Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cherchez la Queer [essay]

This essay first appeared in the zine "Worth the Wound" (2004).

Cherchez la Queer: Casting a Little Light on Holmes-Slash

Plato espoused only two types of relationship between men: a non-sexual and spiritual friendship between equals, and a sexual bond between a wise older man and a beautiful boy. Members of the wider Sherlock Holmes fandom have been trying to shoe horn the immortal pair into one of these platonic types for years. The greater number prefers the former. They will treat discussions of criminality and drug abuse with great sanguinity; but sexual inversion? Mon deau! The Victorians themselves could not be more outraged. A minority will consider the option but only as an aspect of that vision by which Watson is passive, adolescent, a subservient wife or faithful dog.

Slash as a movement, allows women to indulge in a fondness for m/m homoeroticism, but beyond that it champions a more egalitarian view of love. It runs alongside a general will amongst Sherlockians to rehabilitate Watson from the unattractive bumbling portrayals that were common before the recent and admirable Granada production in which David Burke played a mild yet strong Watson alongside Jeremy Brett's mercurial Holmes. When the old tradition referred to Watson as being "feminine ... shown in his love-like relation to Holmes" some denigration was clearly intended, but this kind of chauvinism is increasingly rejected by the modern reader.

The slash perspective is part of the greater diversity of Sherlockian interpretation of Holmes and Watson as asexual, heterosexual, loving without sex, that one or the other was actually a woman, that Watson was a father figure for Holmes.... A homosexual reading is possible given Watson's/Doyle's silence about sleeping arrangements. It is not actually mentioned, yet given the legal and moral approbation of the time how could it be? Holmes shows muted admiration of a woman, but most markedly for one who appears in male dress--while Watson actually marries (but produces no children). Doyle disapproved of homosexuality, but may have unconsciously expressed it. Holmes deserts Watson callously for years, but returns bearing Catallus and causing Watson to swoon. There are signs of great closeness (such as the one from which this volume draws its name), but in the pre-Freudian world such intimacy was not synonymous with romance.... Slash interpretations are a small, new part of an old, great debate.

As the stories that follow show, slash writers do not ignore these little inconsistencies, but rather dwell on them. Troubling topics are treated from a number of different angles; Holmes' fake death, Watson's marriage, the puritan morality of the day. These obstacles are recast and reworked; sometimes smoothed away and sometimes recognized as insoluble--but always against the backdrop of two great men and their love for each other. In the final analysis it is obvious that we, as writers and as readers we are free to fantasize as we wish.... So, is Holmes-slash revisionist? No more than Sherlockian discussion and pastiche has ever been, and if so--what of it? It is the duty of every Sherlockian to keep Holmes and Watson's memory 'green', and some of us do this by making it a little pink along the way.


turnip said...

Watson is described in one of the books as having "experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents", not to mention he was also married twice.

Emily Veinglory: said...

Indeed. But I would not that having sex with women does not preclude also having it with men...

Ultimately there is nothing in the canon that is explicitly homosexual. But pastiche does reinvent the material in this and other areas.