Asexuality in BBC’s Sherlock

Sherlock as an Asexual Character | #Asexual

Thesis: Aromantic Asexual

Sherlock was definitely a top request for this post-series, which actually surprised me considering the canonical sexual connotations he tends to carry. On second thought…since the majority of my readers are fellow INTJs (last I checked), I’m not really that surprised anymore.

I’m going to do this one a bit differently than Ender Wiggin’s post merely because there’s far more canonical controversy regarding Sherlock’s sexual orientation. For that same reason, this post is going to run long.

#Not Gay

Sherlock as an Asexual Character

I will do my best not to bash Johnlock over the head here, because it isn’t without a cause. (To be honest, I always think of John Locke, the philosopher, when I hear about Johnlock).

In my view, Johnlock stems from a rhetorical strategy that Moffat and Gatiss engage in to reap more fans.

Want to speak to a wider range of people? Make an asexual character. Then publicly deny that he’s asexual and then drop hints at both heterosexuality and homosexuality without ever confirming anything. It’s what I like to call queer baiting.

The first bit of queer baiting Moffat engages us in is that infamous scene where John and Sherlock go to the restaurant in Study in Pink. People seem to ignore the fact that the conversation ends with Sherlock dismissing interest in both men and women.

Every comment on the show that interprets Sherlock as gay comes from a character other than himself. Sherlock himself is relentlessly silent on the topic, and practically ignores (if he doesn’t dismiss) the comments. Really, we ought to just let Sherlock speak for himself.

In the restaurant scene, John is the one who asks if Sherlock has a boyfriend, and Sherlock says no. John then mentions that they’re both unattached, and although Sherlock takes this as a flirtation, he does so, with stiff discomfort.

Sherlock as an Asexual Character

He hasn’t explicitly labeled himself as asexual (many asexual people don’t actually know there’s a name for their orientation). Yet, he has specifically stated that he’s not sexually available.

Further reasons that Sherlock keeps silent about his sexuality could be perfectly summed up in the following quote from @Anagnori.

“Asexual people are used to being disbelieved. Every time we try to explain our sexual orientation to someone, there is a high risk that they will invalidate us by claiming that we must have a hormone disorder, need to get laid, haven’t met the right person yet, or many other excuses. All of the excuses share the property of not letting us speak for ourselves, and pushing us into a sexual role that other people believe suits us better. They believe that they know our sexuality better than we do. Even among people who are supportive of LGBT+ people […] you can’t assume that they will be accepting of asexual people.”

“Compulsory sexuality” is the social norm that demands all people (except the very young and very old) must either be in a sexual relationship, or be seeking a sexual relationship. For men, it is the mandate that they must desire sex at all times; for women, it mandates that they must be sexually available. The right to reject sex is respected only as long as it is temporary: “You might not want sex now, fine, but you must want it sometime.” If you do not want sex with one gender of people, then it must be because you want sex with the other gender instead; thus, people who are not attracted to the opposite sex become suspected of being gay or lesbian.”

Compulsory sexuality seems to be the main reason that fictional asexuals often get labeled as gay, so what you have to ask yourself is whether you’re putting labels on Sherlock simply because you’re an allosexual person.

If we insist that Sherlock is a sexual person, we are inflicting on him the same invalidation that asexuals get in real life. We’re insisting that he’s not mature enough to determine his own sexuality and needs us to remind him who he is. It’s no wonder Sherlock never explicitly states his sexual orientation –no one would believe him if he did.

It’s clear that Sherlock does have an emotional attachment to John, but it’s hardly sexual. They sleep in different rooms. In today’s western societies, it’s really difficult for two males to show emotional connection without being perceived as gay (regardless of whether or not they actually are).

The Ockham’s Razor solution that people seem to have missed, is that Sherlock simply appreciates John’s nonjudgmental acceptance of his eccentricities. Think about it. What does Sherlock say when John first compliments him?

Sherlock: That’s not what people normally say.

John: What do people normally say?

Sherlock: Piss off.

Sherlock is drawn to John as a friend because John actually admires him –which is rarely something Sherlock gets. If you were hated by most of the people who knew you, you’d probably want to be friends with the first person who appreciated you too.

Furthermore, I think, if Sherlock were gay, John and Mrs. Hudson wouldn’t ask questions about his lack of love-life (Scandal in Belgravia). It’s clear from their conversation that Sherlock hasn’t told them anything about his sexual orientation and that they are aware he probably doesn’t intend to.

It’s clear from the way Sherlock behaves and speaks to people that this isn’t because he’s worried what people will think. It’s that he’s aware they probably won’t believe him.

John and Mycroft, the two people closest to Sherlock, both seem to think it’s impossible for Sherlock to fall in love.

Any time there’s an instance of sexuality suggested by another character (intended toward Sherlock), John is weirded out. But what he finds most disconcerting is not that it’s women that are flirting with Sherlock, but that anyone flirts with him at all.

It would seem however, that John Watson does have his theories.

Sherlock as an Asexual Character

It’s not particularly unusual for a close friend or family member to figure out that someone is asexual before they do, and John seems to have done that.

When Janine and Sherlock are revealed to be “in a relationship” John’s astonishment doesn’t stem from the fact that Sherlock is in a relationship with a woman. He’s astonished that Sherlock is in a relationship at all.

Furthermore, John’s reaction when Sherlock tries to describe the relationship is the textbook response of an allosexual friend to an aro ace.

#Not Straight

Do we think Sherlock is prude? Probably not. He doesn’t merely avoid certain types of people, he literally ignores all attempts at flirtation (that includes the fifty some-odd texts sent to him by Irene Adler).

Irene Adler strips to disconcert Sherlock, but it doesn’t work. He still looks at her objectively enough to take her measurements. Meanwhile, John reacts with extreme discomfort.

Sherlock is clearly comfortable talking about, or witnessing sexual acts, though Mycroft seems to question this, preferring to view Sherlock as a sex-ignorant virgin.

Mycroft: It’s to do with sex.

Sherlock: Sex doesn’t alarm me.

Mycroft: How would you know?

At the same time, it’s clear that Mycroft doesn’t simply think of Sherlock as inexperienced. He literally doesn’t think of him as a sexual person at all.

Irene

When he discovers (falsely) that Sherlock has supposedly fallen for Irene Adler, he’s actually surprised.

Sherlock as an Asexual Character

After the initial surprise, his reaction turns to disappointment at Sherlock’s incompetence.

“That’s all it takes. One lonely, naive man, desperate to show show off, and a woman clever enough to make him feel special…A damsel in distress. In the end, are you really so obvious? Because this was textbook. The promise of love, the pain of loss, the joy of redemption. Then give him a puzzle and watch him dance.”

But Sherlock disproves Mycroft’s new assumption, showing quite clearly that he had never been interested in Irene Adler that way. Rather, he was playing her in order to let her think she was winning.

If Sherlock had been sexually attracted to her, why would he have needed to take her pulse to figure out that she was attracted to him?

allosexual people would likely have picked up on sexual signals without having to make scientific deductions about it. Furthermore, what allosexual person can get hundreds of flirty texts and listen to comments about how the other person wants to have sex with them without realizing that the other person is actually interested? Sherlock? No.

In the scene where Sherlock takes Irene Addler’s pulse, she has literally asked Sherlock for sex. She does the stereotypical thing and uses food as a metaphor for sex, “If it was the end of the world, would you have dinner with me?”

And Sherlock gives the most profoundly asexual response in history:

Asexual sherlock

He doesn’t say he’s not interested in her kind of dinner (i.e. he’s not gay). He says he’s not hungry at all. And please observe how uncomfortable he is in this scene. He almost seems relieved when Mrs. Hudson comes back.

Then of course, Sherlock’s words speak for him too. If you’re wondering about Sherlock’s need to show off to Irene, consider it basically the same thing as any one of his relationships –a pleasure gained at validation for his talents. He’s just met someone who can not only compete with his intellect, but who admires him profusely.

When he shows Irene and Mycroft that it wasn’t him that was interested in Irene, but that it was the other way around –he doesn’t merely say that he wasn’t interested in her.

Rather, the words he chooses tell us that he has never actually been sexually in love before.

He doesn’t say “love is a dangerous disadvantage.” He says that he’s always assumed this. The very fact that he’s had to deduce that love is a disadvantage tells us that he’s never experienced it himself. He only has the evidence he witnesses in other people’s relationships to go off of.

“I’ve always assumed the love is a dangerous disadvantage.”

This makes it much easier to understand his treatment of Molly Hooper.

Now that we’ve got Irene Adler out of the way, we can move on to the next woman who gets close to what we might call a “relationship” with Sherlock.

Janine

 Janine, in my personal opinion, pretty much proves Sherlock isn’t heterosexual… She’s also the second woman that we witness asking Sherlock for sex.

Janine: Just once would have been nice.

Sherlock: I was waiting till we got married.

Janine: We both knew that was never gonna happen.

Sherlock’s response is an excuse that both of them know isn’t true. They’re both aware that Sherlock had no intentions of marrying Janine, and as such, had no intention of getting sexually intimate with her.

It’s clear to everyone including Janine that Sherlock only got involved with her in order to break into Magnussen’s office. The whole thing is a ploy using Janine’s “human error” to get at Magnussen.

According to Sherlock

“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth.”

We’ve eliminated the idea that he’s either attracted to males or females. Thus, it seems only evident that he is asexual. Balance of probability.

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