Queer Families: BBC Sherlock and the Queer Reclamation of Biological Kin
history and queer fiction, there is a well-developed motif of the “chosen
family”. This concept grew up as an
act of resistance against the traditional notion that we should feel closest
and most loyal to our biological relatives.
Historically, many queer people were disowned, cast out, or otherwise
poorly treated by their relations, so understandably enough, they took refuge
in non-familial bonds. Some of these
bonds grew strong enough to replace the broken biological ones, and these
became the so-called “chosen family”.
The premise was that the family you choose could be more important to
you than the people randomly assigned to you by nature.
In many ways, BBC Sherlock participates
in this queer tradition. As any number
of gifsets have demonstrated, Sherlock has surrounded himself with people who
care deeply about him, despite having no genetic connection to him: John,
Molly, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade, etc. The
show itself seems to canonically cement this point in TFP, when Sherlock
insists that John be recognized as part of his “family”.
MYCROFT: This is
family. SHERLOCK: That’s
why he stays.
Chosen family is clearly very
important to Sherlock—both the character and the show. I’d argue, however, that there is a counter-motif
woven into the narrative: the idea that the biological family can be queered as
They ran together down the alley, shoes slapping against wet pavement.
Blood roared in John’s ears, his heart pounding, veins singing with the thrill
of the chase.
They rounded the corner, Sherlock just slightly ahead, and John heard
the distorted crack, the muted sound of gunfire ricocheting against brick.
He dove, getting one arm around Sherlock’s waist, crashing against him
and dragging him down behind an overflowing skip.
Sherlock struggled to sit up, opened his mouth, and John clamped his
hand over it, hooking his chin over Sherlock’s shoulder, pulling him back
against the damp brick. He was breathing hard, heart thundering.
"Are you all right?“ John asked, his voice a low, harsh
whisper against Sherlock’s ear. He did not take his hand away from Sherlock’s
Sherlock hesitated, then nodded, once, briskly. He brought up his own
hand to cover John’s where it pressed, his fingers chilled and damp. He
squeezed, once, a silent thanks.
John listened, tried to hear past his own crashing pulse, the ragged sound
of Sherlock’s breathing. There were voices, footsteps. Going away or coming
closer? It was hard to say, with the way the sound carried in the thick fog.
The ground was cold, damp. The brick was wet and uncomfortable against
his back, the chilled metal of the skip sharp against his shoulder. Sherlock
was startlingly heavy and warm against him. Hot, humid breath puffed against
John’s hand, slowing, calming.
The voices were retreating, he thought. Disappearing into the fog.
He started to withdraw his hand, was startled when Sherlock tightened
"What—” John started, and his voice cut out as Sherlock
shifted against him, lips ghosting very carefully, very deliberately against
his hand. A kiss, warm and soft and unmistakable, shockingly tender.
Sherlock’s fingers squeezed his again, and then dropped away. His
breathing quickened. His shoulders had stiffened up.
"Sherlock,“ John said. He kept his hand against Sherlock’s
mouth, not pressing. After a moment’s hesitation, he let it fall away. Sherlock
did not turn to face him.
The alley had gone silent but for the gentle patter of rain.
"Sherlock,” John said again. His hand was growing cold. He could
still feel a hint of fading warmth where Sherlock had pressed his lips.
Sherlock flinched from his name, unfolded from the ground in a rush.
John scrambled to his feet, pulling himself up against the skip, his knees
He reached out and just managed to catch Sherlock by one damp coat
sleeve. Tugged him gently backwards. Brought him around so he could see his
Sherlock’s eyes had gone quite wide, his face pale. He looked stricken,
horror-struck, terrified in a way that made John’s skin crawl, made him want to
look over his shoulder to verify that there was nothing lurking just there in
the shadows, ready to pounce.
But Sherlock’s gaze was not directed over his shoulder. Sherlock’s gaze
was fixed on him, rigid and frozen like a man awaiting sentencing for a
It wrenched something loose in John’s chest, and he stepped forward,
aching, aching at the way that Sherlock reared back like a spooked animal. He
relaxed his grip on Sherlock’s coat sleeve, let his hand slip down along the
slim wrist, tangled their fingers together.
He looked at Sherlock, and Sherlock looked down at their hands, his
eyes large and unblinking.
Carefully, slowly, John lifted their joined hands to his mouth, pressed
his lips against Sherlock’s knobby knuckles. He squeezed Sherlock’s fingers,
Sherlock blinked once, then again. He lifted his eyes to meet John’s.
There was an expression on his face that John had never seen before, something
shocked and vulnerable.
Somewhere in the distance, through the fog, someone shouted.There was a sound of breaking glass.
Sherlock blinked, looked towards the sound, then back at John. He
opened his mouth, shut it again. Looked at their hands.
John squeezed his hand one more time, let it drop with some reluctance.
"Later,“ he said, smiling as he inclined his head towards the
alley, where darkness and danger beckoned. "Yeah?”
Sherlock blinked at him again, and then seemed to gather himself
together in a rush. He nodded, a smile curling at the edge of his mouth.
I’m going to say it now--I will consider it a shameful failure on Marvel’s part if Dr. Strange and Agent Everett Ross don’t meet in at least one Marvel movie. Bonus points if there’s a Sherlock and/or Hobbit reference during that meeting.
Always wondered why fans try to make your cishet shows queer? Well, wonder no more because I have a solution! You could try to actually give depth the the straight romance! Or even *gasp* make your female characters multidimeonsional???
But of coure you’re not gonna do that so we’ll just keep making everything gay
John felt eyes on him and looked up, frowned suspiciously down the
Life with Sherlock had made him paranoid, he decided, turning his
attention back to the shelf. He added a tin of beans to his basket.
He shopped slowly, not in any particular hurry to go home.
An ungodly wail from Sherlock’s violin had jolted him out of bed
earlier than he’d have liked, and he’d come downstairs to find Mycroft in the
sitting room, perched on the end of John’s chair, umbrella clasped loosely
between his palms. Sherlock was at the window, his back to the room, sawing
away like a madman.
Mycroft had sighed and retreated after some time, but Sherlock had not
So John had retreated as well. The fridge had been looking rather bare
of late, and Sherlock had an alarming tendency to fill empty spaces with
Tesco was not particularly crowded in the early morning, and John
meandered down each aisle, taking time to read product labels, letting the tension
seep slowly from his shoulders.
There it was again. That feeling of being watched. Of being observed.
The hair on the back of his neck prickled. He hesitated before stepping
forward, fighting against his urge to turn around. He reached for a box of
biscuits, kept his movements slow and steady.
Then he dropped the box, spun around, dropping half into a defensive
crouch even as he saw a flash of dark fabric disappear around the corner.
He sighed, stood up straight. His back complained.
"Sherlock,“ he said.
He stared down the empty aisle for a long moment. Waited.
Sherlock slowly emerged from behind a display of pasta sauce. There was
a brief flicker of something sheepish on his face, immediately swept away in
favour of a blank, haughty expression.
John pinched the bridge of his nose, looked up at the ceiling. Looked
back at Sherlock.
"What are you doing here?”
Sherlock cleared his throat, took a step forward. “Shopping.”
"I needed—” Sherlock paused, looked to his left. Picked up a
jar. Squinted at it. “Alfredo sauce.”
"Really,“ John said.
He set his basket on the ground, folded his arms.
Sherlock was sharply dressed, as composed as ever. When John had shut
the door to their flat behind him, he had been pyjama-clad, his hair wild.
"Did you follow me here?“
"Why would I do that?”
"Not actually an answer, Sherlock.“
Sherlock stared back at him, his brow furrowed. He did not respond.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, put the jar of sauce back on the shelf.
“You never get the right biscuits.”
"Biscuits, John.” Sherlock came towards him, moving quickly,
with that startling grace he possessed. He bent down, picked up the box that
John had dropped. “I don’t like the plain ones.”
"You always eat them.“
Sherlock made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat. He put the
box back on the shelf. Selected a different box. Dropped it into John’s basket.
"You could have just texted,” John said, staring down at the
box, feeling oddly fond. He looked up at Sherlock, dropped his voice. “’John,
while you’re at the shops, could you pick me up some of those chocolate biscuits?’
You know. Something like that.”
"Why would I do that?“
"Oh, you’re right. Foolish of me. Far easier to rush around like a
madman so you can get dressed and follow your flatmate to Tesco. Were you just
going to stalk me until I noticed you?”
"Took you longer than I expected. Civilian life has dulled your
"Thanks for that,” John flashed a quick, sharp smile, turned
away. “Any more special requests, or am I allowed to finish shopping in
He made it three steps before Sherlock said, “Peas.”
He stopped, turned back. “What?”
"Peas. You make that—thing. Sometimes. With peas.“
John gaped at him. "You—like that?”
Sherlock cleared his throat, looked away. “It’s not bad.”
"You never said.“
"I’m sure I did,” Sherlock said. He was staring at the
shelves, at the jars and tins and boxes, anywhere but at John.
"All right,“ John said. There was a smile tugging at the edge
of his mouth. He could not, for the life of him, quite say why. "I’ll make
"Fine,“ Sherlock said. "Good.”
He started to whirl away, his coat swishing behind him.
"Yeah—no,“ John said.
Sherlock froze. Turned back. Frowned.
"If I’m cooking you dinner, the least you can do is carry the
Sherlock wrinkled up his nose. But he did not resist as John nudged the basket
handle into his hand.
"Besides,“ John said. "I’m pretty sure the butcher is
hiding a dark secret. You might want to look into it.”
"He’s having an affair with the checkout girl. Honestly, John,
don’t you pay attention to anything?“
John chuckled, feeling strangely warm and content as Sherlock fell into
step beside him.
"Well go on, then,” he said, letting their shoulders bump
together. “Tell me what I missed.”