Sherlock and John from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Kirk and Spock from Star Trek.
Dean and Castiel from Supernatural.
Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes from the Marvel comics and movies.
Crowley and Aziraphale from Neil Gaiman’s book and new Amazon Prime show Good Omens.
What ties these pairs of characters together? They’re all characters from popular media who have close relationships with each other and are often found or thought of together within their stories.
They’re also some of the most popular characters in slash fiction, a highly erotic branch of fanfiction that focuses specifically on homosexual relationships between male characters.
They’re not the only ones. Many pairs of characters, in all genres ranging from anime to Shakespeare, have been featured heavily in fans’ imaginations to have more than just a close relationship.
These fans scour the source material for clues or references that they can use to build an argument for their fantasy, and then tell everyone that it’s “obvious” that they are in love with each other.
This soon spreads to any two characters with any relationship, so much so that people will even pair characters who are antagonistic towards each other, like Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, claiming their enmity is secret love.
Social media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are full of text posts and minifics about these characters, and the characters have become icons for the LGBTQ+ movement.
Even the actors and writers have been having trouble changing people’s minds. Most just good-naturedly agree with the romantic accusations towards their characters to make the fans happy, regardless of whether or not that was their actual intent. But some actors try and clarify, but then dig a deeper hole for themselves trying to explain what that relationship is outside the defining characteristics of sexual tension:
And now even big-name creators like J. K. Rowling has been trying to cater to fans’ demands by amending her own canon material to include what she thinks they want.
Now this article is not meant to stomp on anyone’s dreams or put down anyone’s viewpoints, but I am going to say it now: this needs to stop.
This trend needs to be put to an end, because it’s killing something that used to be one of the most common and precious things in the world: friendship.
No two characters in a story, regardless of gender or any other qualification, are able to have a good solid friendship anymore without people adding a sexual spin. Characters cannot admire each other, share intimate life events, or grieve each others’ deaths anymore without someone taking it as a sign that there is sexual tension somewhere.
People forget that romantic love isn’t the only kind of love in existence — that there are other kinds of bonds between people that would lead them to sacrifice themselves for each other.
And this really bugs me. Maybe because I grew up believing that friendship was common and love was special, or maybe because not too long ago, they were just that.
I think the main source of confusion is the oversexualization of society in general. The word “love” used to apply to many different kinds of relationships, from family to friends to lovers, and the word was understood in the context of that specific relationship.
In fact, ancient Greek had at least seven different words for different types of love, which have all been boiled down to one word in modern day English.
Now, the word love is taken to mean sexual, erotic love in almost every case— even to the point where friends, who used to be able to tell each other “I love you” and mean it completely platonically, cannot even hint at it anymore without the meaning being twisted into something that was not intended.
This is especially damaging to men — women who are friends can still sometimes get away with telling each other, “Love you, girl!”, but for a man to say that to any friend — male or female — would be taken the wrong way almost immediately.
But it also damages actual sexual/romantic relationships as well. It turns sexual attraction into something commonplace and over-hyped, which makes it lose the meaningful, desirable quality it used to have.
Most, if not all, of these characters, were written to be close friends. There is nothing canon in the source material to confirm anything more. Most of the “proof” people use comes from moments in the canon when a character speaks fondly of another or praises them in some way, or when any character sacrifices themself for another.
But (and most of this is specifically directed at the Sherlock fandom, which I am a part of and this side of the fandom drives me crazy) the way books were written a long time ago is very different from today because of the social constructs of their time.
Keep in mind that in these time periods, female characters were much harder to come by and there were very few important female characters, especially in books written by men. Heck, The Hobbit doesn’t have a single female character in the whole book besides Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.
John spending more time with Sherlock than his wife both makes sense for the writing style and the time period, both in and out of universe. It makes sense for male main characters to spend a lot of time together having adventures in those types of stories, without the need to add in a sexual element.
The problem is, once people have decided that there is one, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: they will find proof in everything even when there isn’t any, like this post:
They’re freaking taking a walk, people. Watson is literally saying, He wasn’t doing so well emotionally because of his crazy habits, so I took him under my wing and helped him do something normal for a change. But nooo, the word ‘intimate’ must mean there’s sex involved.
Fans turning normal relationships into sexual ones has become so popular that there are memes about it:
And the kicker? All the posts I’ve put in this article so far were from a simple search using the fandom or the character’s names. I didn’t have to type in a single ship name to find them because at least 7 in 10 posts, if not more, will display the same point — it’s that pervasive. And there are some people who have noticed the damage it’s causing, and have posted about this on Tumblr with the same points I’ve been making — these people are just fewer and further between.
Interestingly, the only friendship I’ve found so far that has actually managed to stay a friendship for the most part is Claudia Donovan and Steve Jinks in the show Warehouse 13. And that’s only possible because Steve is gay. Interestingly enough, fans tend to twist the sexuality of straight characters to fit their own interpretations, but almost never do it to canon LGBT+ ones.
Otherwise, like this Tumblr user says, watching the show, every cue that these sex-driven fans look for is present in their relationship, right down to Claudia’s grief when Steve is killed and her single-minded determination to bring him back from the dead. Sound familiar? These two characters are proof that a non-sexualized friendship can happen — it just needs to happen a lot more.
And before I get any nasty comments on this (please don’t post anything nasty, I’m really sensitive), look. I get that queerbaiting is a thing, and I understand why it happens. And I don’t actually know if the creators of some of these characters meant to depict them in a way that hints at romance or not. But I do think that there’s a point when it’s gone too far, and that time in my opinion is now.
It’s affecting more than just fandoms. It’s bleeding over into our everyday lives, pushing people away from each other because normal, friendly, human contact is becoming taboo.
Let’s stop letting it happen.
I want to bring back friendships. Friendships so close that both parties care for each other as if they were family. Love doesn’t have to be sexual. Love, at its deepest, purest form, means putting someone else above yourself. Honestly, I wish everyone loved each other like that.
“My friend’s wiry arms were around me and he was leading me to the chair.
“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake say that you’re not hurt!”
It was worth a wound -it was worth many wounds- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay beyond that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.”
― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
I don’t see sexual attraction in that. I just see two men whose friendship knows no bounds. I see the kind of friend I would love to have, and the kind of friend I strive to be.
As should all of us.
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