damned_colonial: Dr. John Watson (watson)
[personal profile] damned_colonial posting in [community profile] queering_holmes
So, this came up in a sub-thread on the asexuality post, and was threatening to get pretty tangential/deraily, so I thought it was worth creating a new post for it.

Sherlock Holmes fandom goes back a very long way, of course. And people have been writing H/W slash for a long time, too. Now we have this new movie, there's a whole new generation coming to the fandom who don't have experience with the older phases of the fandom, and while there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of the newer fans' engagement with the canon, there are also older fans shaking their walking sticks at those kids on their lawn.

Personally, I'm fascinated by older Sherlock Holmes fandom even if I don't feel very much a part of it. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who was involved with Holmes fandom in its earlier/older incarnations -- any of the Sherlockian societies, or zine-based slash fandom, or mailing lists, or even LJ/DW fandom prior to the 2009 movie -- about your experiences and the changes you've seen.

And to bring it round to the subject of this comm, I'm especially interested in talking about how different groups or generations of Sherlock Holmes have addressed his (potential) queerness. Obviously it's changed over time -- we can have another go-round on the Watson Was a Woman thing and whether or not Stout was really trying to point out Holmes and Watson's queerness, if you like, and if anyone has any other pointers to older Sherlockiana on gender/sexuality issues I would love to know about them!

As for fic-writing fandom, I know when I read older H/W slash online I find it has a different aesthetic and different tropes than modern LJ/DW-centred slash fandom commonly uses. We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other is part of it, for sure. I feel like slash fandom has really changed the way we address homosexuality in recent years, based on the fic I've read. We seem much more likely to show our characters having had previous homosexual experiences, or being happily and openly bisexual, or being connected to a homosexual subculture, or being non-heteronormative in other ways (genderqueer/transgendered, asexual, kinky, etc.) At least, I *think* we're more likely to do that... am I missing stuff from the older fic, and if so, where can I find the fic that talks about these things? And, is this happening because newer generations of fans are more likely to be queer, more likely to be out as queer, more likely to be used to discussing and dissecting queerness online?

Bringing in another post that I found this morning (via), by [personal profile] obsession_inc on the subjection of "Affirmational" vs "Transformational" fandom, do you think Holmes fandom is shifting from affirmational to transformational, and is that a generational shift? (I like obsession_inc's observation that "fixing" the story so that our beloved characters have sex is one of the most common forms of transformation.) I found myself pointing at obsession_inc's post and saying YES THIS and I know I'm going to be pointing to it a lot in future because it resonates very strongly with me, and I'm definitely feeling that resonance in what I see of Sherlock Holmes fandom in its various incarnations.

What do you think?

ETA: I know we're getting linked pretty regularly in LJ comms like [livejournal.com profile] holmesian_news, so if anyone comes in from there and would like a DW account to comment on posts here (or post your own), here are three invite codes:


Date: 2010-05-14 11:59 pm (UTC)
my_daroga: Sirius from Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody. Based on my dog. (dog)
From: [personal profile] my_daroga
I'm going to stumble through this a little bit, until I find and can go through that stuff I've kept for 15 or so years. Thanks for making a new post, by the way!

As I mentioned in another thread, off-topic, I started in Holmes fandom through Prodigy before the WWW, around 1993 IIRC. The group there seem to be transitional, mostly older, many involved in zines, amateur press associations, and local scion societies. I was totally unfamiliar with fandom, being 13 and new to the internet (as it was new to everyone--it was a few years before anything like a browser became usable with the system I was on, and at first email to user of, say, AOL or Compuserve was impossible), and my recollection was that I was welcomed with open arms and included in discussions about the Canon, pastiches, Jeremy Brett, and other like concerns. I think some of my companions wrote fanfiction, though i was unfamiliar with the term, but "fandom" as it currently exists in an ever-changing but loosely codified set of expectations, activities, and interactions was either outside my purview or didn't exist in the form it does today. By which I mean to say that internet Fandom today looks similar (in a general sense) from fandom to fandom across the internet, and skills or interests gained/learned/developed in one can be transferred easily to the next thing that pings your fannish radar.

Bringing this to Holmes, and queerness, it's my sense that at the time I heard little about slash or even sexuality in fannish circles. The discussion was mainly focused on stories, dates, speculation, new takes (film, novel, etc) on Holmes, and goings-on of local societies. I even went to a few dinners, which had quizzes based on whatever story was the pick of the night and general mingling.

If I encountered fiction in the zines or online, it was mostly gen. This is not at all a comprehensive study, but it's what I personally encountered. I was, as yet, unfamiliar with slash/erotica/porn/whatever you want to call it, and wasn't looking. I'm not sure what I would have thought if I'd seen it. I worked Holmes into stories and nonfiction I wrote about the Phantom of the Opera. But no one (in my recollection) really talked sexuality.

Now, I am sure it was out there. I'm sure there was a different fandom, different zines, being conducted. Maybe in the tradition of Trek fandom and those that followed. But like I said above, I feel that the group I found myself in was a transition into internet fandom but they were transitioning from the BSI tradition.

My more recent fandoms have been more born-with-or-post-internet, and I think it's a different place. I think discussions about sexuality, about the political placement of sexuality, about writing sex and politics in fic, take place far more easily. I think information about all of those things, both practical ("how do I write m/m or f/f or even m/f sex?") and more esoteric ("how do I write queerness?") is much more easily distributed, contested, and built-upon. Historical fact is easier to research, though of course there are problems with the internet there, too. Overall, though, I think communication has changed. And we no longer talk online and then put together a hard-copy physical journal with our thoughts about a few lines in our respective canons.

It's my guess, and it's unfounded, that current H/W and Holmes fandom is going to look a lot more like other internet fandoms and a lot less like old Holmes fandom. I think that's because moving between fandoms is so much easier, media is so much more easily distributed, and internet fans are often on the same page (broadly defined) rather than somewhat insular groups or individuals connected by mail. So I think new Holmes fandom is going to deal with sexuality in a very similar way.

Now I'm interested in what the historical setting does, and what sort of fans/writers Holmes attracts these days, as opposed to both the "old days" and other fandoms. Is the H/W writer more likely to deal with 19th c. queer politics than the BtVS writer? or how much of the tropes of fandom and slash and fic are just taken for granted?

I feel like I've said way too much already, and I hope it makes sense. I need to go look at [personal profile] obsession_inc's post because at first blush it sounds like yes, Holmesian fandom is moving in that direction and I'm not sure if it's a matter of generations so much as technology and communication. Fandom moves so much differently these days.

Date: 2010-05-15 04:01 am (UTC)
language_escapes: The main cast of St. Trinian's (2007 film) (H/W Never Die)
From: [personal profile] language_escapes
I suppose I can throw my two cents in here... I came into Holmes fandom when I was twelve, which would have been... 1999/2000. Not that long ago, really, but before the 09 film at the very least. And it should be noted that I was pretty clearly asexual at age twelve, and didn't go searching for slash, and didn't even know what slash was until 14, but with all that in mind...

What I DO remember from fanworks of that age were that, for one, I couldn't find many on-line. I presume that they largely had found other niches before I hopped on-line, but yeah, when I started reading over at ff.net, there were only 28 stories in the archive. And of those 28, I remember a LOT of them being modern reworkings of the stories, often with a female Watson and male Holmes.

(Interesting, that Holmes was always the one who remained male, when Watson was reworked as female- I wonder what that means? Was it an effort to keep the hero/protagonist of the tale a masculine figure? Because, reading the stories now, Watson always pegs me as the one who fits more within the male stereotype, while Holmes is the one who transgresses...)

Thinking about it now, actually, I think the fact that people so often reworked the stories in order to create a female Watson is quite telling about how people wanted to understand that dynamic in the Canon, but because of a heteronormative gaze, someone had to become female. Hmm. Simultaneously, I think it could also be very telling in the sense that we often think of the most important relationship being a romantic one, and so the idea of a platonic relationship being the most important in Canon was odd, and so when these authors reworked it for modern settings they reworked it for the assumption that a romantic relationship takes primacy.

And I will confess- I wrote five novel length modern AUs with a male Holmes and a female Watson, and as an adult who actually knows something about queerness now (I lived in a very isolated, conservative area and never even heard of homosexuality until I was 14), I think I very much saw a queer relationship between Holmes and Watson but, since I didn't think it was possible to have a romantic relationship between members of the same sex, I felt that I had to switch to a female Watson in order to convey the sort of relationship Holmes and Watson had in a modern context.

Of the slash I did see and actually remember from later, I do remember it often being the We're Not Gay trope. At the very least, Holmes had often never been with anyone else, male or female, and no one had ever interested him, except for Watson. And for Watson, Holmes was the only male he had been interested in. I'm not sure- is that still pretty common? I'm actually not too aware of the new stories that sprung from the 09 film.

As for the Affirmational versus Transformational question, I'm really intrigued about how that also ties in with published fanfic. Because we still have that Voice of Authority, but then I look at some of the sheer CRACK that's been published, and the lines blur for me a bit. Because I associate crack fic with the transformational aspects of fandom, where we do whatever we want and put the characters in new situations that, yeah, would never have worked if we stuck with creating new versions of Canon. I think we can see a clear split between works that attempt to imitate and mimic Watson's writing style and focus on the case and deductive element, versus works that set Holmes and Watson against Dracula, which is one of the most popular pastiche tropes around, or the Phantom of the Opera, or Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, or even literal ghosts and zombies and other things that don't fit within the estabished Canon universe, other than in the sense that these other characters were created in similar time periods. And these are the least cracky of pastiches I can think of at this moment.

Even with that question of published fanfic in there, I would say that I think Holmes fandom is moving towards the transformational, especially with the 09 movie fans flooding the Internet. I think that in some ways, in the past, fandom was primarily held in the hands of whoever could join the BSI and other large organizations, which, in my experience, aren't really into a queer interpretation of the text. But now we have 09 movie fans mixing with Canon-only fans mixing with fans who grew up with Granada!Holmes and Russian!Holmes, and we're all coming out of the woodwork, as it were, with the release of the new film- even if people didn't like it and thought of it as blasphemy, they're interacting with people who loved it, and I think that's blurring the lines between the "authority" and the people.

... I have no idea if ANY of that was coherent at all.

Date: 2010-05-15 09:55 am (UTC)
sibyllevance: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sibyllevance
Very coherent and fascinating! I'm not familiar with Doyle's books but I truly enjoyed the 2009 movie and I really enjoyed this overview of your experience, I found this interesting in particular: 'Thinking about it now, actually, I think the fact that people so often reworked the stories in order to create a female Watson is quite telling about how people wanted to understand that dynamic in the Canon, but because of a heteronormative gaze, someone had to become female.'

Date: 2010-05-15 10:05 am (UTC)
torachan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] torachan
I'm not sure- is that still pretty common? I'm actually not too aware of the new stories that sprung from the 09 film.

Sadly, this is still very common, even with film canon. I find it really, really frustrating.

Date: 2010-06-05 12:46 am (UTC)
language_escapes: The main cast of St. Trinian's (2007 film) (Default)
From: [personal profile] language_escapes
I'm sorry for the delay in reply- I will get on this as soon as I am able. I actually graduate from my undergraduate college in... eight or nine days, so I'm rather swamped with this whole "finishing school" concept. But after that I get several weeks before I begin my PhD, and will happily devote my time toward preparing a post on this. Thank you for asking me!

Date: 2010-05-15 10:47 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spacefall
Short answer: not quite. IMO, pre-movie slash fandom was already increasingly likely to explore queerness and historical context, possibly due to a shift in fandom as a whole. Fans have frequently used H/W to explore ideas around Victorian sexuality and identity.

I've been personally involved in Holmes fandom since around 2004, though I had contact with zine and online fandom before that, and knew the canon and Granada. I was aware of the fandom in a fan studies context long before I allowed myself to be sucked in. :)

I would say that in online Holmes Slash there has been long-running trend towards exploring the historical setting, ideas of queerness, the history of sexual identity and so on. Certainly in the active fandom, pre-movie, there was a lot of exploration of what it meant to be queer in the 1880s - early 20th century. Hell, that is a large part of what interests me in Holmes fandom (see my bookshelf for details ;D) I don't think that post-movie fic goes noticeably further in that direction, but I do think that the older fanbase and fan material online was more mixed, so perhaps newer fandom gives a stronger reflection of recent trends in fandom? I have certainly been aware of new fans re-treading the exploration of the canon in queer terms, just as pre-movie fans had done, and I personally see it as a point in common rather than a division...though that may be my own selfish desire to see Holmes fandom continue in this direction. :)

I think that part of a perception of older fic as 'less queer' might be the use of a Watson/canon-styled POV, which tries to incorporate Victorian views on sexuality, or the language of the canon. Not that some tales don't deal bluntly with H&W as queer men, but stories are IMO more likely to play with the identities available to Holmes and Watson at the time. The overcoming of internalised homophobia is a common plotline in H/W, and Watson especially is often portrayed as grappling with perceptions of being 'normal', 'not like that', etc. Rather than an attempt to argue for TNGTJLE, those sorts of plotlines can often be about the difficulty H&W have in forming an identity for themselves and their relationship. For every Holmes who embraces his sexual difference, or Watson who is at ease with his physical passion for men, there are a handful of HWs with hangups up to their ears, trying to fit their affair into some framework they can accept. I don't think those stories are any less about being queer, but perhaps less likely to allow Holmes and Watson the comfort of newer* sexual identities. The constraints imposed by 19th century ideas of sex/love can be a sharp-edged plot point when compared to the relative freedom enjoyed by some of us as modern readers.

* in the sense of 'more common in the present time' rather than recently-created. While I do follow a lot of constructionist arguments, I veer away from seeing modern identities purely in terms of a response to legal and sexological definitions. Plenty of early queer writers had already described their own sense of sexual difference, and some had tried to define their desires in remarkably familiar terms. That's not to say that every man or woman had access to these ideas (indeed, for some women it was probably less helpful to do so) but they were part of a mix of identities, alongside those views that define sex in terms of what one did rather than what one was. The types of self-identification available to Holmes and Watson were certainly a lot broader than those applied from outside, legal, medical, or moral.

FWIW, I recommend ...

Lyra's links at http://liquidfic.net/Holmes_Watson.html and her own stories, which frequently explore queer topics. The links page is no longer updated, but Lyra often mentions stories with queer plotlines which she has enjoyed. See also Katie Forsythe who's been more recently active on this topic.
The Slasher's Annotated Sherlock Holmes

Decoding the Subtext - Neko's epic writings - I disagree with some of the interpretations of language, but a very rewarding read.

To go into tropes...a while ago I made a database of online fic(pre-movie) by canonical reference and it was clear that certain stories commanded more interest than others. In particular, Charles Augustus Milverton is the focus of a lot of fan activity. Victorian blackmail was far more frequently centred on same-sex activity than you'd think from Doyle ;D and writers have used CHAS to explore restrictions on identity and activity. The Sign of Four is also a jumping off point for discussions of Watson's sexual identity, marriage, form, and so on. I think this is a fairly common trend in the active H/W community, in common with other fandoms. That's not to say that there isn't a lot of fic conforming to older zine-era styles, but I would say that cox_and_co and HolmesSlash on Yahoo have both seen a good deal of discussion of queerness.

Back to Holmes fandom as a whole, I have an interest in all sorts of 'writings on the writings', and although I have struggled to find much discussion of queerness (even 'In Bed With Sherlock Holmes' veers off into semiotics at that point!) it's not entirely un-trodden territory. I have been a bit critical *cough* of the attempts to dismiss queer readings of the canon as naive or shallow, but that's an interesting topic in itself! One for another day, maybe ;D I have a long list of writers-who-should-know-better, and spurious arguments against H/W in otherwise rigorous books!

Here from Holmsian_news

Date: 2010-05-15 12:15 pm (UTC)
ina_jean: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ina_jean
Not sure whether this is what you want, but, as someone who first read Holmes when I was 12 (12 is the 'golden age' for genre literature!) back in 1965, and then, because the canon, while long by most fandom standards, wasn't long enough for me, went out and found as much periperal/transformative work as I could. Ellery Queen's 'Misadventures' collection, August Derleth's 'Solar Pons', and various of the 'Irregulars' fictional pieces.

All of these focussed far more on the detective problems than on Holmes and Watson's relationship. But by the 70s there were some small press 'relationship' works. Even among the canon purists who claimed that Holmes was never the same after the Reichenbach Falls incident, didn't want to give up on Watson's faint in 'The Empty House', or Holmes' panic when he thinks Watson is wounded in 'Three Garridebs' - so no-one was very surprised when Rohase Piercy's 'My Dearest Holmes' hit the (gay) bookshops in 1988.

By then I was reading (and writing) a lot of slash in TV fandoms (Trek, The Professionals, Blakes Seven), but even the advent of the Brett TV series didn't seem to trigger a lot of slash contributions to the multi-media slash zines - though there were probably dedicated Holmes slash zines circulating these seemed to be wholly among the book-fandom itself and not among the wider sf/detective fiction slash community.

I think the first online Holmes slash I came across was as a result of reading Sheenagh Pugh's 'The Democratic Genre' in 2005. And that, too, was book-based and often Watson pastiche (and there's a whole other essay to be written on the book-canon fandoms who stick to pastiche, and the ones who experiment with style - I'm looking at Jane Austen fandom hereā€¦)

I wouldn't presume to shake my walking stick at the kids on the lawn though. In fact, before the 2009 film came out I spent a lot of time defending Guy Ritchie's decisions to make Holmes a more active figure than the Brett version - on the grounds that canon Holmes does have a reputation as a pugilist - and does inhabit an underworld London closer to Ritchie's modern work than the 'gaslamps and hansom cabs' of most other media portrayals. I just wish that a few of the writers who came to Holmes via the movie would at least show some knowledge that there is a book canon. And a bit of awareness of real-life British gay history.

Re: Here from Holmsian_news

Date: 2010-05-15 03:43 pm (UTC)
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Default)
From: [personal profile] my_daroga
Thank you so much for this comment--I am fascinated by your observations on zine culture at the time and really wish I had more access to it (especially now that I've joined the Kirk/Spock camp for life). Thank you for this overview.

Date: 2010-05-15 06:46 pm (UTC)
onyxlynx: Nondescript stack of old hardcover books (Stack of books)
From: [personal profile] onyxlynx
Hmmmmm. Back in the early '90s (1990s, not 1890s) I had a bout of Holmes-itis, during which I bought and read both volumes of Bantam's collection of complete novels and stories and (thanks to a friend) hung out with the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, who publish The Serpentine Muse, copies of which are probably still in a box somewhere.

I think "Holmes was a woman" made an occasional appearance, but what I mostly remember is that much of the scholarship was in the service of Really Bad Puns.

So I can't help. Sorry.

Date: 2010-05-16 01:20 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spacefall
PS: while I only know of it through zines, I get the impression that the zine side of holmesslash fandom was a bit of a combo of existing fandom mixed with a large helping of Granada Holmes? Not that there was no book-fic, but the proportion of Granada is fairly high in those zines. I find it interesting that at some point fannish output became more bookish again...or was the amount of Granada just down to zine era fandom favouring Television for its slashy source material?

Date: 2010-05-16 07:57 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spacefall
Cheers. I think I have three of those, though I've read one or two of the others.

Date: 2010-06-11 04:22 pm (UTC)
franzeska: (Default)
From: [personal profile] franzeska
In college, I convinced people in my English literature for perverts various Renaissance and 19thC sexualities type English classes who were unfamiliar with the concept of fanfiction to read Holmes fic. (This would have been c. 2001-2002) They thought An Ideal Husband was brilliant but were bitterly disappointed by everything they read after that.

I have a vague memory that I'd also read some Holmes fic online before that, but I've never been heavily involved in the online fandom or had any contact with zine fanfic. (Of course, as a nerdy, Holmes-obsessed kid, it's impossible not to have contact with other definitions of Holmes "fandom".) And for years, I've been using "You know, like Holmes pastiche" to explain the concept of fanfic to family and friends.

Now, I'm not sure what the really old slash looks like or what the gen that might have accompanied it looked like (as opposed to the decades and decades of pastiche casefic), but the main change I noticed immediately post-movie was an upswing in Any Two Guys PWP based around the attractiveness of the actors. (Not that I object--they're certainly very attractive, and I'm not as married to the Jeremy Brett version as most Holmes fans of my same vintage.) Personally, I found myself getting interested in Holmes/Adler romance, which is a first for me (but certainly not a first for Holmes fanfic and pastiche!).

Pre-movie Holmes (online, fanfic-as-fanfic producing) fandom struck me, based on a tiny and probably unrepresentative sample, as being full of queerness. FTM Holmes. Gay subculture-involved Watson. Crossdressing bisexual actresses. Explorations of 19thC sexual identities clearly written by bored students in the same English-for-perverts classes I was taking. A lot of this stuff also struck me as being either more book based or based on a mishmash of many different versions--the expected level of both historical knowledge and Holmes geekery was really quite high. There were footnotes!

I certainly wouldn't say that no book fans like the movies or that no new movie fans are reading the original stories, but newer fans are going to be less burdened by or less familiar with the entire massive Holmes media history since they haven't spent a decade or five reading and watching it.

So, uh, in a highly biased, personal experiance bounded, navel gazing kind of way,

" I feel like slash fandom has really changed the way we address homosexuality in recent years, based on the fic I've read. We seem much more likely to show our characters having had previous homosexual experiences, or being happily and openly bisexual, or being connected to a homosexual subculture, or being non-heteronormative in other ways (genderqueer/transgendered, asexual, kinky, etc."

is the exact opposite of my perception of Holmes fandom. I do see opposing (different? orthogonal?) forces in Holmes "fandom" that consist of taking Holmes pastiche and adding queerness vs. taking slash fandom and adding Holmes and another set of forces that consist of responding to a specific story or a specific adaptation of a specific story vs. responding to the entire history of Holmes pastiche/fic/fandom/analysis, but I don't see either of those pairs as primarily related to the new movie.


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