Dec 16, 2012

Sherlock Holmes, Gay Icon

As a kid I liked science fiction, fantasy, and jungle adventures, but not detective fiction, except for Michel (because he was cute, and in French), The Hardy Boys (because they were in love), and Sherlock Holmes: "The Red-Headed League", "The Five Orange Pips," "The Musgrave Ritual," and many other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

They were short enough to read quickly, exciting but not scary, mysterious but always realistic (no ghosts or monsters).  Sherlock Holmes' power of logical deduction was appealing to a boy just starting to tease out the patterns, conventions, and constraints of adult life.

And he was gay.

The original stories, published between 1881 and 1927, give Holmes a rather sexist disapproval of women's "weakness," and a dislike of heterosexual romance: "he never spoke of the softer passions, except for a gibe and a sneer."  He admires Irene Adler, the heroine of "A Scandal in Bohemia," but has no romantic interest in her.  However, he quite enjoys the company of men, especially his roommate, assistant, and life partner, Dr. Watson.

Watson did express heterosexual interest; in The Sign of Four (1890), he falls in love and marries.  But marriage always puts a damper on adventure, so soon Mrs. Watson was written out with a brief reference to her death, and Holmes and Watson were together again.

Many movie versions of Holmes appeared during my childhood and adolescence:
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)
Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)
The Seven Percent Solution (1976)
Murder by Decree (1979)

But none offered any beefcake -- Sherlock started displaying a bare chest only in the 2000s.

And only The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) openly alluded to the homoromantic relationship between Holmes and Watson, and then only as a joke.  Some kept the buddy-bonding, but most presented Holmes as avidly heterosexual, leering at women, dancing with them, falling in love with Irene Adler.

Another Hollywood attempt to erase the existence of gay people from the world.

Not to worry -- Jeremy Brett played him as rather more gay-vague in the late 1980s and 1990s.


  1. Were there gays in the 1800s? I thought there weren't any until the 1960's.

    1. Refer to Greek books which display open pedophelia and gay romance. Aristotle is spoken of as gay, as was Plato. Michelangelo would take on talented "apprentices" who were "beautiful" and his lovers. He often represented them as androgynous or female in paintings. It is up to interpretation but in Homer's "The lliad" there was great love between Achilles and Patroclus. "The most common form of same-sex relationships between males in Greece was paiderastia (pederasty), meaning "boy love". It was a relationship between an older male and an adolescent youth. A boy was considered a "boy" until he was able to grow a full beard. In Athens the older man was called erastes. He was to educate, protect, love, and provide a role model for his eromenos, whose reward for him lay in his beauty, youth, and promise." men, like their earlier counterparts, played an educational and instructive role in the lives of their young companions; likewise, just as in earlier times, they shared a sexual relationship with their boys. Penetrative sex, however, was seen as demeaning for the passive partner, and outside the socially accepted norm.[7] In ancient Greece, sex was generally understood in terms of penetration, pleasure, and dominance, rather than a matter of the sexes of the.

    2. Your reply contains a footnote but no citation. Are you quoting from Dove's "Greek Homosexuality"? It was published in 1978, so it's a little outdated now. I prefer "Controlling Desires: Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome," which argues that every man was assumed to experience sexual desire for people in a lower social position, boys or women.

  2. Exclusive same-sex desire has always been present, but many past societies didn't define people as gay or straight. They started doing it in the West during the 19th century, so Doyle was probably familiar with the concept. But his intention is irrelevant; meaning arises in the interplay between the text and the reader.

    1. During the 1999th century, one might be defined as a "pederast" or an "effeminate", while (of course) simply experimenting spread by default. What makes gay identity novel is the idea that both partners are different in the same way.

  3. There is an extended rear-nude scene in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER. Holmes's younger brother Sigerson and his Watson surrogate attend a formal dance UNaware that a buzzsaw has sliced off the back of their suits.
    Thing is, it's Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. So...


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