Is John Watson Gay? The Enduring Mystery in Sherlock Fandom

As an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, you may have asked yourself more than once – is John Watson actually gay? It’s a polarizing question that has sparked much debate in fan circles over the years. Watson’s sexuality throughout the various Sherlock Holmes adaptations has been ambiguous at best, leading to some very passionate opinions on both sides.

In this article, we’ll explore the case for and against good old John batting for the other team.

Here’s a quick answer:

In the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, John Watson is depicted as straight, showing interest in and marrying a woman. However, hints are dropped in some modern adaptations that Watson may be bisexual or pansexual, including sly references in BBC’s Sherlock about a possible romantic relationship between Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Watson’s sexuality across the retellings ranges from heterosexual to ambiguous to potentially queer.

Examining the Evidence in the Original Canon

We first meet John H. Watson in A Study in Scarlet, where he is introduced as a former military doctor who has returned from service in Afghanistan. Most readers initially assume him to be straight, as there is direct mention of him showing interest in women throughout the stories. In The Sign of Four, he meets and falls for Mary Morstan, whom he later marries. Open and shut case – Watson is clearly attracted to women, therefore he must be straight, correct?

Well, not so fast. While Watson’s interest in the opposite sex seems apparent, his devotion to Holmes could suggest to some readers that there may be more than mere friendship there. The fact that he chooses to move in and share lodgings with Holmes shortly after they meet raises a few eyebrows. And let’s not forget that one sentence from The Adventures of the Creeping Man that really got people talking:

“I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done.”

Holmes confessing love for Watson? That’s certainly one way to read it. Ultimately, the original canon leaves it up to the readers’ interpretation if they choose to view Watson as potentially harboring deeper feelings for Holmes underneath the surface.

The BBC’s Sherlock – A New Take on an Old Classic

Fast forward to 2010 when Sherlock premiered on the BBC, putting a modern spin on the age-old detective and his trusty companion. This contemporary reimagining provided more latitude when it came to hinting at a possible romantic involvement between the two. Despite Watson (played by Martin Freeman) maintaining his lady’s man status with a string of female love interests, there are a lot more sly references and tongue-in-cheek allusions to a potential relationship with Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

During their very first case in A Study in Pink, Watson point-blank asks Sherlock if he has a boyfriend to eliminate possibilities while deducing his marital status. In a later season, Irene Adler even refers to them as a couple and John does not deny it. Then there was of course the whole debacle about addressing rumors of Sherlock and Moriarty being past lovers. When a questioning detective asks John if he and Sherlock are involved romantically, John amusingly replies, “I know it’s unusual, but I’m going to put this on the list of things we absolutely will not be discussing.”

Cheeky indeed! So while Moffat and Gatiss never fully commit to making John exclusively homosexual, they definitely play with the idea that he and Sherlock may be more than only friends. Fans are free to read between the lines.

Watson’s Character in The Irregulars – Breaking Boundaries

Lastly, we come to Netflix’s 2020 thriller The Irregulars, which garnered attention for its unconventional choice to cast Watson as a gay black man deeply infatuated with Sherlock. Set decades earlier depicting Baker Street’s infamous street urchins, this Watson breaks precedent completely in his shameless pining for Holmes’s affections. Their dynamic takes a decidedly queer turn, although Holmes shows no romantic interest in Watson or seemingly anyone, remaining married only to his work.

Unfortunately, many questioned whether this series – lauded for inclusivity – actually set realistic representation back by perpetuating damaging homosexual stereotypes. Watson’s unreciprocated yearning for an oblivious Sherlock plays all too closely to society’s historical discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Perhaps a story line written today would exercise more sensitivity around such important social issues.

What’s the Verdict?

While the original Sherlock Holmes stories portray an ambiguously straight Watson, modern adaptations have increasingly hinted at or directly addressed Watson’s potential for same-sex attraction. This evidence doesn’t definitively identify Watson as gay, but shows his sexuality represented across a spectrum encompassing degrees of queerness.

Watson remains the loyal friend we cherish either way. Still, the debate around his orientation persists in new works and will likely continue for years among fans. Watson keeps readers guessing about his true preferences. Part of the enjoyment lies in deciding if Watson seems like an agreeable flatmate, whatever way he may identify.

VersionSexuality Portrayal
Original CanonAmbiguous / Open to Interpretation
BBC SherlockHints at bisexuality or pansexuality
The IrregularsDepicted as a gay man

FAQ

1. Was John Watson gay in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories?

No. In the original canon, John Watson is portrayed as straight. He shows interest in women and even marries Mary Morstan. His sexuality is never depicted as anything but heterosexual.

2. How did Sherlock hint that John Watson might be gay or bisexual?

While John had female love interests, the show included sly references hinting he might harbor attractions to men. For instance, Irene Adler refers to John and Sherlock as a couple, and John jokes about but doesn’t deny rumors they are romantically involved.

3. Why did The Irregulars make Watson a gay character?

The Irregulars was lauded for inclusivity in casting Watson as a gay black man. However, his unrequited pining for Sherlock was seen by some as perpetuating harmful stereotypes about discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

4. What evidence suggests John Watson might be gay or bisexual?

Though his sexuality is never definitive, moments cited as hints about John’s orientation include his devotion to Sherlock despite interest in women, Sherlock’s confession of love for John, and refusal to deny rumors of romantic involvement with Sherlock.

5. Why do fans debate John Watson’s sexuality so much?

Watson’s devotion to Sherlock fosters questions about whether his feelings are platonic or romantic. Also, modern retellings have played up the idea of feelings between Sherlock and John to appeal to audiences and spark interest. This keeps fans guessing about John’s true orientation.

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