Triptych: Then and Now (and Then and Now)
Sherlock Holmes is forty years of age when he tells John Watson he does not like women. Watson ought not to be surprised, isn’t, really, but still doesn’t entirely understand how it works, men not liking women. Who then do they like? Other men? He nervous laughing.
The word “asexual” in the twenty-first century manner of thinking of it is of course not yet a Thing. Sherlock Holmes only knows that he has never been overly fond of women save in the more intellectual sense one might feel falling in love with university professors; he feels the same with men. How to wrap one’s mind around a lack? How to pen a hole into a man? How to write him? The Everyman loves breasts, round, of the traditionally feminine sort. Sherlock Holmes is a scientist—
excusable. Isaac Newton is in the 1890s famous ostensible nonsexual; he gets mentioned in the books by doctors discuss impotence, lack of attraction towards one’s wife, towards anyone at all. Too busy studying to like breasts in any way save scientifically, a scientist sees things differently, academically, has a different kind of eye from the average man. Watson you know Newton do you not? Newton did not like women (although he might have liked men). Sherlock Holmes is forty years of age when he tells John Watson he does not like women; they the two of them are sitting guns in their jackets in the theatre. Ready for another adventure. Watching the latest romance play popularized.
It is not that he is a dandy/molly/bugger/sodomite/somdomite [sic], not that Sherlock Holmes even has decided he has no space for romance/potence/attraction/et cetera in his addict schedule. This is just how he is. He hasn’t much thought of it as strange. Having not given the subject much thought hence his not mentioning it aloud til now, in the theatre, Sherlock Holmes has not regarded the state of his being as important. He doesn’t like women; women, then, are one less thing to think on. Or romance. Or breasts of the traditionally feminine sort. It is Watson that appears surprised, although he shouldn’t be—Sherlock Holmes has never before kissed a woman’s hand save when necessary to the solving of a case involving murder.
He does not say this—it is not needed. Watson is going over the numbers in his head, although his brows furrow nearly to the point that Sherlock Holmes offers a blank page and pen that he might work his mind through whatever baffle thoughts are occurring in his head. It’s a little amusing. Leaving his partner to solve this case on his own, Sherlock Holmes looks back on the stage. The lead woman is kiss, kissing the lead man.
Sherlock Holmes does not personally feel the appeal or the popularized draw to this act, but the woman swoons, the audience swoons, and he, as always, takes note.
And Hunter Hughes is forty years old when he tells his wife he thinks he is asexual. His wife, Hazel, rolls her eyes. His wife, Hazel, says, lying across bed with a novel splay across her stomach, “No shit, love. Did you not realize?” The novel is The Bone People, Keri Hulmes. The bed’s sheets are a light, skylike blue that reminded the two of them at the time of purchase of the windows on flights on planes.
Her husband shakes his head. Her husband, Hunter Hughes, and she have had for most of their marriage an open one—Hazel being polyamorous, and also a bit of a lesbian, with a small fondness in her heart nonetheless for Hunter, who offered a house not owned by her mother and an income to supplement her own and good cooking for dinner. The solution had seems obvious at the time, nearly ten years past; he now Hunter needs to think back again—why was Hazel the best woman for him? He had told her, trying to convince her confuse mouth,
“It’ll be spectacular—I can cook, and clean; we can work, and afford more things, and get our parents off our backs, and own a nice house with a library; doesn’t it sound nice? You could decorate with your art, and your writing, and we could have dinner parties—” because Hazel inviting over each of her lovers was a dinner party in and of itself, much often—“and we could have a nice sound system in the living room…” was what he had said—
A nice sound system: this was what he had prioritized over sex, in retrospect. And not even—he could’ve had someone easily in ten whole years, would hardly have needed to discuss it with Hazel, although he would regardless for posterity, or one hundred-percent consent given their being married and all, however openly. His wife although not then had said, “It sounds like us. It sounds like you. It sounds like me.” Had never worn a ring, although he offered, for the sake of doing things right.
Hazel now concerned looks concerned, putting the book down to scoot off the bed theirs and come over to stand next to her husband by the window. “Love” she says again, pulls him to lean his head on her breast. “You just realized,” she says, realizes. Surprised.
He nods. He nods. He arms around Hazel his wife and holds her tight, unsure now about a great many number of things.
“I guess I just figured,” he says, “that it was a thing that people exaggerated. Or liked as a kink. Or liked the idea of. Or shaped in their heads to be beautiful…”
“Love” his wife says again—
she holds him, too
“The Internet,” says Hunter. “It was all on the Internet.” And, then, “Did you ever read the stories with Sherlock Holmes?”
“I saw the movie,” says Hazel, “with Robert Downey Jr.”
“I think, before, I just fancied myself a detective,” says Hunter. It at the time had made a large amount of sense. He just had been seeing things with the eyes of deductive genius.
Robert Law is forty years of age—barely a teenager, in the grand scheme of things—when he writes his first book, an extended essay on academic perceptions of nonsexuality from the twenty-first century into the much more liberal twenty-fourth. His main example, he thinks, is going to be Isaac Newton: that pretty-haired, genius old scientist regarded as an asexual being over a hundred years prior to the community asexual community coalescing at the turn of the millenium; Newton as a subject will allow Robert to look at an orgasmic number of mediums with which (a)sexuality over time has been recorded: old, dying books, print newspapers, then books of a different material, and the Internet, and all the following technological advances and retreats into retro aesthetics and academic viewpoints—yes, Robert’s paper is going to be a Tour de force, a Tour; this is what the critics are going to say, when he publishes it.
Newton, potentially, had his first relationship at forty-six, forty-six or so, with a Swiss mathematician called Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. Six years into the friendship?/relationship?/partnership? the two separated, and Newton was devastated. According to one twenty-first century book, the man was so devastated by the heartbreak he never loved again. But he could’ve been asexual all along, even without the word at hand… or they were lovers Newton and Fatio, and the former was a gay man too trapped in his deep closet to find the door out. There is no way of knowing, of course, save running back through time with the aid of a machine; Robert, unfortunately, has not and likely will not soon receive the funding for such a machine from his university—the question of Newton, then must be left to future researchers—
regardless! It is an important one to consider, regardless of whether an answer can be found, now or ever, if ever there was one. “Because,” Robert tells his current lover, “he’s the kind of man people look to for validation.”
His lover nods. “This,” he says, “does make sense.”
Robert Law is forty years of age when he writes his first book; Robert Law is also forty years of age when he recognizes his own asexuality, working on his book as he is.
“One might have thought,” he will say in his introduction, “I would have realized sooner—it is 2345, after all. But some things never change, perhaps—I had just thought, prior to dictating this paper to my personal robotic assistant, Watson, that everyone felt the same as I about others…
“This,” he will say,” is probably why we need more representation of the asexual community in our literature. Granted,” he will say, “it made perfect sense, for most of my short life thus far—is sexual attraction even needed anymore, from an evolutionary perspective? We are all born out of factory-produced metal beans.”
Constance Bougie is an undergraduate English major with focuses in creative writing and LGBTQ+ studies. They have previously published poems and short stories in Vulture Bones, Polemical Zine, and Passionfruit, and have work upcoming in A Velvet Giant and (A)gender: An Anthology. They edit the lit mag Wilde Boy.