THE CURRENT DISCUSSION OF REPRESENTATION AMBIGUITY ON MY DASH IS FUCKING PISSING ME OFF.
Specifically, this. I’m a big fan of prettyarbitrary and I’ve already done my “rage-as-rhetorical-device” thing on her once this week, so instead of reblogging, I’ve tagged her instead to ignore/block at her leisure. So, once and for all, this is my manifesto on representation in Sherlock.
No one is saying that* a canon queerplatonic or asexual relationship for John and Sherlock is unwanted. No one is saying that asexual representation or aromantic representation is less important, or less necessary, than queer representation. However, if the writers of Sherlock do decide to go down the path of a romantic asexual or a queerplatonic relationship, in order for that representation to be good representation, there must be a certain amount of in-text education of what that means.
I talk a little bit about what good aromantic representation is here. As far as good asexual representation goes, it should be explicitly acknowledged that John and Sherlock are in (romantic) love with each other, that they do not have sex, and that that aspect of their relationship does not make their romantic relationship any less valid than any married couple. In both cases, not a single audience member must be able to write it off as being “just friends.” Because of universal ace- and aro-erasure, ambiguity and representation are mutually exclusive. If there is room for doubt, it’s not representation. Ever.
Speaking of ambiguity, for marginalized groups who have to fight for every scrap of representation, there is no such thing as ambiguity. Implicit representation is never enough. I’m aware that in less-forgiving environments, when you could be jailed or ostracized for just writing about homosexuality, the implicit queerness of Oscar Wilde’s works or the original ACD stories have inspired a generation. But in this (Western) media landscape, there is no excuse.
Just as characters of books are white until assumed otherwise, characters of mainstream books, television, and movies are straight until assumed otherwise. The same tenets that mean that ambiguity and good representation cannot coexist side-by-side in a work also apply to queer representation. Sherlock has placed John and Sherlock into romantically-coded roles. That much is absolutely true. It can either choose to follow through on those roles or not. The former is representation, and the latter is queerbaiting. There is no in-between.
In a perfect world, the narrative decision to let the audience make what they will of the relationship, giving rise to a multiplicity of readings and versions, would be just that — a narrative choice. But media doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Narrative choices are also political and ethical choices. And in the context of the intense emotional investment of hopeful queer viewers everywhere, in this world, where representation is so desperately needed and longed-for, a choice for ambiguity is necessarily a choice against representation. If there is room for doubt, it’s not good representation. Ever.
(Personally, I would be thrilled if one of my favorite TV shows described one of my ships as “queerplatonic” for this first time, and if one of my favorite TV characters turned out to be aromantic. Considering that half the psychological community tends to doubt our existence, though, I think canonical representation of aromanticism is a little too progressive for Sherlock. According to loudest-subtext-in-television's “big gay bombshell,” though, canonical representation of homo-/bisexuality isn’t, which is why the discussion has mainly centered around explicitly sexual queer relationships.)
*When I say that “no one is saying that,” I mean that no one who I know in the context of the representation discussion on Sherlock is saying that, and that no one should be saying that. If you see someone who is saying that, bring them to me and I’ll tear them a new one.