Let’s face it, slash and femslash are as popular as ever: ho-yay is still going strong. This article isn’t about canonical gay relationships on screen, although those are certainly important. This article is about the pairings with extreme homoerotic energy. (Both male and female.) Which are never consummated, except in fanfiction and fanart.

Let’s Talk About The Great-Great-Granddaddy Of Ho-Yay

Sherlock poses while Watson stares exasperatedly into the sky: ho-yay
The OGs: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. (Sidney Paget/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson may be the first example of ho-yay and slash coming into modern culture. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle around the turn of the 20th century, Sherlock and Watson (very rarely “John”) immediately captured the public imagination. Some were merely interested in the mysteries, but plenty of people were interested in the relationship between the two men. While not every fan of Sherlock and Watson would quantify it as homoerotic, most agreed it was special. Here’s a book-length analysis of their relationship over the years.

The two have remained popular over the years, and in various incarnations, the Jeremy Brett/Granada Sherlock Holmes series of the 1970s is remembered fondly. There’s also the highly popular and perhaps infamous BBC Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman from the beginning of the decade. The ho-yay between the kind-of dashing detective and his not-so-dashing doctor friend has endured for generations.

House/Wilson: The Obscure Holmes/Watson Pairing

The rarest and most obscure of the incarnations is probably the American TV series House M.D. (2004-2012), with Hugh Laurie as House (who is essentially Sherlock) and Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson (who is most certainly Watson). While the relationship between House and Wilson was popular in part of the House fandom, it most certainly struggled to capture mainstream attention. Most viewers simply considered it a “bromance,” including, infamously, in the fandom, TVGuide.

Hugh Laurie (House) sprays, uh, silly string (?) into Robert Sean Leonard's (Wilson) face: ho-yay
Subtle. Thanks, I hate it. (House M.D./FOX/TV Guide)

The series literally ended with Wilson getting a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. Then him proclaiming to House,

“I need you to tell me you love me.”

The two rode off into the sunset together as motorcycle bros. I didn’t even mention that House faked his own death so he could do this and evade the law at the same time. For all that House fandom that was mostly focused on the sexual tension between House and literally every woman on the show, the real romance was House/Wilson…and it has mostly disappeared from the Internet. A small segment of Tumblr shoulders on, trying to keep it alive in the popular memory, but it’s an uphill battle.

The Granddaddy Of Ho-Yay

Oh, Kirk and Spock. The central slash couple of the latter half of the 20th century, these two inspired so much fanfic and fanart that you could scroll endlessly through their tag on Tumblr and not reach the end. For some reason, the relationship between a womanizing (if respectful) human starship captain and his alien-human hybrid First Officer spurred fans into a ho-yay frenzy.

Jim Kirk almost gives Spock a hug
True romance. (Star Trek: The Final Frontier/Paramount)

These two basically started inserting ho-yay and theories of homoeroticism back into the mainstream. While special bonds between men have been explored, rarely, has so much sexual passion been placed front and center in the conversation. (Thanks, pon farr).

The Present Of Slash And Ho-Yay: It’s Gotten Weird

Flashing forward to the present, slash is alive and well. The Ho-Yay page on TV Tropes gets new entries every day. But slash, formerly the domain of large fandoms, has found its way into more and more obscure fandoms. You probably wouldn’t have expected a little miniseries like The Terror to produce that much interest, but there’s so much interest that fans produced a fanzine for charity. Francis Crozier and James Fitzjames are the two at the center of this fandom. They are again, another Captain and First Officer pairing, which seems to be popular.

Crozier and Fitzjames stare at some new Terror
The Terror: I blame the presence of Jared Harris. (The Terror/AMC)

Another pairing with Jared Harris in the lead is (for some unquantifiable reason) his real-life person character on Chernobyl paired with Stellan Skarsgaard’s real-life character. (I entirely blame the presence of Harris, who is too charming for his own good, even when playing legendary dorks).

And yes, Crozier and Fitzjames are both real-life figures as well, but The Terror is highly fictionalized. Chernobyl was pointedly not. Then again, people have been shipping real-life figures for a while. Just look at The Beatles or any rock-band…or even the fake-news fandom (RIP).

The Future Of Ho-Yay & Slash

Stamets and Culber of Star Trek: Discovery share an intimate moment
Aw, Stamets and Culber…hope they can make it work…somehow. (Star Trek: Discovery/CBS All Access)

One has to ask, though: with all the new queer characters and relationships in culture, will ho-yay and slash gradually die off? Will people simply be writing about canon relationships, as opposed to hypothetical queer romances? The answer to this: probably no… for all that canonical queer relationships that have captured the popular imagination lately (see couples like Stamets and Culber above), ho-yay is still seemingly going strong. The two most popular examples of this: Good Omens and…It Chapter Two?!

Aw, geez, the best members of the Losers Club (at least in the movies).
Boy, these two good bois did not deserve that ending. (It Chapter Two/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Yes, really, IT Chapter 2. This may be another example of a canon gay relationship. But seeing as Richie and Eddie never really consummated their relationship, nor were they ever in a relationship… it remains either just pining (on Richie’s part) or entirely subtextual. However, this pairing (despite the grim ending for one of them) has caught on steam on the Internet and will likely continue to enjoy its cultural moment for at least several months to come (if not longer).

Crowley and Aziraphale do not gaze deeply into each other's eyes
Crowley and Aziraphale: the original ho-yay pairing of the early 2000s transplanted into the late 2010s. (Good Omens/Amazon Prime)

Good Omens is slightly more infamous in the slash/ho-yay devoted communities, mainly because Aziraphale and Crowley seem so queer in the original book and in the miniseries (possible series) on Amazon Prime. Co-author and showrunner, Neil Gaiman, denies that they are queer, but he is certainly fine with fans interpreting their relationship that way (which doesn’t make fans happy). In a world where characters are allowed to be canonically gay, it seems odd that Gaiman denies his angel/demon pairing that pleasure.

What’s Next On The Ho-Yay Horizon?

So, what’s next? Where will ho-yay and slash fandoms pop up next? Will there be more shipping of real-life people characters (Ford v Ferrari?) or a future-past pairing (Gemini Man?). Will we get more shipping out of the massive Marvel slate that is coming out? Can we ship Timothee Chalamet and Robert Pattinson in The King (will they even share any screen time together)? Thomas Barrow goes to a gay club in the new Downton Abbey movie, which seems like rich material. Speaking of femslash pairings, can I ship Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton in the new Terminator sequel/prequel/sidequel?

Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton DO look intensely into one another's eyes
Now kiss! (Terminator: Dark Fate/Paramount Pictures)

It’s hard to tell what pairings will catch fire — but one thing’s for sure: there will be new ho-yay/slash pairings, and there will be lots of them.