Women Writers in Transgressive Fiction: The Times They Are A Changin’

The first book I ever wrote was ugly as hell. It was raw, disgusting, weird, and twisted. In fact, when I first started writing it I didn’t even know what it was. I thought maybe it was a memoir, because it was all about a certain period in my life, but I could also see that it was so fragmented and exaggerated in places that thinking of it as an actual linear story was quite a stretch, even for my imagination.

I worked on it every week for two years but I kept it a secret. I hid the pages I wrote in a locked desk drawer and never looked at them. I was too embarrassed, and ashamed. I knew the writing was bad, that was one thing, but I also didn’t want to look at the demons that were showing up. I didn’t want to know what those demons were trying to tell me.

When I finished I took another two years to revise it, and it was slow going all the way, but finally I felt like the manuscript was in solid enough shape to start querying agents with it. The problem was, I didn’t know what genre my book fit into. It was extremely dark, even brutal, in places. But also hilarious. And, a lot of it had to do with addiction, and the state of a person’s soul. With that kind of mix going on, could I really label it as just plain old fiction? So, I started doing a little research.

Turns out, there was a term for what I was writing: transgressive fiction. When I read the definition it described my book so perfectly I could hardly believe it:

Transgressive fiction is a genre of literature which focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways… Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressive fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sexual activity, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.

I was relieved, but I also felt a bit weird. Because the more I researched transgressive fiction authors, the more it was clear that I was one of them, and  the more I noticed that barely any of them were women.

Did this mean I was even weirder than I had always thought myself to be?

My ruminations on that question aside, I took my newfound knowledge and used it to start finding agents. After scouring the internet, I found two. Two. Two agents who sounded even remotely interested in transgressive fiction. One guy used the official term for the genre and the other just sounded like he liked dark things so I figured it was worth a shot. But when I read the first agent’s profile my heart sank. Yes, he was definitely into transgressive fiction, but he had added a caveat. He had listed his favorite transgressive fiction authors and commented that he knew it was a “very male list,” but that was what he wanted and what he was into, so that’s what he’d like to see in terms of queries.

I felt like I had finally found the needle in the haystack that I had been searching for and then it had been snatched away from me at the last second because I happened to have been born with a vagina.

So, I put the manuscript away again and went to work on other things.

Well, seven years passed and finally I couldn’t stand the thought of that book being locked away anymore. I dug it out of the drawer, revised the whole thing, and self-published it. And then, a surprising thing happened. The reviews started to trickle in, and so did the emails. And most of them were from men. Very supportive men, in fact. Men who said they connected deeply with my main character and the issues raised in the novel. Men who had questions about how women experience love and sexuality. Men who said they found the gross scenes about a woman unexpectedly getting her period in a one-night stand’s bed hilarious.

Men who told me I was a great writer, and that I should keep writing.

Not long after this I was approached by another group of people working hard to bring transgressive fiction into mainstream conversation and to help shine a little more light on transgressive fiction authors who continue to push boundaries and explore radical ideas in our society today. They asked me if I’d like to join their cause and of course I said HELL YES. And that’s how I ended up being a part of the new transgressive fiction movement found on TransgressiveFiction.Info.

You can follow the new transgressive fiction movement yourself by checking out the site, signing up for their newsletter, and following them on Facebook or Twitter. And if you’d like to check out my page, I’m right here.

I am so extremely honored to be not only part of this new transgressive fiction movement, but also deeply grateful to see that women are now welcomed into the ranks so wholeheartedly.

The world is changing for the better for a lot of writers, due to the great efforts of many amazing women AND men. And it’s pretty awesome to see.

Lauren Sapala is the author of  Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as a raging alcoholic in her 20s. She is also the author of  The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers. She currently lives in San Francisco.

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