Different ways to portray sexuality/gender and "realism"

Right, so I created this thread because it seemed like the topic was derailing a different topic and thought it would be better for it to have it’s own space.

@Phenrex Apologies for tagging you since you said you were done with the conversation, feel free to ignore this, but I thought since you were a part of the original discussion and your posts, ideas, and opinions would most likely be being discussed, it would only be right to let you know they were being discussed. I thought it would be rude otherwise. Like I said though, don’t feel pressured to take part in this continued discussion if you don’t wish to.

@JBento @saggittarius I’m tagging you folks because you were the latest ones to be discussing it.

So, in my mind there are different ways to handle this. One of them is how Arcane handles it (which one of the writers has confirmed this) and just make it so there are no labels. At all. For any preference. In the world of Arcane, love is love, and it has never had labels or been seen as wrong in any non-harmful form. That’s why Vi asked Caitlyn the question in a very specific way in the famous “You’re hot, Cupcake” scene in the brothel. She said:

So what’ll it be; man or woman?

She asked it that way because there is no such thing as gay, lesbian, or anything in between or beyond; there is just preference with no labels. So that’s one way of doing it.

Another way of doing it is to have labels and have no negativity in the world towards them. This allows a writer to still shape part of who a character is based on their sexuality and not have to worry about putting any bigotry or homophobia in their world. Helping a character have a meaningful struggle in this world would most likely be done at a young age, or in a flashback of when they were young. Asking themselves questions like, “Almost everyone else likes boys/girls, so why don’t I? Why am I so different? Is there something wrong with me?”

The version of this world’s realism is more attuned to what I imagine Phenrex and saggittarius were expressing, where all of the struggles with sexuality and gender, along with how they helped shape the character, come from internal struggles rather than external ones. This is a world where that person who’s afraid to come out to their family doesn’t have the fear of history excluding and not accepting them, but it’s the fear of “I’m different, and sometimes people who are different don’t belong and get made fun of.” It’s similar to being afraid of the dark when you were 5 years old in your room alone. You logically know there’s nothing in there with you, but that doesn’t stop your mind from telling you there could be.

The last type of world (excluding the extreme where everyone is against LGBTQ+ people, which I’m opting to leave out of this conversation because… why would anyone write that, and who would they be writing that for?) is the world we live in now. Where there is such thing as bigotry, and homophobia, and transphobia, etc. I don’t think this world needs too much explanation because, well, it’s our world. Or at least, the values and beliefs of our world put into another one. This type of world obviously has struggle internally and externally, and would arguably help shape a character the most around their LGBTQ+ identity.

I would certainly say that because, in this world more than the other two, there is struggle. There is conflict. There are bad people who think and do bad things. All of that hate, and conflict, and devastation creates a stronger sense of self around what is being ostracized because people have to constantly be pushing back and fighting against injustices, inequality and inequity. Because of all that, it would add extra struggles the characters would face in everyday life and make that gender/sexual identity much more prominent and possibly at the forefront of what helped shape who they are.

That’s all my take on it, and that’s how I see the different options in how to portray them. Granted there are probably more options than these to help portray sexuality and gender, so feel free to discuss further. But please remember to keep it civil. If anything, we can all agree this is an accepting community here, and it should feel safe to talk about topics such as this to help us all grow as writers and understand one another a little bit more.

As for the term “realism” when talking about gender identity but also talking about leaving out the bad things and thoughts some people do/think about in the real world, perhaps it would be better described as “I would like to see characters with a stronger sense of gender identity/sexuality, and have continuity of that throughout the book.” Or perhaps the word “consistency” would pertain better when talking about a fictional world, rather than the word realism, and might possibly help clear up some confusion. As “realism” in fictional worlds is just really the consistency of the ideas and portrayals throughout the story, at least from my limited knowledge on this subject. I’m not entirely sure on this. I’ve never taken a fictional/creative writing class and I’m certainly no literature major. So someone can feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong. I am always happy to learn!


I realized this a bit after my post, but you managed to articulate it much better than I was able to when discussing it. I ended up getting quite upset in the original conversation because it felt like it was completely derailing from my original points. I will ask that everyone keeps the conversation civil, and that we avoid stooping to implying cruel things because it’s impolite.

I was indeed thinking of something more along the lines of sexuality and gender facing internalized pressures rather then the external ones. If you have an identity that you give yourself, like you presume you are straight because everyone else around you is, and you date the opposite gender without success. That makes you feel isolated, even without homophobia, in a world where most people are straight, being ‘different’ is going to make you feel a bit confused.

I think what I meant was ‘believably’ for characters rather than how ‘realistic’ the world itself was.

Let us focus on Steel for a moment - Note that I have not seen the full beta for book 2 of Fallen Hero. The Author explicitly states that you can romance Steel as an enby!Sidestep, despite him originally saying that he is gay and thus can’t. This is him making a statement of identity, and also denying himself a relationship with Sidestep out of trepidation regarding his own identity. Nobody else is enforcing the idea that his identity is in question, other than himself. He is left to question and come to the conclusion that even though enby!Sidestep is not a man, he is still willing to form a relationship with them. As such, Steel works through his own question of his identity and ends up changing.

These kinds of things happen all the time in the real world, which is why I kept saying ‘realism.’ To me, identity is an important aspect of myself, and while for some it may not be a big deal when nobody acknowledges something it feels very strange. Labels, ‘normalcy,’ what have you, we naturally make assumptions about the world around us and much the same way we naturally make a lot of assumptions about ourselves. I’m tired and it’s late, I feel I am rambling, I hope this somewhat clarifies things.

I never really wanted historical bigotry where I get called slurs or put on the chopping block if I was gay in the story, nor do I want to necessarily be badgered. It is more about how those things changed a character that interested me in the first place and not the existence of those things themself. But, as @ViIsBae has pointed out, self identity and question doesn’t need to be tied to external bigotry.

One last note: When I say this I am not saying the only important character trait they must have is their sexuality or gender, I’m merely saying that usually, your gender or sexuality is something you do value to some extent and so if you think it might be different then going through a period of confusion or denial over it would seem reasonable. I know I myself am protective of my identity, and I know it has influenced me in ways unrelated to external bigotry

Thank you for making this post, I didn’t have the energy nor the brain juice to consolidate my thoughts let alone the overall ideologies being exchanged. Your post is very well written.


While not getting too specific for the sake of brevity, I think part of the issue regarding realism as a genre does mean (broadly) that you have to faithfully depict “real life” in your fiction — which does include issues such as homophobia, misogyny, etc etc. I should add though that’s up to the author to include or exclude depending on the story they want to tell. I’m of the opinion that while yes, discrimination and oppression happens in real life, I feel stories can also be about the euphoria and comfort one finds in their identity. Realism after all does not always mean dark and gritty; and the spectrum of gender and sexuality is not always about the hatred experience towards a specific identity

You are correct though @ViIsBae that for the sake of clarity that narrative consistency (or the internal logic of the world) might be a better term to describe setting and lore in regards to how fictive universes might deal with gender and sexuality.

That said, experience wise, my spicy take is that I feel like at the end of the day people look for whether or not they can romance an RO. I feel like the romanceability of a character actually takes primacy over the representation factor — which I think also impacts the whole “sexuality blindness” being spoken about in the other thread — since I think that getting together with your fictional love is what is at most people’s heads.

This isn’t to dunk on anyone mind you, it’s an observation :sweat_smile:

Like if the concern is to appeal to the most in terms of audience, I’d imagine that when designing characters vis a vis coding, energy to write variations, on top of writing a story that you want shared with people, it might be more expedient to write something that leans to not having a lot of external bigotry present unless that is the story an author wants to tackle. Though since writing about external bigotry is arguably a lightning rod for controversy in and out of itself, I’d imagine to avoid that all together might just be prudent.

This is probably why gender variables for ROs exist (just pick the gender you’d like to romance) and why in terms of narrative presentation it doesn’t impact the story beyond pronouns in a lot of scenarios.

That being said, I do feel like you can’t have an internal struggle that doesn’t correspond to something external. These two go hand in hand. In my opinion, there has to be an external impetus to compel characters to feel a certain way (since characters do live in a society and so on and forth); and if gender and sexuality are treated as something mundane, then why would a character be worried about coming out?

Using the example of “Almost everyone else likes boys/girls, so why don’t I?”, if being ace is seen in this universe as a norm, I feel like a young MC or character wouldn’t be questioning why they don’t like anyone. If anything I’d imagine a young MC wondering why people like boys/girls instead of being obsessed with a cool rock or something.

If however, being ace is not in the vocabulary of MC’s society, then I’d imagine that’s where the friction would be. The next is being ace an accepted identity? If yes, why is MC questioning? Are they just under exposed? If no, then how do they navigate this without a point of reference? Whichever scenario, the basis of navigation still defaults to how something external shapes the internal


Ok, here’s the thing: that second scenario doesn’t make sense. Because in that situation an LGBT character shouldn’t feel different, because they almost assuredly know LGBT people. Media, even kids media (think Disney movies, for example), will have plenty of depictions of LGBT people and nobody raises a ruckus. The parents of their classmates proobably include a couple of LGBT couples. There’s good odds that some of their relatives are LGBT.

The “Why am I so different? Is there something wrong with me?” question never believably arises, because they have plenty of real-life (well, real-life to them) examples that they are NOT different. They’re not afraid of coming out to their family, because their family ALREADY treats LGBT folk like they treat non-LGBT folk. It’s debatable that it is even any sort of coming out, because they’re never IN (unless the world has some sort of sexuality reveal cerimony or something, I guess? but even then there’s no special stresser for LGBT folk).

Internal struggles, barring some sort of mental health problem (like brain chemical imbalance), are always the result of external stressers. Something that is common and normalised isn’t a stresser.


I think I am a bit backward about this. For me, internal thoughts/struggles are the central part, and the world is a secondary reflection of that.

When I write, I don’t worry about what the world’s prejudices, rules, or terms are. I worry about what I want to portray in a character.

Do I want to write someone struggling with their assigned gender? Then there is obviously friction about that in the world, regardless of whether it is shown externally by slurs or actions.

Do I want to write about having your bi/pan awakening? Then obviously, there are reasons why someone would be stressed about that, regardless of whether it’s homophobia in the world or internal gender stressors.

For me, the kind of characters I want to write informs the world I build. The things I don’t want to delve deep into can be there, sure, but I don’t feel the need to develop them in depth. Is there racism in the FH universe? Yeah, probably, since it is loosely based on our own. But I won’t be going into depth about that since it’s not a major point in the story I am writing. Are there prejudices about LGBTQ people? Yes, there must be, because I have characters who struggle with gender roles and were raised to be people they might not want to be. Do I have anybody going up and insulting any characters for that to show that the world is that way? Nope. I just write about how the characters feel about things, and the reader fills things in.

For me, the external struggle is less important than the internal one, and can often be implied from the latter.


That is what I was saying! It feels very validating for you to clarify it so clearly.

The external pressures can exist, but whether or not we as writers choose to focus on that external pressure is another thing entirely.

Anyway, the existence of some form of external stressor could be considered necessary, but whether you are openly flaunting it about is another thing. Like, maybe that is the balance I myself need to figure out how to strike? Because I’m writing a historical fantasy setting, where magic is very limited (to only basic elemental manipulation, because I didn’t feel like writing an entire magic system in a world where it is very much not the focus) and following the setting there would be some distinctions or prejudice in the world regarding family, expectations of making family and the like.

I want to explore single parenthood, I wonder if the same dislike for stressors includes that as well, since I think given the time there might be people who gives them odd looks (or comments) should they be single and walking around with a young child.

I’m still embarrassed about my world choice of ‘realism,’ I meant it regarding grounding within a character rather than the external world. I find it ‘unrealistic’ for someone not to think about, be apprehensive regarding, or find solace in the development of their own identity. To see someone just exist, not questioning at all what it means to romance someone of the same gender when they haven’t before, not interested in putting labels on anything. It feels very foreign to me, in a way that I personally am less interested in.


I think this brings up a good point of further discussion that, even if the identity is a big part of the character, there are different issues that could make them afraid to come out. Anxiety issues, a bad family life, major self-esteem issues, etc. You’re not wrong that most of the time internal struggle is derived from external struggle, but the internal and external struggles don’t have to be about the same thing.

Take the bad family life for instance. Their family could treat them like absolute doodoo butter, and because of that, they might be afraid of insults like, “You couldn’t get a boyfriend, what makes you think you can get a girlfriend?” Or stuff of the sort. Not homophopic in nature and more designed to target that person as an individual based on the new information the bad person has been given.

Or on the internal side of not having an external struggle at all to create a struggle, one could think, “I looked alright as x gender, but as y gender people might not find me attractive.” These struggles, internal and external, are not about bigotry or homophobia, but how the character thinks people will view them as an individual.

Hell, my family is very accepting, and I knew that during my transition, and it still took me nearly a year to come out to them as transgender, and when I did i pretty much burst into tears. All that knowing they would accept me. Sometimes the brain is a weird, funny, and cruel thing.


I mean, you might have an external stresser built-in with this premise. Is magical ability inherited? Then there’s a pressure to have biological children. There might even be a eugenic pressure to have biological children with the “right” people, so as to strengthen the magic in the bloodline. There’d definitely be a social taboo, or perhaps even legal repercussions, concerning having sex with a non-magical of the opposite biological sex*, because if the people in charge are in charge because their bloodline has magic, they’re definitely not going to be keen on that magic being spread around to the people who AREN’T in charge. Those are certainly stressers.

But the second scenario isn’t this. Your family might be accepting (and I’m glad to hear that they are), but SOCIETY, and the expectations it ingrains in you just on the basis of you being in it, is a different can of worms (the UK is occasionally referred to as ‘TERF Island’ for a reason). The second scenario has none of these expectations. Second scenario would probably have transgender folk be normalised. You’d be seeing Tfolk in media with relative frequency, and they’d be normalised. Note that when I say ‘normalised’ here I don’t mean merely accepted, I mean that the fact that they’re trans would not be remarked upon past their revelation that they’re trans.

On the other hand, I can see this one

maybe working just fine as a stresser.

*ironically, nobody would care who and how much you bang people of the same biological sex, because no offspring means no repercussions on magic availability/strength


I think the sentiment was pretty common in early ancient China that same-sex sex was not a big deal, but there remained a pressure for biological children. So being gay would kinda suck, but if you were bi people didn’t start really cutting down on it until the late Tang and early Song dynasties where they started putting in place specific laws against it (no idea if this was due to increased foreign influences from Persia and the like or what).

I think Tevinter from Dragon Age has a similar pressure in place regarding a need for biological children. I actually already had in place that only certain classes could use magic, but reinforcing that with some eugenics would probably make sense given the time.

Sex amongst the same gender was notably left out of being discussed within key Taoist documents and the like fuck I’m distracted I’ll continue my contribution later, family being loud. (I am writing historical fantasy but as a writer I like leaning more towards history, it’s easier to pull from somewhere than to try to come up with a bunch of stuff completely independently and it helps me flesh things out).


I can’t for the life of me remember why or in what topic, but I had a similar discussion in this forum already and the communal conclusion was that as long as bloodlines meant anything whatsoever, gay and ace folk were always going to get the really short end of the stick at least once in their lives until the invention of artificial reproduction, tech- or magic-wise.

Welcome to the holiday season. :smile:


My life story then is going to feel very fictive to you then :sweat_smile: [poles apart as far as experience goes]

While I don’t make a habit of disclosing what I ID as online — and I am not about to start now — I’ll say that experiencially I knew what I was (or am, whatever is the verb here) and everything was a shrug after. My personal take is while labels are useful — and good for people who find happiness within them — they’ve largely been something at the backburner of my life than at the front of it. In my case, I like what I like and that’s that.

[This is why I have such a fondness for the word queer as an all encompassing word]

That being said:

I think this is a key component when you talk about gender and sexuality since these are constructed. So as writers, the question really you’ll have to ask yourself is what does your setting and lore have to say about it. For example, per Malin, Fallen Hero does have some form of sexism/homophobia/etc etc, but they’re at the background. That being said, it does color how certain characters behave — like for instance I’d imagine M!Ortega’s model of masculinity vis a vis his dating life says a lot.

So in worlds where authors say gender/sexuality isn’t a large factor to how their societies are modeled, I think the more pertinent idea would be if a minority identity is normalized, what drama could you make along those lines. I do think the example of “what if I present this way vs that way, I might not be X’s type” feels more compatible in set ups like that.

This in summary. Unless also you’re writing something being the fantastical equivalent of the asari from Mass Effect (mind melding babies), then the societally speaking your world may range from “idc what you ID but you must have bio kids” (so the turkey basting method might be something ‘popular’ as a low tech solution) to outright discrimination (i.e. being gay as very much a taboo because of the perceived idea you can’t have kids)

Which again is very much up to you for what you’d like to include/exclude, especially as you go along writing.


A small tangent I wanted to write earlier, but didn’t have time for because of holiday family obligations:

Using ‘realism’ as an argument in these kind of discussions is rather counterproductive.

Because A, the call for ‘realism’ has unfortunately been used as a anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ dog-whistle in gamer spaces for years by now. So even though I wouldn’t expect that to be the intention of the vast majority of people in this forum, the association with that whole history, means that using that argument is likely to immediately put a lot of people on the defensive.

And B, it’s a very subjective and rather vague argument. Saying ‘I want realism in my games’ doesn’t actually tell anyone what it is you specifically want. Instead they will be hearing their own associations to the word in that context, and you will end up just arguing against each others’ unintentional strawmen arguments, instead of having a civil, productive discussion. It’s much better to go into specifics, and paint a clear picture of what you actually mean, instead of using subjective shorthands like ‘realism’.

(This conversation seems to be going in a much more productive and specific direction, but it’s still good to be aware and remember.)


Yeah, I explicitly stated that use of the term was a mistake on my part and clarified why I originally used it, I agree though that it was a poor choice of words.



I do not mind addressing the point here. But to be brief, I was specifying gender and sexuality because those are the elements I personally want to see and am comfortable writing.

I think for some authors, writing about other characteristics like sexism, racism, cultural discrimination, etc, would be great! I would like to leave that for people with the dedication, vision, and experience to bring it to life in a way that feels organic and honest though. I lack the experiences necessary, to me, as I have lived a pretty privileged life in regard to that. But again, for me it is a manner of giving characters identity.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but to me it is different to just have a character who is dark skinned, and to have a black character. One is just the skin tone, the other means they live within a world where that puts a label and expectations on them. The exploration of that identity within the character, and how those expectations might effect them individually are what I find interesting generally.

I’m quite tired, but you’ll notice here multiple times how I stated ‘realism’ wasn’t the exact term I meant?


Happy New Year

It sounds like your more of a character driven person than plot. I understand. You want to see more humanity in the people you play and interact but your identity is a part of you, it’s not your whole being.

So I have to ask again, what stories would fit your description of “realism”?

The Fallen Hero series is a great example for me, race, sexuality, and gender are all brought up in a way that is sensitive and introspection on characters for what shit like attraction means for them are something that is commented on without going out of its way to focus on bigotry.

Malin responded to the thread earlier up, but racism, etc does exist in their world, but it is not the focus of the story itself. You only see the ‘oppression’ in how it might cause characters to question themself, etc. Steel’s romance route if you are a nonbinary Sidestep has some extra hurdles because Steel questions his sexuality as a result of his interest in you. The period of self-denial on the basis that 'I’m gay, right? I can’t be attracted to them," is exactly the kind of identifying and introspective character writing I find very compelling.

I really don’t think it is that complicated to conceptualize. Anyway, I would prefer to use the term ‘identity’ over ‘realism’. As it’s been pointed out here several times that ‘realism’ is not a particularly helpful definition, since what is realistic is oftentimes not cohesive with not writing a world where real bad shit is just chilling.

I do very much value consistency in worlds though, which is another thing. It’s why I’m still figuring out conceptualization of gender in the context of my own story (where there is a tertiary gender, the Nai, who rescind their womanhood/manhood in favor of the external designation equivalent to nonbinary).


I can see the disconnect now, it’s why I commented on the other thread I want more than just sexuality and gender to be spoken about when it comes to identity, those are just two pieces of a whole pie :pie: . Though I completely understand that is your limit and what you know best.