Glorifying Sex, Drugs, Violence, and Deviant Behavior
Updated: Mar 29
Smut ... gory ... morbid ... fowl ... triggering ... or just downright bad are just some of the favored criticisms about the genre. And then there are those who take it another step further and argue that all that transgressive fiction accomplishes is glorifying bad behavior.
No one can blame the entirety of a genre on showing their readership absolute realism. It's not the genres fault for life being consistently fucked and thus drawing inspiration from that.
Glorifying or not, it is an important genre and the most honest form of literature that 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. It could also give way to sympathizing with people who commit unforgivable acts.
If a reader decides to develop a drug problem because the protagonist in the book has a few paragraph 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 in the case of people who don't have the intellectual stamina to look into a topic deeper.
There are only a few methods that truly make a piece of literature glorifying and often that consists of false advertising a subject or sympathizing with unforgivable acts/people.
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 but somewhere along the line the author fucked up and turned it into something where they were overtly condoning something or someone they shouldn't have.
Literature 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.
The thing about playing the blame game though is there are two possible culprits at all times: the author or the readers.
The author becomes at fault for glorifying when they themselves wrote the piece to be glorifying whether they knew it or not. It becomes the readers fault if the author had accurately represented a subject (without glorifying) and the reader misunderstood the message.
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. If someone is going to make an argument for why something is glorifying at least have substantial proof to back it up ... otherwise glorify becomes an empty word.
Writers of transgressive fiction, for the most part, 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 regurgitated 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.
There are plenty of subjects that are in desperate need of being addressed and those subjects would not be discussed if all of literature were censored.
Trangressive Fiction makes art out of even the worst circumstances.
Sex is such a Sensitive Word
Plain ole 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 unnecessary 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 or some place in-between. Transgressive fiction doesn't shy away from the mediocrity of sex and instead portrays it as it is ... in any amount of detail.
The importance of Glorifying vs Representing when using the subject of Sex:
Pedophilia is one that will continue to be controversial when it appears in fiction, and rightfully so -- it's fucking weird. Castration is the only acceptable form of punishment for those who manipulate children into anything sexual.
But it is still important and relevant for us to discuss as it is related to the controversial side of sex in transgressive fiction.
Here is where glorifying and representation is extremely important.
Glorifying would be an author condoning a pedophile and/or attempting to justify their actions. Glorifying would be an attempt at making the predators actions look less sinister than they are. If this is the case in a book ... then by all means, crucify them.
But representing would be the author finding a way to show readers whether from the point of view of the predator, victim, or another character how truly manipulative and wrong it is. Representing would show readers how fucked up people justify terrible things in their own heads, what goes on in the minds of children, or even how other people on the outside looking in perceive what is going on. Representing can start a dialogue on such a gruesome subject and still not glorify it.
Representing demands that people have an opinion and also forces people to take off the rose colored glasses and see how terrible acts occur.
Glorifying is condoning and even justifying ... again, fucking sickening.
Drugs ... The Ultimate Muse
Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, 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 withdrawal, dealing with the fact that their habit is slowly killing them, or that it is creating problems within themselves and with other people. Transgressive Fiction does find a way to capture all of the gray areas of drug abuse.
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.
There is one possible difference between glorifying and representing violence in fiction that comes to mind: the authors intent. Glorifying would have to somewhat convince readers to go out and reenact the violence. If the book doesn't do that it is more than likely that the violence in the story isn't of the glorifying nature.
Humans are violent creatures. It's in our nature to be interested in it. Violence is a legitimate thing and there are plenty of real life scenarios that call for it. Why wouldn't they then show up in literature?
War is violent, street fights are violent, hell -- murder is violent ... 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?
It requires more than a questionnaire to decipher whether or not a novel is glorifying something or merely representing it. Us as readers, as well as writers, have to zero in not just on the authors intent but also how the themes are being presented to the audience.
It requires a discussion and basic intelligence in analytical thinking.
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.
If the book strikes a nerve, engage in an intelligent conversation about it.
About the Author
Natalie Nider is the author of her upcoming short story collection
For My Amusement 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.