I have noticed, in quite a few threads, a rather worrying tendency for people to assume that a realism automatically makes a story good (often with LGBTQ issues, but I’ll get to that later). The first thing I think we should ask is not “Are realistic stories good?”, but rather “Are good stories realistic?” and I don’t think they generally are. A good story will have an intriguing beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying end. Real life has a generic beginning, an unplotted mess of a middle, followed by an end that never allows a sequel. This is not to say that you should avoid realism at all costs; if you’re writing a story about the American military (for example), you should know how the American military works, or at least how the average army works. But blind adherence to “realism” is also not good for the story, especially where LGBTQ (and potentially other minority) issues are concerned.
For a recent example, see the discussions in this Demon Mark thread, in which several commenters have complained that the presence and public acceptance of a non-binary character, are unrealistic, and thus bad. I’m going to ignore the questions about whether it even is unrealistic (that’s not the point, and I don’t know enough about mediaeval Russia to say one way or the other), and just concentrate on whether this makes it “bad” for the story. I’ll look at both the presence of the character, and the positive reaction (or rather, lack of a negative reaction) to them, and I’ll be discussing the topic more generally, not just how it relates to Demon Mark.
Firstly, and I hope I don’t need to belabour this point, is it wrong to include LGBTQ minorities in a work, even when “realism” suggests that they wouldn’t be there? Of course not; representation is important, both for LGBTQ readers, and for non-LGBTQ readers. And, yes, if this means that LGBTQ people are represented more in your story than in real life, that’s not a bad thing. (This is especially true for gay and bisexual ROs; if the only option for gay males is a bi guy who obviously prefers girls, then it may be realistic, but it’s hardly fun, and likewise if the most important or nicest ROs are exclusively straight.) And, lets face it, when compared to all fiction, LGBTQ characters (both gay/bi and transgender/non-binary) are still significantly underrepresented, so having an overrepresentation here could be seen more as balancing than anything else. And this is true even in cultures that didn’t/don’t acknowledge LGBTQ people; the fact that there was no word for it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
The second point is about bigotry, and here the question comes down to: should we depict an intolerance to the aforementioned LGBTQ (or any minority) characters? My take on the matter is this: a story about bigotry needs to address that bigotry, to make it obvious that it’s wrong, or else it’ll appear to be normalising, or worse, glorifying, that bigotry. And even then, such a story won’t necessarily be as much fun as one without bigotry, especially for a member of the minority, who most likely is looking for an escape from the real world’s bigotry. Saying “a story needs bigotry to be realistic” isn’t too far from saying “I feel uncomfortable accepting this person without bigotry”, at which point you’re basically saying “I am bigoted against this person.”
What are people’s feelings on the matter?
(@moderators: I don’t think that this topic has been covered before, although there were a couple of similar topics several years back. If you disagree, feel free to stick this into one of them.)