(a note: I use „queer“ and „gay“ as pretty much interchangeable fuzzy umbrella terms. This is another of those things I don’t really feel like explaining, it turns out.)
(another note: if you want to page down through my–albeit high quality and correct–Thoughts and Feelings about queerness and fanfic and just see the extremely good list of recs, click here)
A little while ago while clearing out my inbox I found an email from myself sent back in 2017, that I had no memory of, containing a list of links I’d apparently meant to look at again. (I actually just did the same thing to empty out the 20-odd tabs I had open on my phone, so: enjoy, future Hauke.) The bulk of them were Sherlock Holmes and Jeeves & Wooster fanfics, which is a particularly mysterious gift from past me as I don’t remember reading any of those since around the end of high school, 12 years ago. Since finding that email, though, I’ve been intermittently immersing myself in a warm and delightful 19th/20th century English novel fandom nostalgia pool. Almost every Jooster fic still follows the exact same emotional beats it turns out, and I love it.
In my (re)exploration of this particular corner of Ao3, though, I’ve discovered a few fics that were unusual pearls, and they brought home to me that the things I read fic for have been changing a lot in recent years. Or maybe they just showed me what I’ve been missing in the fics all along. Don’t get me wrong, I have always appreciated some good fraught dramatic gay romance and/or good porn, but the thing that’s been missing, which I didn’t notice was missing until I found the handful of fics that had it, was: queerness.
It’s not enough for me anymore for fanfic to be gay, I want it to be Gay. So often fic that has ostensibly queer romantic pairings depicts the characters in a way that makes them feel like they’re floating in a void, where their non-straight-ness means absolutely nothing to their life beyond the person they love and/or fuck. I hear there are some gay people who live like that but I’ve never been able to relate to it at all. I want characters to have feelings about their queerness and weirdnesses of sexuality and gender, and most imnportantly I want there to be queer spaces for them to exist in and explore.
At most a fic might include some homophobia, setting-appropriate or not, for a quick angst hit. But I don’t want the hurt of gay-bashing if you’re not going to counterweigh it with the real-life comforts of gay mutual support and family and community, of carving out a space in the margins and making it beautiful. I’m not even particularly linked into offline LGBT communities right now, but I know the feeling of recognising other gays in the wild, I seek out or make my own small gay spaces and I talk to my gay friends about my gay life. Seeing those interactions in fic is so satisfying and comforting.
Now that I’ve experienced fic where characters have queer friends and experience queer spaces and resilience and suffering in context, I can’t quite get the same warm glow from ones that don’t include it anymore. Please give me more! There’s so much untapped potential here. Obviously I’m biased as a history and worldbuilding nerd, but I feel if you’re writing a historical fic and don’t use some of the amazing historical information and annecdotes out there you’re doing the world and yourself a disservice— there’s so much good stuff there. And if you’re writing in a fantasy or scifi setting you have the freedom to extrapolate and invite your own queer spaces and culture! That sounds absolutely amazing to me, are you kidding, why isn’t everyone all over this.
Jeeves And The Chorus Girl, or Nietzsche And The Spirit Of The Dance by cuddyclothes [Jeeves & Wooster, 85k words, rated E]
Bertie is dallying with a chorus girl. Jeeves is not happy. In fact, he’s jealous. Who knew that such an involvement would lead to so many complications? Who knew that Jeeves had a secret reason for being unavailable?
Who knew Oofy Prosser could be persuaded to produce a West End musical? And why does Bertie always have to be Ginger Rogers? Who knew Oofy Prosser could be persuaded to produce a West End musical? And why does Bertie always have to be Ginger Rogers?
This is probably my favourite of the bunch; if you read only one of these I’d go for this one. It has music! It has extremely charming period details! (It has characters using Polari!!) And it has Miss Flambé, the best fanfic OC of recent memory in my personal opinion.
An overheard conversation changes everything. Histories, mysteries, romance, and a dive or two into the soup.
This one is also extremely good. There is a Sherlock Holmes reference, a gay club in Paris, and a perfectly delicious amount of pining and angst. I also really like how it adresses the employer-servant dynamic.
The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime.
January, 1881: a despondent army doctor is offered a ticket to a Shakespeare play, and is instantly captivated by the fellow playing the Danish prince himself. Then there is a murder. Then they fall in love
I really enjoy the writing of this one, and of course a theatre AU comes with a somewhat queer space built in. My favourite aspect of it, though, is the OC couple who become friends with Holmes and Watson, and the times they spend at each other’s flats. It’s a very charming and believable queer friendship. Also I’m just weak for Victorian butches, can you blame me.
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Invisible Prism by CCNSurvivor [Sherlock Holmes, 55k words, rated T]
In the year 1895, however, it so happened that Holmes and I became involved in not one but two cases of blackmail; the latter of which has never been spoken of since, for it was fraught with a danger which threatened the illusion of normalcy we had so desperately carved out of the ruins of our relationship since his return from the Reichenbach Falls a year prior. And yet it was of that case I often found myself thinking, as it carried some personal significance to both Holmes and myself and drastically changed our lives.
I do enjoy a solid case fic, and this one has some complex ruminations on identity to go along with it, although I don’t know if the bisexuality discourse had that particular shape in the 1890s already. (Although if there’s one thing I keep learning is that the intra-community discourse keeps being the same over and over again, so perhaps.)
Two years after Holmes’s death in the Reichenbach Falls, his elder brother comes to a grieving Watson with what seems to be a case. Watson finds a surprise waiting for him in Berlin.
Featuring turn of the century Berlin, the place to be for gay pubs and balls. Our uncle Magnus makes an off-screen appearance, also, which immediately endeared the fic to me.
Sherlock Holmes is retired but not gone. When an old enemy seeks vengeance, Holmes and Watson must travel back to London to stop the villain before their lives are destroyed. (Holmes/Watson)
Bertie Wooster loves detective stories, but he never imagined that he’d be in one, and if he had, he would not have imagined that he would be the bait in a villainous plot. (Jooster)
This one is more of an honourable mention, since there isn’t too much about queer community in it, but I enjoy these two sets of characters meeting and having to deal with each other too much not to include it. And there is after all a queer friendship between the two pairings by the end of it. 😘
I’ve been trying to find more fics that scratch this itch for me, but there isn’t a tag or search term that reliably catches them to my knowledge so far. If you know of any please let me know so that I may add them to my List. 👀
[title image is of people hanging out at Weimar Germany gay bar El Dorado, which I found on A Gender Variance Who’s Who]