Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, is returning to our screens this winter when the long-awaited Sherlock Christmas special finally airs. When it does, questions about the true nature of Holmes and Watson’s relationship will once again be spiralling.
Steven Moffat has famously gone on record stating that he doesn’t read Holmes as either gay or asexual. According to Moffat, he abstains from sex because sex is a distraction, not because he has no interest in it. Moffat raised quite a few eyebrows in the asexual community when he claimed that if Holmes were simply asexual, there’d be no fun in that. Apparently, there is no tension in a character who is an outright asexual.
But let’s look at the facts here: the number of characters on television who have explicitly been stated as asexual can be counted on one hand. But the number of emotionless geniuses who claim abstinence is significantly higher – and with little else to go on, viewers assume that this is what it means to be uninterested in sex.
Asexual characters should be just as diverse as asexual people. Some might be geniuses, sure, but some might be idiots. Some would still have romantic storylines, some wouldn’t. Their stories should be just as worth telling as those of non-asexual characters. Not every storyline on television revolves around sex. It shouldn’t be hard for writers to come up with dramatic tension that doesn’t revolve around sex, either. If it is, maybe they’re not such a great writer after all.
It doesn’t matter if Moffat personally doesn’t view Holmes as asexual – the character has been a figure of asexual representation for as long as his and Watson’s relationship has been the figurehead for homoerotic undertones. And as long as that is the case, he will be looked on as a ‘default’ for asexuality, and will promote harmful stereotypes of the closed-off, friendless asexual person.
The only way to change this is to get more asexual characters onto the screen. Representation is absolutely vital. It brings the topic of asexuality into the public eye, and allows people to rethink their initial prejudices about the orientation. Frankly, it makes for more diverse, more interesting TV.