July 15th, 2014

granada holmes

Sherlock Fic Recommendation (+ Bonus Thinky Thoughts): The Scientific Methods of Biological Clocks

(Fair warning: I initially wrote this up while sick last week. I stand by the basic point, but the writing style is a bit less focused and eloquent than I usually aim for. It seemed still worth sharing so I'm posting it as-is. Hope anyone interested can see the thoughts behind the slightly meandering writing style.)

I recently read (for the second time, actually) a rather delightful bit of what you might call parentlock.

The Scientific Method of Biological Clocks, by billiethepoet

For those whose world is not taken over by fanfic and fanart with the –lock suffix attached, parentlock is Sherlock Holmes-themed fanart dealing with the characters (usually John and Sherlock) deal with raising a child, or in this case the getting of the same. In this story, John donates sperm so that his sister and her (female) partner can have a child together, and Sherlock is a bit surprised about how much he wants a child for him and John to raise together.

Firstly, the straight-up review. This story is so touching, I'm not entirely sure I have the words for it. I think that as someone with a big ol' brain she struggles to turn off at times, who doesn't always deal well with bits of reality that aren't so neatly rational and doesn't have a strong vocabulary for the emotional side of things, I've always really identified with the BBC version of Sherlock in this area. It's not Doyle's Sherlock in so many ways, but I love him anyway. So when Sherlock confronts this strong longing within himself and tries to parse how much of this is an experiment or just curiosity or what exactly, and when he (spoilers) sees how others react to the possibility he just flat-out wants this, needs it – or even more, the possibility that he's not capable of that kind of desire – well, I won't lie. The first time I read that moment on the stairs to 221B, I had tears in my eye. It's that powerful.

(It's also that funny, and that dramatic, and that sexy, because yes there are some tastefully-done moments of Johnlock sexytiems that are very nice as well. I found it to be a really well-rounded, very human look at what it means to be a parent, especially when it's not quite so simple as inserting tab A into slot B.)

(Also, there are spoilers from the story from here on out. I've tried to keep them minimal, and I think the bits I'm giving away shouldn't be too great a surprise to anyone familiar with how these stories work; but I can't discuss it without going into details.)

Now, I'm going to slip into philosophy prof mode here and I hope Billie won't mind and won't take this as a criticism of her story, more where it drove me to think. Because until very recently I was a grad student who had the privilege of teaching intro-level philosophy courses and one of the ways I did this was by using scenes from my favorite TV shows (most recently Doctor Who, House M.D. and of course Sherlock, and sometimes even from fanfic stories, as a way to frame discussions of the philosophy we studied. The upshot is I have years of training where I'm exposed to something new that I like, that makes me think, and often my first response is to think "Wouldn't this be a really nice case study for _______," where ______ can be any of the philosophers we study. It's a hard habit to break.

And it happened this time. One of the authors I walk my students through is Elizabeth Anderson, specifically "Is Women's Labor a Commodity?" It's a professional philosophy paper, meaning it's behind a paywall, but it's also a common class reading meaning clever googlers can probably find a free version posted to one of any number of professor's websites. (Hint: filetype:pdf is your friend.) The gist of the paper is that paid surrogacy, where women get paid to donate an egg and carry a child to term but then are expected to surrender parental rights in exchange for a cash payment is degrading to women. The basic argument, or one of them, is that pregnancy is such a key part of what it means to be a woman, this ability to bring forth life isn't something we do but rather it's a big part of who we are as women, that it's dehumanizing somehow to treat this ability like something that can be bought and sold. She thinks paid surrogacy turns us (and depending on the details of the process, sometimes the baby) into a kind of commodity, which it just isn't. Basically it's a special case of the idea that money can't buy anything.
Anyway, getting back to Billie's really very interesting story. One thing I was struck by, as I read it, was how well it would work as a case study of Anderson's piece, if I was still teaching. Because in this story John donates sperm to his sister and her partner so they can have a baby they couldn't have otherwise. And it's not for profit, but there's something about this that really gets under Sherlock's skin and awakens a desire, even a need, he didn't have before. The idea that someone else will be raising this child who genetically is John's son – this child that's so like his own lover – well, I hesitate to call it wrong, because John consented (and Sherlock agreed to let John go ahead and do this), but Sherlock really regrets that this child who could be so much like a young John won't be a part of their life in the way he wants.

So on the one hand the story is all about how being biologically tied to your offspring can be a profoundly significant thing. I don't mean to downplay the bond that's possible between adoptive parents. I've seen in my own experience how adoptive parents can be so close and every bit as bonded without this genetic link; but this is instead pointing to how when that genetic link is there, what it can mean to the parents, how it can and I'd say should tie them together and foster that special kind of love. It's about what it would mean to Sherlock to love a child that was genetically John Watson's son or daughter, and while we're in Sherlock's head rather than John's, I can only imagine John has similar feelings himself. (He certainly admits to wanting to raise Sherlock's son.) The interesting thing is, in this story there also has to be a genetic mother, who's also (I'm assuming) the surrogate. But it's the nature of the story – and I think I understand why Billie made this choice, and I certainly am not sure how I could have done better – that this woman's maternal ties just aren't part of the story. Quite literally in one scene John and Sherlock are arguing over who's going to donate sperm, and the next they're in the birthing center with their new son in their arms. We don't get to meet the biological and surrogate mother, beyond reading a brief description of surrogates (blond-haired, physics major, etc.).

I don't think this is a real flaw in the story. After all, even Sherlock doesn't think Harry's and her partner's son, the first child produced using John's sperm, is his and John's. He has a certain connection and is fascinated and feels a connection, but he gets that he is that child's nephew, not his father. Still, there's a fascinating intellectual tension between on the one hand emphasizing the strong connection a genetic – but not emotion/legal – parent might feel on the one hand, and on the other hand having two gay men fathering a child where there has to be a woman providing the other half of the genetic material, but emotionally and from a story perspective almost has to be an emotional/parenting/etc. third wheel, if she's to be involved at all. From a storytelling perspective, I'm not convinced it's actually wise to include her at all. But it seems like you can't emphasize the importance of this being John's and Sherlock's child without also undercutting the fact that it's also some unnamed woman's child.

If nothing else, this story has me thinking about how complicated surrogacy can be – but at the same time how important, because I wouldn't want John and Sherlock (or any couple that couldn't reproduce without assistance) to lose out on this part of life if it's what they want. I mean, it seems so crucially human and that's one of the things I like most about this story, it gets across so clearly just why Sherlock would want this so badly. Still, it's ... messy, I guess, because procreation always involves at least two people, and with surrogacy one of those two isn't even in the primary relationship. It has me thinking that this is one of those situations, where there's enough subtlety and variation that both sides could be right in different ways, if there are only two sides. And it's telling, I think, that an emotionally compelling story really by necessity has to ignore parts of this whole web.

In any event, it's a good story on its merits and also one that's left me thinking thinky thoughts.
granada holmes

and suddenly: flash flood warnings. again.

So, we've got another round of flash flood warnings. The rain is coming down once more in rushing rising rivlets, people in are lingering in doorways and umbrellas are struggling to keep them inverted, etc.

Seriously, someone should check the harbor. I know one shouldn't complain when you don't even have to go out and some areas really, really need the rain, but are we sure no one's sailed west beyond the sight of Numenor? Because honestly, this is getting a bit ridiculous.

As for myself, I'm just a bit frustrated it's happening today rather than tomorrow. It's a waste of a perfectly good Winds-day joke.