I wanted to write a blog post to address the accusations of ‘queerbaiting’ and homophobia that’s been levelled at the Sherlock team. It’s something I’ve not felt I’ve been able to do before, which is a bit ridiculous as I am a lesbian so ‘queerbaiting’ and homophobia are things that affect me so I should be able to respond but I’ve always struggled to understand what exactly ‘queerbaiting’ is. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘queerbaiting’ and homophobia are essentially two sides of the same coin. It’s the same attitude.
John and Sherlock are never going to get together as a couple. This isn’t because the bosses over at the BBC are homophobic or because the audience would be homophobic, it’s because Holmes and Watson were never a gay couple. Holmes and Watson don’t even really come close to having what we term a ‘romantic friendship’, they have a very close friendship and each has become very important in the others life but it’s our modern reading that’s made Sherlock & John gay, and I personally feel that the writers have got it right. They’ve acknowledged that as a modern audience we going to see John & Sherlock as practically a couple but at the same time they’re keeping it true the canon, they are not a couple.
This is probably where this accusation of ‘queerbaiting’ has come from. People view the writers as teasing us about a gay relationship and John’s continually denial that he is not gay must be homophobic. I don’t believe that all. I don’t understand why people think it is homophobic of John to deny that he is something he’s not – especially as he’s a heterosexual man and interested in the ladies so having everyone thinking you’re gay is perhaps not helping that situation. I’m still not sure what really could be constituted ‘queerbaiting’ as it feels like it should be something insulting, like two straight girls kissing to get a reaction but even then that’s not aimed at getting a reaction from lesbians in the same way that most lesbian porn is not for lesbians. Is that ‘queerbaiting’? It doesn’t seem like it as it’s not us queers they’re baiting.
I think ‘queerbaiting’ would be using a gay relationship in a promotional way. A new television show teases two men walking down the street together holding hands, thoroughout the episode people treat them as a gay couple and we see no denial from them but upon it transpires they’ve actually had an ‘amusing’ accident with some industrial strength glue. But that doesn’t really seem like ‘queerbaiting’ either, rather a casually homophobic joke. Which is why I say ‘queerbaiting’ and homophobia are the same side of the coin, using the perceived reading of a relationship to get a reaction from an audience (essentially seeing something and immediately deciding that it’s gay).
Sherlock & John were never going to get together. It has nothing to do with perceived or actual homophobia, they are simply not gay characters. They’re very, very close friends. You could say one completes the other and it’s a sad commentary on modern society that two men can’t have this sort of friendship without everything thinking that they’re gay or in a relationship. The writing of the show in my view acknowledges this commentary, but it also can’t ignore it. John and Sherlock love each other very much, but in a platonic way that would have been called a ‘romantic friendship‘ had we not decided that this sort of closeness was gay.
John has become so intricate and part of Sherlock’s life in a way that Sherlock never expected, of course Sherlock is looking over to him at the wedding. He’s not about to push Mary out of the way and confess his undying love, no he’s looking at two people he knows love each and can offer a companionship he can’t. He loves John and he wants him to be happy, but this has come a cost of his own happiness. John’s told him things won’t change but Sherlock knows that things will, especially now there is a child in the mix. For them both, it’s the end of an era and signals a change those of us familiar with the canon knew was coming. Holmes retires to the country to keep bees and Watson is not part of that life, and in fact sees his old friend very rarely. The two once very close friends have drifted apart, presumably through Watson’s marriage or marriages and I think we will see a similar drifting apart in John & Sherlock.
(For the record I’ve always believed that Holmes is a deeply closeted gay man who doesn’t have the emotional tools to begin to process what this means, he’s essentially your typical sexually repressed Victorian. Watson is either unaware of Holmes’s nature or more likely he doesn’t even begin to know what to do with that information).