Fetishizing Homosexuality

tumblr_inline_n5x4kg4EnK1rtovoxSo I found this little musing on Tumblr, land of opinions, about the shipping of the non-canon, non-gay men characters on Sherlock. Cantpronounce is “still struggling to understand why” straight women shipping two men together is seen as fetishizing homosexuality.

Disclaimer, I know nothing about Johnlock, but this entitlement some straight people feel about LGBT characters is hardly unique to Sherlock. (Klainers, I’m looking at you) and hardly unique to women (straight dudes, queer women don’t exist for your gratification.) What I do understand; however, is why some LGBT people (and those allies who get it) have a hard time with straight people appropriating queer characters as their talisman for being mistreated by showrunners, writers or whoever, for shipping same gender couples.

Cantpronounce, as “a white, straight girl” who does not, judging by her post, seem to understand her privilege at all as both straight and white, is indeed fetishizing gay men by wanting to see them together, because there is no other reason–not as an ally to real LGBT people, for example. Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite problem with policing female sexuality in our culture. Female sexuality is complex, and women look for all kinds of pairing and couplings, which is completely valid. There is nothing wrong with shipping same gender couples. It’s the language and entitlement surrounding this that is problematic. Let me be clear.

Cantpronounce further says in a glaring statement of privilege:

“Yet, the power of heteronormativity and of people’s preconceptions and cultural set up is extremely strong, and I know it does influence me. I wish I could just enjoy my ship without being scared or worried or whatnot.”

Gee,  I wish I could just enjoy my life without being scared I will be sexually assaulted or rejected by friends and family or denied basic civil rights just because I am LGBT–or whatnot. That’s what TV LGBT characters accomplish, and when heterosexual people start encroaching on that with their own entitlement, they’ve turned LGBT people into tokenistic objects who exist for the gratification of straight people, whether it’s men fetishizing lesbians or, in this case, women fetishizing gay men. It’s sometimes dangerous and quite frankly, the entitlement is irritating and absolutely unhelpful.

The ability to ship a non-canon fictional couple without shame has no political bearing on the real life of straight women. LGBT people don’t just want to see more couples like ourselves on screen, we NEED these characters as a tool for political gains. Representation with canon (or queer-baiting non-canon) characters on television for LGBT people does have a real life, political impact on the basic civil rights of LGBT people. (See well documented research correlating LGBT representation on TV and political gains.)

While I certainly understand being thought of as weird, being scared or worried as cantpronounce mentions she feels about shipping Johnlock, for LGBT people they aren’t just scared because of who they ship, but who they love in real life. At the end of the day, cantpronounce and other straight women like her will legally marry a man anywhere in the world she wants and get off while dreaming of gay men together. Must be nice to have your cake and eat it too. It’s not fiction for LGBT people.

And while cantpronounce doesn’t go this far, I’ve seen many straight women using LGBT rights as the reason they want more screen time for gay male couples. (Klainers…) Yet, these same self-identified “allies” actively ignore or denounce queer women characters and advocate only for two very specific male characters. Straight women claim–without even asking gay men--that male couples are great for LGBT representation. This disingenuous appropriation of the struggle for LGBT equality by straight women for their own gain is appalling. As Indigenous Action writes, “Co-signing ally as an identity while nothing concrete in your life connects you to any social justice work is infuriating.”

Representation on TV is one of the most powerful political tools the LGBT community has. Furthermore, when the squealing fan girling moves out of the fictional realm and these straight women start oozing how cute real LGBT couples are for their own personal satisfaction, that diminishes real people and turns them into characters who exist for heterosexual people. Who wants to be treated like that? Nobody.

So, “Why is shipping two characters seen as ‘fetishising homosexuality’?” The answer is simple. Same gender couples on TV have a much deeper resonance, importance and meaning than feeling validated shipping whoever a privileged straight person wants. Wanting more LGBT characters is great, but not for the selfish satisfaction of the heterosexual majority. LGBT characters represent real people. Real life trumps fiction. Please take your disingenuous entitlement (read: fetishization) of LGBT characters elsewhere.

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About VersusTheFans

Amplifying and celebrating the value of popular art, especially TV, in giving a voice to women and the LGBT community, in addition to serving as a media watcher on LGBT reporting.

Posted on July 8, 2014, in All Posts, LGBTQ, Representation, TV Shows and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. AMEN!
    And nicely put. Thank you 🙂

  2. Interesting thoughts, and I hope you don’t feel I’m lumped in with that, although I will admit I tend to fetishize it. But seeing the two together ‘because they’re hot’ is only a small part of why I ship John and Sherlock. In fact, I saw the pairing way before the BBC version, and had read an Arthur Conan Doyle fanfic back in the early 2000s that basically made me say, ‘Yep. I see it.’

    As I’ve written before, I read and write slashfic mostly because it plays with the heteronormative views we have on romance in media. There isn’t a single bone in my body that doesn’t scream that if “Sherlock” had done an “Elementary” and genderswapped Watson, but had the same text, the same acting, the same chemistry between the two actors, the same lighting, etc. that there wouldn’t be REAMS of media posts going into the ‘will they or won’t they?’ talks that any show that has a male lead and a female lead that has any kind of chemistry gets.

    Yes, part of me hopes the couple becomes canon because I truly believe it would help with LGBT representation on TV – partly because neither character are ‘stereotypically’ gay (heck, my headcanon has Sherlock as either grey asexual or aromantic, with John one of those rare people that wouldn’t classify as straight, although he has made ‘not gay’ statements, it’s more because his sister is a lesbian and he’s perhaps not ready to acknowledge he occasionally finds himself attracted to men: in fact, I hope that’s the reason Moffat had the character of Irene be a lesbian who ‘turned’ for Sherlock is to set up that sexuality can be much more fluid than a binary setup). Just because I am not gay – and I haven’t asked gay men their thoughts – doesn’t mean I don’t see how gay people are typically portrayed on television and hope one day for a show where the fact that the couple is gay isn’t a gimmick or part of the narrative any more than any other relationship in the show.

    In fact, series co-creator Mark Gatiss (who is openly gay himself) has repeatedly stated that one of the influences of the new series is the Billy Wilder movie “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, which many scholars have claimed has Holmes played as gay and in love (one way) with Watson. So, there’s the theory that he, at least, writes Sherlock as being – if not gay, at least aromantic and in love with John. (In fact, it’s his involvement that makes me pause before throwing out the queerbaiting claim, although I am the first to admit that you can be gay and still queerbait and still be homophobic. In fact, sometimes, that makes it worse because the writer is so desperately trying to prove they can ‘write straight’.)

    Yes, lesbian representation needs to be stronger as well, and I keep waiting to see what they’re going to do with John’s lesbian sister (she has yet to show up on screen: the showrunners claim it’s because they want to make sure they focus on her, and not make her a throwaway character). But, alas, with so many other things, sometimes you have to make the roads first with men before women can come through, and since said road in “Sherlock” has already been laid with the subtext already, that’s the partnership that would best make sense.

    Many writers of slashfic (in fact, one of my ‘geek girls’ I’ve interviewed) are lesbians, and so obviously they write it not because it’s a fetish. They just like the characters and see them as partners to the end. Many straight women writers of slashfic are allies to the LGBT in other ways (i.e., for me, I have way too many friends who are gay for me NOT to be an ally).

    I definitely understand my privilege as a white mostly straight female when I write/read slashfic, and there’s a meme on Tumblr that shows a venn diagram of ‘things I like in fanfic’ and ‘things I want to see in the show’ with maybe 5% overlapping that sums up my feelings about fanfic. Most of it is just us playing around with tropes and what ifs that would make us cringe if it actually became canon.

    One very important one to the Sherlock fandom currently is the concept of kid!fic. There are lots of fanfics that have John or Sherlock with a kid that are beautifully written and I love beyond all doubt. However, the idea that we have a baby Watson on the way IN CANON makes me cringe in so many ways, because I can’t see a way for this to go without either turning the show into “Full House” or in fridging Mary – and the baby – in order to give John more manpain.

    I guess what I’m saying is that ‘fetishizing homosexuality’ in slashfic is as complicated of an issue as sexuality itself.

  1. Pingback: Klainers – Poaching Representation | Versus the Fans

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