A Few Thoughts on Moffat, Sherlock, and Asexuality

I was going to do something different today, but — inspired Opinionated Man’s generalizations about women — I decided to do what all online aces do and talk about Steven Moffat, the infamously-misogynist writer currently in charge of Sherlock and Doctor Who: two television programs featuring main characters who have been frequently interpreted as asexual.  At least, that’s how a lot of fans see them.  Moffat doesn’t take the same perspective.  On Sherlock’s celibacy, he’s said, “It’s the choice of a monk, not the choice of an asexual. If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting.”

Right.  Because no conflicts could possibly arise over asexuality and the choices of asexuals.  That wouldn’t be interesting.

Neither the Doctor nor Sherlock Holmes have to be portrayed as asexual, but it’d be nice if the man currently heading the ship for two of mainstream media’s very few possibly-asexual characters* wouldn’t write off the entire possibility as “no fun”.

*Some people count Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory as an unconfirmed ace.  Other than that, for the most part, you have to turn to niche YA novels and webcomics to find any aces.  This is part of why most people don’t think asexuality exists.

I haven’t watched Sherlock, just Elementary, the American version with the same basic concept.  Based on what I’ve read about the former, the latter is a lot better — and not just because Elementary features a trans woman as Hudson and a Chinese-American woman as Watson (although if this were a competition based on the least reliance on straight White cis men, Elementary would be beating Sherlock out of the park).

Elementary is great for a lot of reasons.  However, in terms of asexuality, it has its troubling points as well.  In the pilot episode, asexual viewers were given a glimmer of hope that this rendition of Sherlock might be portrayed as a sex-repulsed ace.  Take a look at this line from his dialogue.

Sherlock: I actually find sex repellent — all those fluids and odd sounds — but my body and brain require it to function at optimal levels.

Later in the episode, Watson accuses him of lying.

Joan:  You’re trying too hard. Just like you were the other day with the tattooed lady, all that “sex is repellent” crap.

And in the show, that’s all it takes to dismiss the idea.  For some people, sex is repellent; that’s how they actually feel, and that’s valid, but Joan acts like that’s not possible — and Sherlock doesn’t argue.  The narrative treats the matter as if Joan is right.  In context, whether or not he enjoys sex is being used as a means to prove or disprove whether he can “connect” with other people.

This whole plot thread was obnoxious.

Even though the show as a lot of good components (Alfredo FTW), it’s disappointing that once again, we’re being teased with the possibility of an asexual character only to have it taken away from us. When you’ve only got a handful of sparse representations to begin with, this sort of thing hurts.

Granted, just because it’s implied this Sherlock is not actually sex-repulsed does not mean that he couldn’t still be asexual.  However, there are multiple scenes where his behavior suggests that he sees people as sexually attractive, and regardless, it’s disgusting that the idea of being sex-repulsed was so quickly waved off as ridiculous and impossible.  Getting society to see sex-repulsed people as human and not broken and irrational is at least as important as achieving acceptance of asexuality.  They’re not the same thing, but the two go hand in hand.  Many aces are sex-repulsed, and for both, people are harassed and told all manner of invalidating crap like Joan’s comment above.

“No fun”, eh, Steven Moffat?

I’d have to agree with you.

9 responses to “A Few Thoughts on Moffat, Sherlock, and Asexuality

  • Linkspam: September 13th, 2013 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] The Ace Theist has a few thoughts on Moffat, Sherlock, and asexuality. […]

  • TJ Catts

    Whatever the writers and actors have said about BBC’s Sherlock, I would consider their Sherlock to be a lot more asexual than Elementary’s Sherlock.

    Sherlock shows no interest in any sexual relationships within the BBC show, when John Watson asks him in the first episode weather he has a girlfriend, he states ‘No, not my area.’ That could be interpreted as the BBC Sherlock being gay as then John asked him if he has a boyfriend and he replies with a simple, ‘no.’ But the whole, ‘not my area’ quote also ties in with asexuality and is strengthened as the show goes on. Such as in the second episode when Sherlock gets annoyed and confused with John for going out on a date with a woman, and seems to have no idea why the concept of dating and sex appeals so much to John.

    Sherlock has never had any sexual relationship on the show, it’s even hinted at in the second season that’s he’s a virgin. (They don’t make fun of him for it nor does it bother him, it just came up as a part of his character’s background.)

    Then the thing with Irene Adler. Sherlock never has any sexual or romantic relationship with her at all during this episode, no kissing, no sexual desire- for Sherlock the only reason he is interested in her is for her mind. He has no interest in her as a person until she proves she’s smart and then it becomes a cat and mouse game, but it never goes anywhere sexual.

    In fact, his interest in Irene is still nowhere near the interest he has in Jim Moriarty. If he seems to have an interest in anyone it’s Jim (but then it’s not really as Sherlock really does come off as asexual and aromatic in the BBC show.)
    People complain that Sherlock fell for Irene by giving government secrets to her….. but in the episode before that Sherlock did the same thing with Jim Moriarty, willing to give him all the details of Britain’s missile plans just to get close to him…… showing that it was never about romance for Sherlock, it was about proving he’s clever to other clever people. He risks more for Jim than he ever did for Irene, but not because of sexual interest- because Jim is the most brilliant person he has ever met.

    Then people complain about Irene, a lesbian, falling for a man. But that is not the case. Irene’s infatuation with Sherlock is really no different than John’s infatuation with Sherlock. Expect Irene’s a lesbian and John’s a heterosexual man. John has killed people for Sherlock, risked his life for Sherlock, has had many of his girlfriend break up with him because he puts Sherlock before the, and generally is always with Sherlock.

    Even though John is heterosexual, many viewers and characters on the show mistake him as having romantic feelings for Sherlock. Even though Irene is gay, many viewers and characters on the show mistake her as having the same feeling for Sherlock. But BOTH are the same, and should be treated as the same. Both became infatuated with Sherlock’s brilliance and his mind. It’s nothing to do with sexuality, as John and Irene both show. It’s not being biased based on gender or sexual preferences, it’s showing the affect Sherlock’s mind has on people.

    I think it’s very interesting that they have done that, and even though the writer himself may think asexuality is boring he is a huge fan of the original Sherlock Holmes novel and sticks very carefully with a lot of the original content, and seeing that the books very talked about Sherlock’s sexuality, he would never actually reveal the characters sexuality on the show.

    As an asexual, I prefer the BBC’s Sherlock. I honestly think it’s a better show in terms of sticking to the originals characters more, the writing, the plots and the brilliance of Sherlock.

    I think Moffat has the wrong point of view but I have to disagree with you about Elementary being better than BBC’s Sherlock, having seen both versions. And not being biased because of what country I come from, as I have never been to the U.S. or the U.K, Australia has a mix of both British and American television coming our way.

    • acetheist

      Thanks for the input on the BBC show. I haven’t read the original canon, but I’ve heard — and this isn’t related to asexuality, but it does tie back to some of what you brought up — that originally, Irene was the one who fascinated Sherlock by being smarter than him, whereas Moriarty was, basically, a villain sue plot device thrown in at the end as a way for Doyle to get rid of Sherlock and end his story. In that light, it’s interesting to note what the adaptions do with the roles of those characters.

    • Emily

      I know that I’m replying a year later to this, but you really hit the nail on the head with your analysis of Sherlock (the show that is). Personally, I think Conan Doyle’s Holmes could be either a celibate or asexual and I actually like that it’s rather ambiguous (though this could be because Doyle was rather terrible with canon and because he had likely never even heard of asexuality).

  • TJ Catts

    Doyle did show that Sherlock was impressed by Moriarty at several points in the original books, at one point Holmes said, “My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill.”

    But you are right in the fact that the BBC Sherlock does make Jim Moriarty the main interest for Sherlock, and even in Irene’s plot it all ties back into the game Sherlock and Moriarty are playing, the BBC’s Sherlock does not hold the same level of interest in her as quite a few other Holmes adaptions devote to the character.

    I think the BBC Sherlock is NOT attracted to her, but merely interested in her the same way he is interested in Jim. And Irene in turn while being gay develops a non-sexual fascination with Sherlock, much like John has.

    But even though Moffat may himself not like the idea of a asexual Sherlock, Moffat being a huge Doyle fan would not change core things about the character, such as the fact you never really find out for sure his sexuality. Therefore just going on the BBC’s version of the character he very much could be asexual, many other fans seem under the impression he is in fact gay, but while he could be gay- asexual seems more likely.

  • Matt Stevens

    My point of view on the BBC’s version of Sherlock and his sexuality.

    Especially since the third series have aired it could be assumed that Sherlock is definitely asexual. In the third episode of the third series he fakes a whole entire relationship with a beautiful woman to break into her boss’s office, as he is investigating her boss and she gave Sherlock access to him. Although this points of Sherlock’s slightly sociopathic tendencies more than anything else, when the woman is nearly killed because of his interference he does not even make a move to check on her or help her, instead he leaves it to John, while he continues to try and gather information.

    When she discovers the whole relationship (including his marriage proposal) is fake he shows no remorse. It’s even assumed that he is still a virgin even after their relationship (His virginity first hinted at in series two). Because his fake-girlfriend while discussing their relationship states, “At least once will be nice.” To which Sherlock replies, “I was waiting until we got married.” and she replies “Well that was never going to happen.” In series two when Sherlock discusses religion with two children he pretty much established himself as an an atheist so I don’t believe he was abstaining for religious reasons and he was never going to marry her. Janie, his fake-girlfriend seemed to assume he is gay, maybe Janie as a character does not know about the asexual community. I say her assumption may be wrong and he is asexual.

    Sure Sherlock seems to have some kind of attraction to Jim Moriarty, but I never think that was physical. All Sherlock’s interaction that can come off as slightly flirty (either with Jim, Irene Adler or even John) are based on mind-games, never sexual attraction.

    I’m not saying Sherlock is asexual because he acts like a sociopath at times, a lot of sociopaths are sexual and have a sexual undercurrent to their sociopathic tendencies. I am in no way linking Sherlock being a jerk and a asexual. He is just both, so not linked.

    Also I’m not linking Sherlock’s anti-social behaviour to his asexually. I’m just saying Sherlock is an anti-social character AND he has some tendencies of mental disorders AND he is asexual. Sherlock is an interesting character to study. They are not linked, but it is possible to have them all and I would save the BBC Sherlock does.

    There are so many theories about the BBC Sherlock. Lots of my friend believe he is a celibate gay or (bisexual man ) who does not engage in any sexual relations with any gender due to desire to solely focus on his work. Gay, bisexual, Celibate, anti-sexual, asexual, a-romantic, grey-ace…… even after three full series I still have no idea what his sexuality is. Maybe some fans are right and is he in love with John or it could really just be a crazy intense, unstable bromance where Sherlock is allowed to do crazy stuff like drug John’s heavily pregnant wife on Christmas day so John can go work on a case with him and John doesn’t really seem to mind as it was Sherlock who did it. John is basically like: You serectly drug my heavily pregnant wife?…….. well she seems fine, only knocked out. Okay, I’ll come with you Sherlock. I’m sure my wife is fine and not traumaized at all and will be fine to wake out without me here.

    Maybe it’s a good thing John and Sherlock don’t date, because it would would add fire to their already semi absuive relationship, how Sherlock is always contstantly insulting John yet John always comes back to him, how Sherlock makes John drop everything for him and ….. like how Sherlock once drugged John so much he lost two days of his memory. John and Sherlock’s relathionship is already crazy obsessive even without a sexual element added to it. kae with Sherlock’s relationship with basically anyone, John, Jim, Irene- Sherlock’s interaction with them are already crazy enough without adding any other elements like sex to them.

    • acetheist

      I’m going to have to ask you not to use the word “sociopathic” like it means anything.

      “Bromance” is also a word that needs to die, but for different reasons.

      Anyway, from all I’ve heard, it sounds like their relationship isn’t just “semi” abusive.

  • Matt Stevens

    Sorry about that. I know I’m not using the words in the right fashion, the terms I used were very general. I’m not using the word sociopathic to actually mean anything, I’m using it in a very loose fashion with no actual meaning behind it expect to refer loosely to a bunch of stereotypes commonly associated with a group of group of traits Sherlock has, as it was the easiest way to describe some of his trails without listing them all. I know he’s not a sociopath and that that word it not even really used anymore, I am guilty of being general but I still say he would qualify with some sort of disorder. So I’m am sorry about that, I won’t call him a socipath again. I know he’s not….. but sometimes it’s just easier. I will try and stop now though. Thanks for the reminder. :P

    I think you might be right about.

    BBC Sherlock.

    Series one: Constantly calls him insulting names about his intelligence, leaves all cleaning and domestic duties to John. Goes places together and then Sherlock leaves John to find his own way back. Takes John’s stuff like his laptop without permission. Controls John by asking him to do stuff like pass Sherlock his phone…. that is in the pocket of the shirt Sherlock is actually wearing. And John actually walks over to Sherlock, and does it for him. Lies to him about cases, and joins John on dates he goes with girls and ruins them. Puts him in constant danger by lying to him in series one about Jim Moriarty. Yet John is still there. Cleaning up after Sherlock’s messes and helping him. He is so submissive to the point it’s concerning.

    It gets a tiny bit better in the second and third series but this not by much. Attempts to drugs John in series two: forgiven. Then it is mentioned in series 3 he actually does drug him in series three to the point of memory loss. Lies to him about being dead for three years: Forgiven in less than a week.

    I get best friend love and I get why John is fascinated by Sherlock: his brain is pretty incredible. But the unconditional love is taken a little bit far sometimes. Drugging your best buddies wife to the point of un- consciousness who is eight months pregnant is a no-no. Unless you are Sherlock and John then anything goes. I like the show most of the time, but admit I think it is a little over the top with this sometimes.

    Haven’t seen Elementary mainly because of the fact Sherlock can’t be considered asexual, with the whole sexual and romantic love affair with the female Moriarty/Irene and sleeping with Watson’s friends. Never seen it but heard about it online. I might give it a go though. What is the Watson/Holmes relationship like? Anything at all like the BBC Sherlock one? How do Joan and SHerlock work together? I know you have not seen the BBC Sherlock, but I would love to hear what the American relationship is like as I have not watched it.

    I don’t mind the terms bromance in some cases and still trying to coin the term sismance between female friends but it’s not working as I’m finding that movies and television series lack the same amount of close friendships between female friends. No idea what platonic female/male friends are called, brosisromaces? Nope, that does not work. If you don’t mind me asking, what are your feelings on the term bromance?

    • acetheist

      “I am guilty of being general but I still say he would qualify with some sort of disorder.”

      Yes, he does get interpreted by autistic fans as being autistic, I know that much. He’s probably at least some kind of nuerodivergent. The problem with the word “sociopath” itself is that it doesn’t do anything except communicate your disapproval of his behavior by furthering the stigma against mental illness and the cultural association between mental illness and dangerous criminal behavior.

      “Drugging your best buddies wife to the point of un- consciousness who is eight months pregnant is a no-no.”

      Not to mention letting your friend think there’s a bomb about to go off in order to emotionally manipulate him into saying he forgives you.

      “What is the Watson/Holmes relationship like? Anything at all like the BBC Sherlock one?”

      Yes and no. In the beginning of the series, their relationship is somewhat antagonistic — Sherlock is a recovering drug addict, and Joan is there to help him stay sober, so he resents and disrespects her sometimes, and Joan holds her own against him.

      However, they come to appreciate each other and over the course of the series build a very strong friendship, with Sherlock indicating numerous times how much he values her and her company (greatly). They have that similar “almost married” vibe, but it’s not at all sexual or romantic. And still, whenever he’s a jerk, Joan doesn’t stand for it. She’s not submissive and all-compliant like John. Likewise, when Sherlock is a jerk to other people and is patronizing about their intelligence (such as with Detective Bell), they’re sarcastic right back to him and it’s awesome. That’s something I really appreciate about the show, because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s everyone bending to the will of and basking in the genius of the arrogant-but-infallible white male hero.

      Incidentally, it hadn’t occurred to me, but recently I found out some people have also been interpreting this Sherlock as autistic.

      “I’m finding that movies and television series lack the same amount of close friendships between female friends.”

      Indeed. By movie logic, women aren’t supposed to exist for each other — they exist for relationships with men, as mothers, as girlfriends, as victims (and, frequently, their interactions with other women are competitive and antagonistic). A lot has been written about that.

      “If you don’t mind me asking, what are your feelings on the term bromance?”

      My thoughts on “bromance” is that it implies a romance between two bros becomes no longer a romance because it’s between two bros. In other words, it’s homophobic (although I don’t like the word homophobia because a phobia is a more innocent thing than a cruel, oppressive ideology). Alternatively, it’s attempting to communicate the strength of a friendship by comparing it to a romantic relationship, which I also object to — because for goodness’ sake, a friendship can be close and strong without it being a romance (and not all romances are inherently closer or stronger than friendships).

      Anyway, my alternative is “epic friendship” for media examples, and irl I refer to my good friend as my copilot (which is partly an in-joke, since I used to be the one to always drive us everywhere).

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