly terms with, and Lestrade’s minions are shown to be having a sexual relationship. Sherlock, on the other hand, has never hinted through action, word or subtext, to have been involved with anyone. He keeps himself separate from that aspect.
Sherlock is not a show based around sexuality or finding yourself, coming out or making a statement, its two men being awesome and solving crimes, tearing round London and laughing like loons. It’s about the growing, platonic relationship between a modern-era Holmes and Watson. But it gets at an interesting, rarely-touched on aspect of the Queer community. And that’s worth a look, in my books.
–Jenna Gordon, from Peterborough