James Lileks is willing to accept a certain amount of revisionism, but the line must be drawn somewhere:
I’m not one of those people who insists that Sherlock conform to my preexisting parameters, but there are limits. He cannot be a woman, for example. Retrograde and sexist though this may seem, I am equally stern on the concept of turning Nancy Drew into a boy. He cannot be married; he cannot speak in slang; he cannot be a relaxed fellow full of bonhomie, just as likely to spend the evening at the theater enjoying a musical as he is likely to sit home playing his favorite instrument, the accordion. You can tweak the character, update him, shave off some minor quirks and add others, but you can’t ignore the core of the character. You might have a fascinating, delightful figure, but it won’t be Sherlock.
Which prompted this reply from Amanda Jean Carroll:
I imagine that for a guy the idea of gender swapping a beloved character would just seem silly or pointless or annoying or like a lame attempt at cleverness. And it can, of course, be all of those things. But for nerdy ladies there’s a sort of gleefulness to it because it eliminates the need to search and search for well-written characters we can actually relate to or maybe even aspire to be like.
A lot, I suspect, depends on the perceived motivations of the swap. In 1973 Bryan Ferry put out an album of covers, separate from his work with Roxy Music, and one song he essayed was Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which he sang perfectly straight, so to speak, without changing any of the pronouns. Were Ferry a Sensitive Folkie, we’d assume that he was simply honoring the words of the original; but since Ferry was a medium-level minion in the glam-rock army, we’re more likely to assume, justified or not, a pancake-makeup-thick layer of irony.
That said, there’s still, says Carroll, an argument for “Shirley” Holmes:
[M]aking Sherlock Holmes a woman would be a way to create an amazing female character who wasn’t defined by femaleness the way Nancy Drew or Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Eyre or any other beloved heroine is (Though of course, Nancy Drew isn’t on the level of those two any more than she’s on the level of Holmes. She’s on the level of the Hardy Boys, because there isn’t truly any feminine analogue to Sherlock Holmes). It would mean having a female character who is all those things you described — scientific and obsessive, prepared to engage in fisticuffs, manic-depressive — all things women can relate to, and all things women are rarely portrayed as because they aren’t considered feminine. And it would mean enjoying fantastic classic characters in a way we ladyfolk usually can’t.
On the upside, our cultural arbiters would be at least marginally accepting of that sort of thing, though they likely wouldn’t extend that acceptance to males enthralled with female characters.