I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan. I say this not because this is a post about Sherlock Holmes, or the various new takes on Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.; Johnny Miller; Benedict Cummerbatch), or a celebration of A.C. Doyle’s birthday, or anything like that. It’s because there’s a common narrative thread that seems to run through people’s interpretations of men when they are either close–like in “buddy movies”–or actually live together, and in many ways the Holmes/Watson pairing is the Ur-example of this. (The true Ur-example is the legend of Gilgamesh and Enkido, but how many people know that? Other than people who remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok”?)
But Homes&Watson are hardly the only example of this in fiction, of course. We also have Kirk&Spock, and Harry&Ron, and Starsky&Hutch, and those two guys in “Miami Vice”, and on and on. It’s a very common trope.
But there’s something that quite bugs me about how these partnerships are treated. Let me give you an example: I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Baker Street Babes, a group of women who talk about All Things Sherlock. I like this podcast quite a bit, even if it turns into a girly giggle-fest too often for my tastes. But hey, I’m not the target audience, so I’m good with that. What I have difficulty with is the damn-near constant, incessant, laugh-behind-our-hands attitude that these women often display towards the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The subtext of this is clear: Holmes and Watson really have unresolved homosexual feelings for each other and jeez, why don’t they just act on it?
And here’s the thing, and I’m sorry to break it to the Babes: Men have male friends. Sometimes close male friends. Sometimes very close male friends for whom they would lay in front of traffic, but for whom they don’t have any romantic feelings. So get over yourselves.
In my case, I have a (very) few male friends for whom I would do almost anything. I have lived with some of these men, in some cases for years. We have dated women (or men), lived our individual lives, and built up a bond of close friendship that is non-sexual. Point being, men can have close male friends that they don’t want to jump in bed with.
(I will state that folks like Robert Downey, Jr. don’t make this any better by deliberately feeding into this “suppressed homosexual longing” thing.)
Yes, gang: Men can be friends, close, close friends, with other men, without sex being involved. Shocker!
Now turn this the other way: If you have a TV show, or a literary series, or a movies series, where there is a pair of women who are close friends, who even live with each other, would it be appropriate to point and giggle and make snarky comments about “suppressed lesbian longings”? Would we pooh-pooh people who said, “No, actually; Julie and Julia are just good friends–it’s nothing to do with sex”, and then giggle and make fun and suggest that believing–gasp!–women can have female friends without wanting to screw them makes you naive? How would that go over? (Hint: Not well.)
So look: I know it’s fun and cute and clever to point out that Paul Michael Glaser sure had tight pants and oooh giggle giggle I bet David Soul just wanted to jump his bones, or to write Ron/Harry shipping fanfic, or whatever, but the fact remains: Men can be close friends with other men without suppressed homosexuality being a part of it. Deal with it.