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Sherlock Fic Rec: A Girl's Name

Sherlock fanfic rec time: A Girl's Name, by caseyrocksmore (spacey-casey @ Tumblr)

For reasons I'm having a hard time explaining or even understanding, I feel compelled to say right at the get-out that I'm not a big fan of the transgender!Sherlock genre of fanfiction, and that bothers me. (My unease, not the genre.) I really don't think it's shameful or anything. I've read stories in Star Trek and Doctor Who fandoms dealing with gender change, both through reincarnations and as transgendered character over a single lifespan, and quite liked them. I think it's because those shows seem to have built up a framework that makes some interesting conversations about gender a lot of fun, and you have characters coming from very patriarchal backgrounds that do some kind of genderbending (which isn't the same as being transgendered, but the framework can be repurposed) in a really very interesting way. I'm thinking of that lovely moment in the DS9 episode "Facets," where Quark takes on the persona of the (female) Audrid Dax for the Zhian'tara ceremony, and others like it that seemed to make fics dealing with alternate genders, the transgendered experience, and the like work for me.

So, as much as I love Sherlock, it's never been for its insightful work on gender, gender-bending, and being transgendered. So I guess fanfic stories like this one involving a transgendered character just feel a bit like an add-on to me. That's a bit odd in a fandom where every AU imaginable seems okay, and I certainly am not opposed to people writing them, it's just that for me personally there's this deficit to overcome before I can really connect with them, which means that as a group, they're not always the best bet for what I will like and what I won't.

But what's true in general isn't always the case in particular, is it? And that's definitely the case here. I loved this piece, and I hope this won't come across as a backhanded complement, because I think it's really an accomplishment to write someone who won't always think of the type of story as their "thing" but where this particular example just grabbed them at a deep level. Which "A Girl's Name" did.

For the space of the story, I was utterly absorbed by the idea that Sherlock was (but really wasn't) a girl's name, that the consulting detective we all know and love was a FTM transgendered person and what that would mean for him. The depths of the emotion, the complexity of the characterization and what this means for all of Sherlock's relationships is profound. The characters aren't perfect, some of them fall far short of perfection (*thumbs nose at Lestrade*), but those faults made sense and they gave Sherlock this incredibly rich world to act against.

I think what made this story work so well for me really comes down to two things. First, it's really bracketed into the world of BBC Sherlock in definite ways. The timeline is always established, and the timeline matters (John and Sherlock in the window between THE and TSOT is very different from John and Sherlock at the palace in ASIB, to take one example). It makes sense not only story-internally but in the sense of the larger canon (show-canon, not ACD-canon). Which quite neatly gets around the problem I mentioned earlier that transgendered Sherlock often feels like a shoehorn, something tacked on top of the show rather than growing organically out of it. In this case, it worked more or less without a hitch with the show's background, and more than just not crossing canon, it actually made good sense of it and used the canon background in some interesting and natural ways.

The other thing that makes this story so stand-out for me? The author works backward. She chooses to start with the Tarmac scene and cycle back through several moments in Sherlock's backhistory, vignette-style, and it's really very interesting. You know where the character is going in his life, who he's being shaped into; and that is just very interesting and also undercuts the connection to Sherlock's canonical self. By the end of the story you're left wondering how this particular version of Sherlock on the tarmac could have been formed any other way.

At least with me, the biggest complement I can give a fanwork is to take it seriously enough to kick all the tires. Being complementary is easy, but I do want to talk a bit about one thing that bothered me. I don't think it's a major fault and I'm honestly not sure I could have done better, but it does seem talking a bit about.

In the (i) section (the next-to-last scene), Sherlock is finally nudged into taking on a more fully male identity, choosing a boy's name and starting hormones, and it's a bit of sexism that drives him there. Basically he's disrespected by the police for being a girl, which Sherlock doesn't think is true in any case, but it does raise the interesting question: is his choice here about always having been a boy (girls are fine, it's all fine, but in point of fact he's just not that); or is it that he doesn't want to be a girl because girls are a bad thing to be, for anyone? That seems to be a big question in fandom, particularly fandoms like the BBC Sherlock and the ACD canon where the women aren't always the most attractive or interesting characters and where slash and male relationships of all sort become our main focus. How do we interact with this show in a way that doesn't paint Molly, Mary, and all the rest as "grit on the lens", as somehow unworthy of the leading male characters? Or in this particular story, how do we make Sherlock choose to be a boy rather than a girl (or, more precisely, to recognize he's always been a boy) without making it seem like being a girl would be bad, if that was what he actually was? Anything less is... troubling, I think, and complicates the story of what his transition means for him, what's driving this choice here.

So is Sherlock taking the step he's taking because he's really a boy or because no one in their right mind would want to be a girl? My guess is both. I think he definitely sees himself as a boy and works within that gender, but there's something horrifying about not only being misgendered but having it turn into scorn and dismissal – bad enough to be rejected for what you actually are. (I also suspect the cop would have been just as dismissive with Sherlock-the-boy, though of course a teenager can be excused for missing that finer point.) And it's not really the main focus of this story anyway. Still, I found myself wishing the problem here had been teased out just a little bit more, because it seems important both to Sherlock's character here and to wider fandom questions.

(Quite possibly, this just means I should be writing that story myself. Sometimes fandom can be a bit of a hive mind, and I'm hardly going to blame the author for not writing the story just as I would have tailored it.)

Anyway. Please do give it a read and leave the author a review if this seems like something you'd be interested in.

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