Written by Joan Stevenson—
A Fandom’s Obsession of Two Men in Love
Johnlock, n. The phenomenon whereby mostly heterosexual women (and some gay men) are fascinated by and perpetuate the romanticizing and sexualization of a relationship between the fictional characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson expressed as one word as in “Brangelina.”
Ship, v. To endorse a romantic relationship.
In July of 2000, Sherlock, a contemporary adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Homes detective stories first went on the air and it didn’t take long for fans to start speculating/imagining just what the detective and the doctor got up to behind closed doors.
There has always been a certain perceived homoerotic tinge to the characters’ relationship throughout the years; because of their closeness there has always been a bemused rumbling, “are they or aren’t they?” where Holmes and Watson are concerned. Writers and co-creators of the BBC series Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen) are well aware of this phenomenon. They are hardcore Sherlock homes fan boys themselves and it doesn’t hurt that Mark Gatiss is an openly gay man. The Sherlock series is their love letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius detective’s exploits and they have turned a new generation on to the great detective.
Never in any time of history have so many women (and some men) been fascinated by the relationship of two supposedly heterosexual men being sexually attracted to each other. Over the years there has always been a side eye glance, tongue in cheek, urban legend that Holmes and Watson were a “couple,” but never has it been so wide open and wide spread as it has been with the BBC version starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Is it because we want to believe these two very attractive men wouldn’t constantly be at it, or maybe it’s because these two characters came along at a critical time in both their lives and affected such change in each other that we want to believe that these two individuals have formed a perfect bond and intimacy, why wouldn’t they want to take it to the next level?
The question is why? Why do so many heterosexual women sexualize, fantasize, and romanticize this fictional relationship? I don’t quite get it myself. I often ask myself this question because I admit to being one of those who are affected/infected by this as well. Aside from the fact that Cumberbatch and Freeman are both excellent actors, I am also elated and fascinated at the possibility that their characters could be involved in a relationship. There has been a multitude of fan generated content about this such as fan art and fan fiction. This fan fiction and art takes on many incarnations in sexual tastes from general fluff all the way to BDSM.
I freely admit to belonging to this fandom and I can’t seem to get enough of putting these two together. I admit one of my favorite guilty pleasures is reading and collecting Johnlock fan fiction (especially if it’s smutty). I also admit to having created fan content. I have made a fan video in the Johnlock vein and I am in the process of writing a piece of Johnlock fan fiction.
Not only do fans “ship” Sherlock and john but there is also fan art and fan fiction devoted to supporting the union of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes and police inspector Greg Lestrade as a couple (MyStrade) there is even support for Sherlock and his mortal enemy James Moriarty (Sherarierty) not necessarily as a couple but definitely involved in sexual hijinks. The writers had some fun with this. In the first episode of the third series written by Mark Gatiss titled The Empty Hearse, when Moriarty and Sherlock shared a kiss in a “what-if?” sequence.
Between the fan fiction and the videos, and the art, the amount of fan created content in the Johnlock genre is very definitely staggering. There’s regular genuine art of Cumberbatch and Freeman, and then there’s the capturing of the erotic art of their characters as Holmes and Watson. If you’ve ever wondered what a sexual encounter between Sherlock homes and John Watson would be like, you have only to go to Tumblr or Google and type Johnlock into the search. On Tumblr it even takes on labels such as Red Pants Monday in which is the prompt for artists is to create something in which either character is wearing a pair of red briefs, or penis Friday in which a penis is visible.
To be honest there is also smutty fan fiction for other fandoms such as Supernatural, Merlin, Hannibal, Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, and the list goes on. Wherever there’s a fandom it’s safe to say that Rule #34 applies. (Rule #34, if it exists, there is porn for it) But, not all of the fan fiction is sexual. There is some deep and very moving fiction about John and Sherlock that is not sexual, but it does celebrate the fact that these two men are a couple.
Where can you read this fan fiction you ask? If you go to website databases for fan fiction like https://archiveofourown.org/ you will see that some of these stories are porn without plot, but most of these stories are about a deep meaningful connection that these two men have made, how they have come to lean on each other, rely on each other as they share their lives with one another. It’s about love, about two men in love with each other. Maybe that’s exactly what people are responding to the most, the love. Even if they don’t recognize it, these two men are truly, madly deeply in love with each other and love always makes us feel warm and hopeful and the Johnlock phenomenon if anything is a joyous celebration of that love. These are two men who would not function well without each other, they are truly two halves of a whole: John an Afghanistan war veteran with PTSD and a psychosomatic limp who’s missing the action of the war and addicted to danger. Sherlock a self described high functioning sociopath, no empathy or social affect, always finding himself in the center of danger and needing a partner in crime.
My prediction is as long as fans will want these two men together; Johnlock will always be an obsession that fans will always dine out on.