Smut ... gory ... morbid ... fowl ... triggering ... or just downright bad are just some of the favored critisisms about the genre but there are also many who argue that all that transgressive fiction accomplishes is glorifying bad behavior.
No one can blame the entirety of a genre on showing their readership the truth. It's not the genres fault for life being consistantly fucked and thus drawing inspiration from that.
Glorifying or not, it is an important genre and the most honest form of literature we have.
It is important to discuss that there is a difference between glorifying and representing in literature. A difference that is unfortunately often confused.
Glorifying is more or less praising an action that could be perceived as bad.
The tricky thing about glorifying is that praise alone is not enough to accuse something of glorifying.
It also has to convince other people, such as readers, to also commit those bad actions or to develop those bad beliefs that they had read about.
If a reader decides to develop a drug problem because the protagonist in the book has a monologue talking about why they are addicted ... or brutally murder someone because it happened in detail in a book ... or cheat on their spouse because a character in the book did it and got away with it ... that is not the fault of the author, the book, and especially not the genre. That is the fault of the reader.
If a story can truly be labeled as glorifying it can only be labeled as such for specific individuals who cannot make their own decisions, not for the entirely of its readership.
Glorifying is an excuse.
Representing, in this case, is using characters or events within in a story to represent a group of people or a lifestyle.
We need representation in literature.
We need to discuss topics that make people uncomfortable such as drug abuse, sexual assault, mental health issues, racism, poverty, and so on.
Glorifying and representing get confused because essentially even glorifying begins as representing.
It gets accused of glorifying if there is a possibility or case where a reader acted on the same bad things that are in the story or took on the bad beliefs in it.
Glorifying implies that it is the fault of the author, the book, or the genre instead of looking at the reader as an individual.
The Art of Transgressive Fiction
In the end, when a novel is representing true elements and gets brushed off as glorifying at an attempt to censor that is when I feel that there is a problem.
Writers of transgressive fiction don't intend on glorifying anything or condoning everything that is portrayed in their novels and not necessarily are the readers who read those novels. We are simply throwing reality onto a page and real life is not censored.
Is it so hard to believe that a reader would enjoy not having reguritated censored bullshit thrown upon them for awhile?
Representing, even if it could seem like glorifying, is an inherently good thing.
It can make a reader feel understood to have their unpopular opinion or lifestyle represented in fiction. Such can be the case for addicts or people suffering from mental health issues.
It can open the eyes of a reader who can gain more perspective on any particularly taboo subject that they otherwise may not have had. We could all use a little more insight into other peoples lives to be less prejudiced.
On the other end of the scale it can make readers feel uncomfortable or --dare I say -- offended. And that too is a good thing.
Do we need to feel understood and need to be given prose that demands a thought provoking response, yes.
But feeling uncomfortable, disgusted, or offended can often be more valuable in literature because it demands to be heard and to be shared. People often react strongly to the things that shock them versus the things that immediately please them.
Trangressive Fiction makes art out of even the worst circumstances.
Sex is such a Sensitive Word
Sex is the one that continues to surprise me with its ability to offend people.
It's like using the word damn instead of fuck. It doesn't carry the same offensive weight like it had decades before.
Nonetheless, even though it's not as nearly taboo as some of the other topics on this list it somehow still finds a way into being one of the top subjects that get scrutinized in transgressive fiction the most.
Words like smut and unneccessary get thrown around quite a bit when there's sex in transgressive fiction.
Even lesser known authors find their works being crucified for elements of sex being criticized in their novels.
So ... why is sex still scandalous even for critics of transgressive fiction?
Transgressive Fiction shows realistic sex that isn't glamourized and sex that has the option of being either making love or just fucking. Transgressive fiction doesn't shy away from the mediocrity of sex and instead portrays it as it is ... in any amount of detail.
Drugs ... The Ultimate Muse
Heroin, cocaine, ectasy, meth, pills ... there's plenty of drugs out there and a plethora of novels that use them as elements in their stories.
Also plenty of authors who use them to write books at all but I digress.
Alcohol has become less scandalous to write about in recent years but every now and again it still finds a way to offend in literature.
I personally can appreciate a novel that doesn't shy away from drug use and that doesn't turn the whole story into a damn after school special of Just Say No. It's raw and it's real ... there are generations full of people who experience substance abuse.
Transgressive Fiction is notorious for "glorifying" drugs but what those same people who call it glorifying forget to mention is all of the times we see in transgressive fiction where the character is going through withdrawl, dealing with the fact that their habit is slowly killing them, or that it is creating problems within themselves and with other people.
There are ups and downs to every theme one could explore in fiction, substance abuse is no different. There will be instances where characters seem like they are having a good time doing lines off a glass table (and they probably are) but there will also be times that aren't so fun like if those same characters start getting paranoid and wind up in jail for a distribution charge. Ups and downs.
Who doesn't love a little blood in their reading?
The only time I seem to find someone who has a glorifying opinion on violence in literature is when it crosses the line of sadism, gore, or fetish ... otherwise it doesn't seem to come up.
Violence is a legitmate thing and there are plenty of real life scenarios that call for it. Why wouldn't they then show up in reading?
War is violent, street fights are violent, hell -- murder is violent ... and those are just a few examples that have thousands of novels about them.
We can't all sing Kumbaya and hold hands so we can't expect all characters to either -- especially in transgressive fiction and its subgenres.
What is deviant behavior exactly?
Lumen Learning describes this as,
Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violate informal social norms or formally-enacted rules.
From a sociological standpoint, deviance can be split up into two groups: informal or formal deviance.
Informal deviance is little social mistakes such as chewing with your mouth open or skipping the line. Things that are "wrong" but still technically legal.
Formal deviance deals with more of the illegal side of things. Murder, rape, assault, vandalism, stealing, and so on and so forth.
Transgressive Fiction has the freedom to and frequently does represent characters that are informally and/or formally deviant.
It's in the contract when you sign up for the genre.
Is it Glorifying or Representing? Doesn't Matter.
It doesn't matter beause it is all representing.
Those who call it glorifying or chose to act on something because they read about it are the problem ... not the authors, not the book, and not the genre itself that the book belongs to.
Afterall, a rose called by any other name still smells like a rose. It is all representation.
Final Thought for the impressionable and the soap box preachers ~
Don't try everything you read about.
And if you don't like the themes in a book, don't read the book ... in the event that you already read the entire book I would like to let you know that you are just as bad as a customer who eats a whole meal, leaves a clean plate, and then complains about it. Good day.
About the Author
Natalie Nider is the author of her upcoming short story collection
For My Amusement and novella Just Leave It Out and creator of
She has turned her love of Transgressive Fiction and Dirty Realism into a passion.
She lives in Pennsylvania with her family where she can often be found writing or staring into an eggshell wall thinking about it.