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Asexuality in Sherlock - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Asexuality in Sherlock
Steven Moffat gave an interview about BBC Sherlock  in which he managed to undo much of the good that has been done regarding asexual awareness in that series.  I mean the first episode made it pretty clear that (this) Sherlock is just not interested in sexual/romantic relationships: "Not my area." and "I consider myself married to my work."  That was terrific.  Contradicting that after the fact, not so terrific; it's lousy publicity and inexcusably sloppy storytelling.  Once a character trait is established, it must not be changed without showing the process of evolution and plausible reason for it; inconsistent characterization is a serious flaw.  

An ace-friendly deconstruction of the more obnoxious lines in the interview is online.  This one really caught my attention:

“Moffat is not saying that Sherlock, like Austin Powers, misplaced his mojo. ‘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. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stay that way in the end – maybe he marries Mrs Hudson. I don’t know!’”

Is sex really the ONLY thing some people can rate as interesting?  What is this, high school?  Let's leave room for some variety in storytelling.  No matter how much popular a given motif is, a steady supply gets boring and people want something else.  We really need more positive portrayals of the full range of human sexuality, including asexuality; and while we're at it, also more nonsexual intimacies.  Mix it up.  And do your research.

I am suddenly extra glad that I have a fishbowl coming up that features Hart's Farm, a setting with two asexual characters, lots of other sexualities, and a penchant for showing affection outside of sex.  I'm tired of dysfunctional families, uncommunicative relationships, and characters whose people skills all suck.  We do not need any more of this kind of thinking.  Stab it with pencils and beat it to death with merry bundles of cash.  Meanwhile -- The Odd Trio and Path of the Paladins also feature some asexual characters, available on the Serial Poetry page.

I haven't seen season 2 of Sherlock  yet.  I loved season 1.  I do plan to watch season 2 when I have the chance, but I have mixed feelings about it given what I've heard so far.  Perhaps if I throw my expectations down the basement stairs before watching, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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Current Mood: frustrated frustrated

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Comments
impishtubist From: impishtubist Date: June 16th, 2012 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
The first episode of series 2, when I watched it without listening to anyone else's commentary or reading interviews, came off to me as very much upholding Sherlock's asexuality. It was only after, when I read others' interpretations and some frankly appalling interviews from Moffat & Co., that I realized not everyone came away with that impression. Nonetheless, I do believe he can safely be interpreted as such, despite what the actors might like to say. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised, as I was upon my initial viewing. :)
impishtubist From: impishtubist Date: June 16th, 2012 04:14 am (UTC) (Link)
... And I just realized that you linked to the Tumblr post that Jey and I kind of put together. So... never mind. You know all this already :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 16th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I always get a kick out of it when friends quote me. I think it's also cool that you found my post and commented on it! What you folks said about the interview was spot on. I appreciate you taking the time to dissect it. I could just imagine Sherlock looking at the logic!fail and tearing it apart with tweezers.

I do hope that season 2 proves worthwhile. I have an active imagination, I can probably fix it in my head if it's not indelibly stupid.

By the way, I visited your Tumblr. That nifty poster about the princess turning down a marriage proposal? I wrote one of those.

From: technoshaman Date: June 16th, 2012 05:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I wrote one of those.

And I rather liked it... that story has some legs to it... I'm not at all sure *I* could finish it, because I'd be far too likely to trip over the details... but I can see in broad detail where the story might go...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 16th, 2012 05:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>And I rather liked it...<<

I'm happy to hear that!

>> that story has some legs to it... I'm not at all sure *I* could finish it, because I'd be far too likely to trip over the details... but I can see in broad detail where the story might go...<<

You're free to prompt for further poems about Lian any time there's a relevant fishbowl theme. I had fun with "A Doe in Velvet" and would be happy to explore further.
impishtubist From: impishtubist Date: June 16th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I think it's also cool that you found my post and commented on it!

Oh, I've been following your posts for a while - pretty much since you added me a few months ago! I love your commentary and your writing advice.

What you folks said about the interview was spot on.

Thanks so much! It was rather bothersome that this interview was going around Tumblr at the time, and no one was commenting on how troubling it was. I'm glad you found the response useful.

I do hope that season 2 proves worthwhile. I have an active imagination, I can probably fix it in my head if it's not indelibly stupid.

As have we all!

And thank you for linking me to that story! I'm off to read it now :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 16th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>Oh, I've been following your posts for a while - pretty much since you added me a few months ago! I love your commentary and your writing advice.<<

Thank you! I hope you'll come to the Poetry Fishbowl on Tuesday; I'm featuring a series with a couple of ace characters.

>> It was rather bothersome that this interview was going around Tumblr at the time, and no one was commenting on how troubling it was. <<

It's really frustrating when people link something tacky and nobody discusses the inherent problems. Happens with the portrayal of women in comics too, and disability rights. But sometimes if one person posts a good dissection, others will join in.

>>And thank you for linking me to that story! I'm off to read it now.<<

We may get more about Lian eventually; one of the other folks was intrigued by that.
isabeau From: isabeau Date: June 17th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)
...wait, what? I totally saw it as validation of asexuality. The only thing I can even see as sexuality-n-stuff is the ???? that Sherlock does, but that's less about "zomg woman, sexual shit is confuzzling me" and more about "nothing to read".

Moffat & Co don't know what their own show is saying, IMO
impishtubist From: impishtubist Date: June 17th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Honestly, I saw it as a validation of asexuality as well. That's why the interviews following the episode's airing seriously confused me.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

I wonder how it will read to me when I see it. I have greatly enjoyed the first three episodes. When I heard they were bringing The Woman into it, I started worrying. But maybe it'll turn out okay. At least they're not shagging all over the place; that's a plus.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

>>Moffat & Co don't know what their own show is saying, IMO <<

I'm finding that a convincing interpretation.
rickybuchanan From: rickybuchanan Date: June 20th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Me too - I totally read the "???" the way Isabeau stated as well.

I don't usually read interviews and such so I didn't realise there was OMGCONTROVERSY about it, now I can see that if your goggles were anti-asexuality you could squint and see it the other way but I think both seem just as valid to me.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 20th, 2012 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

>>I don't usually read interviews and such so I didn't realise there was OMGCONTROVERSY about it, now I can see that if your goggles were anti-asexuality you could squint and see it the other way but I think both seem just as valid to me.<<

That's fair. Sometimes I read interviews, sometimes not. I've heard different interpretations of this episode so it will be interesting to see what I think when I get to watch it myself.

By the way, I'm doing a poetry fishbowl on Hart's Farm today, if you want to leave me a prompt for that. I remembered you liked the series.
http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com/2363058.html
estaratshirai From: estaratshirai Date: June 16th, 2012 06:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm perfectly happy with asexual Sherlock and don't need him thrown at some girls (or Watson, for that matter) to spice him up, thanks. It may be ironic coming from someone who has written so many thousands of words of erotic fanfic, but sometimes one does like to watch characters focus on something other than where they can stow their genitals. Especially when everything else about the character tells one that genital-stowing is not high on their list of priorities.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 16th, 2012 06:06 am (UTC) (Link)

*laugh*

Well put. I like many different flavors of Sherlock, in this and other renditions. But I'm especially partial to ace!Sherlock a la BBC Sherlock, because episode 1 did such a fine job of supporting that and there's very little else in the way of ace heroes. I think we need characters who can prioritize something other than "desperate for a shag."
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 16th, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

*sigh*

You're flying through time and space in a phone booth and all you can think about is sex? You! Out of the genre pool, now! The romance hot tub is over there.
fenm From: fenm Date: June 17th, 2012 02:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I've said this elsewhere, I'll say here too: Not only is the "asexuals are boring" thing bullshit, I can think of at least one scenario in which Sherlock being a romantic asexual would be MORE interesting. Imagine he fell in love with someone who was sexual. If he was just "abstaining", he could just decide to have sex--problem solved. But if he doesn't like or want sex, that creates an issue that needs to be dealt with. Which of those two scenarios sounds more interesting to you?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Not only is the "asexuals are boring" thing bullshit <<

Well, yes. Though to be fair, many asexuals find sexual stuff boring.

>>I can think of at least one scenario in which Sherlock being a romantic asexual would be MORE interesting. Imagine he fell in love with someone who was sexual. If he was just "abstaining", he could just decide to have sex--problem solved. But if he doesn't like or want sex, that creates an issue that needs to be dealt with.<<

That does seem to be a common experience, mainly for romantic asexuals, but sometimes even the aromantic folks find someone they really like ... who wants to have sex, which is awkward. Which is a story.

>> Which of those two scenarios sounds more interesting to you? <<

Both as a writer and a reader, I tend to be attracted to stories that haven't already been done to death. Finding something new to say about sexual relationships is hard, because it's an overwhelmingly popular topic. But asexual relationships, sheesh, people haven't even finished naming the kinds yet, let alone mapped out the common and uncommon variations. There's a lot of potential to get in there and tell NEW stories ... to an audience that wants something other than two bodies humping on a bed and is therefore bored and annoyed with a majority of mainstream media. So it's a low-competition as well as high-potential field. Writer candy. That's one reason I've been writing more about asexual characters recently, though I've had some all along.
moonvoice From: moonvoice Date: June 17th, 2012 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)
‘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. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stay that way in the end – maybe he marries Mrs Hudson. I don’t know!’”

Aaaargh. I've long had a problem with Steven Moffat's sexism and his various attitudes towards non-normative sexuality (don't get me started on his recent spate of offensive tweets about bisexuality), so the only thing that really surprises me about his offensive comment here is that it took him so long to actually to say something like this. D:

The idea that asexual people can't generate conflict or tension or hell, even sexual tension (if they're libidoist asexual, for example, or simply an ace person who has sex because they enjoy sensations of physical arousal sans sexual attraction) is just ignorant and harmful and perpetuates this idea that ace people deserve to be othered or invisibilised in the media.

Angry-making, that's for sure. D: Steven Moffat has this habit of appearing to go two steps forward and then a short time later taking three steps back. His attitudes towards women overall are pretty shitty too, imho. He's said some truly dreadful crap about women, including the *wonderful*:

“I don’t know how well women come out of Coupling,” says Moffat, the son of a headmaster, who taught English in Greenock before following his original writerly instincts and scoring his first success with Press Gang. “There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.”

So... yeah. I can enjoy Moffat's storytelling and scripting. But as a man, I mostly think he's a bit of a privileged dick.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>I've long had a problem with Steven Moffat's sexism and his various attitudes towards non-normative sexuality (don't get me started on his recent spate of offensive tweets about bisexuality)<<

Now you've got me wondering. And tapping my cluehammer against my palm.

>>The idea that asexual people can't generate conflict or tension or hell, even sexual tension (if they're libidoist asexual, for example, or simply an ace person who has sex because they enjoy sensations of physical arousal sans sexual attraction) is just ignorant and harmful and perpetuates this idea that ace people deserve to be othered or invisibilised in the media.<<

Yeah, two minutes on any asexual forum or blog will turn up a whole bunch of situations where aces encounter conflict and/or sexual tension. There really needs to be an article on this, listing common experiences and conflicts, though I don't know if I'm the best person to write it.

>> Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. <<

*blink* That is the opposite of what I have observed. Men tend to really want sex. Women may or may not enjoy it (perhaps because not all men know what to do with a clitoris) and crave it. A good description I've found is that men use relationships to get sex, while women use sex to get relationships. Though none of that is absolute.

meridian_rose From: meridian_rose Date: June 17th, 2012 09:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

That comment about bisexuality tweets got me googling and this seems to be a good overview on the debacle:
http://abrokenfishbowl.tumblr.com/post/23850866848/lets-look-at-the-twitter-thing-from-the-beginning

Seriously, Moffat needs to stick to writing (preferably with others who can check his privilege) and stay out of the social media networks.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Wow. That's ... the kind of thing that happens when there are several people inside the same skull and they can't agree who's supposed to be front right now, so all talking at the same time about the same topic but saying wildly contradictory things.
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: June 18th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
*stares at that quote with jaw agape*
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 18th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I know, it makes you wonder what world he's living in, because it's clearly not consensus reality, and it's none of the ones I've visited either.
firecat From: firecat Date: June 17th, 2012 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)
This was discussed in a panel at Wiscon and we decided anyone who thought that there can't be any tension with an asexual character wasn't a very imaginative writer. Which, well, I do think Moffat is an imaginative writer. But not about that, I guess.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 17th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>>This was discussed in a panel at Wiscon and we decided anyone who thought that there can't be any tension with an asexual character wasn't a very imaginative writer.<<

... and doesn't know much about asexuality or asexual people, because it only takes a glance to find the conversations about life challenges due to sexual disinterest.
tuftears From: tuftears Date: June 18th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Not having seen the show but having read most of the Holmes stories, I curiously wonder if Irene Adler has made her appearance?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 18th, 2012 01:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

The Woman is in season 2, which I have not yet seen, but my parents are planning to pick up the DVDs for us.
fenm From: fenm Date: June 18th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
She was in the first episode of S2. But, imo, she's an entirely different person than she is in canon.
tuftears From: tuftears Date: June 18th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh dear? Did they excise her good qualities of someone who could match withs with Holmes?
fenm From: fenm Date: June 18th, 2012 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
That's... debatable. Some thought she was clever, others thought she pretty much just used her body/sexuality to accomplish anything.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 18th, 2012 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

That's kind of what I remember of her from canon: smart, ruthless, willing to use every weapon at her disposal including those made of X chromosomes. No wonder she drove Sherlock nuts. He can't abide things that tend to overrun logic.
fenm From: fenm Date: June 18th, 2012 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Ah, no. It's never suggested or implied she uses her "feminine wiles" on Sherlock. When would she have? They only meet at her wedding and when when she's dressed as a man. And she doesn't "drive Sherlock nuts" Once he realizes she outsmarted him, he admires her mind, but... seriously, drive him nuts? I'm not sure where you're getting that.

Thing is, there are other differences, as well, though I'm not sure how many I can get into without spoilers.

Edited at 2012-06-18 02:56 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 18th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

When a man refers to "The Woman" it's usually because of either a horrific breakup or a seduction attempt gone appallingly wrong. Like joining the Foreign Legion "because of a woman."
fenm From: fenm Date: June 18th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Yes, but Holmes doesn't exactly do things the way they usually are. She was not a love interest in canon.
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: June 19th, 2012 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

I'm very fond of Carole Nelson Douglas's books about Irene Adler, in which there's a suggestion of some attraction between Sherlock and Irene (though that might be just a fallible narrator, too) but they're not canon, obviously.

It's been a while since I read the orginal Sherlock Holmes stories, but I am pretty sure you're (fenm is) right. Holmes may be referring to her as The Woman out of frustration, rather than attraction.
labingi From: labingi Date: June 19th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Here via .

Is sex really the ONLY thing some people can rate as interesting? What is this, high school?

Hear, hear. Moffat makes a decent point that stories and characters need tension, but his point falls apart at the assumption that only abstaining from sex to concentrate on work creates tension. Being asexual in a world that 1) doesn't think you exist and 2) if it does admit you exist, can't start to begin to understand anything about you (QED Steven Moffat) is plenty tension-generating, as Sherlock shows quite well.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 19th, 2012 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Moffat makes a decent point that stories and characters need tension, but his point falls apart at the assumption that only abstaining from sex to concentrate on work creates tension. <<

One classic set is:
* man against man
* man against nature
* man against himself

There are very many different types of conflict. A story is just what happens when somebody wants something and it isn't within easy reach.

>> Being asexual in a world that 1) doesn't think you exist and 2) if it does admit you exist, can't start to begin to understand anything about you (QED Steven Moffat) is plenty tension-generating, as Sherlock shows quite well.<<

I agree. I loved that initial scene in the diner with John trying to figure out Sherlock's orientation.
paka From: paka Date: June 19th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dunno, this sounds like less of an official character description so much as an official attempt to quiet questions. Sort of a "write fanfic all you want, guys, but we are not having the character run off and get it on with anyone within the series."
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