Letter: Gays in the Bible... and in Baker Street?

Sir: Your report "The strange case of the missing gay detectives" (3 August) raises, once more, the proposition that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were homosexual. Professor Stephen Knight seems to believe that they were, though there is no real evidence for that belief.

It has been my privilege, over the last few years, to edit for publication some newly discovered manuscripts believed to be from the pen of Dr Watson. The fourth of these will be published by Constable in November as Sherlock Holmes and the Royal Flush. While these documents throw no more light on the pair's sexual orientation than the original stories, it is possible to deduce from those original tales that both Holmes and Watson were susceptible to women.

Watson, we know, married Mary Morstan, heroine of The Sign of Four, and some biographers believe that he married twice more. Holmes admired intellect in a woman (witness his admiration for Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia) and admitted to Watson that he wished he possessed female intuition: "The impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner." On the other hand he regarded women as potentially disruptive of his fierce intellectual discipline, an attitude which suggests that he too was very susceptible to them.

Their attitude to women does not, of course, establish that they were not homosexual. Perhaps they were asexual and, like the famous dog in Silver Blaze,"did nothing in the night-time".

In the end, one can only say that Professor Knight may be right in his inference that they were homosexual, but, if they were, they would certainly have rejected the adjective "gay". In their day it still carried its ancient slang meaning of "randy, promiscuous or sexually available". As a verb it was a synonym for "copulate", from which usage arose quaint expressions like "gaying pole", "gaying stick" and "gaying pintle" for the male member. The prostitute's invitation was, "Are you gay?" - a phrase whose survival among American homosexuals triggered the sloppy modern use of the term.

Holmes and Watson may have been homosexual. They were certainly not "gay".


Walsall, West Midlands