I got an email from a writer the other day asking about transgressive fiction. She had seen my previous article, What It’s Like to Be a Female Author Who Writes Transgressive Fiction, and she was curious about a couple of things. Number one, she wanted to know how I fueled my ideas to write in this genre, and two, she wanted to know how I handled the reactions of my friends and family members. In particular, did any of my friends and family think I was just writing about my “twisted fantasies”?
This is something I’ve heard from many writers who are drawn to write transgressive fiction, but are also afraid to try it. Almost all transgressive fiction writers struggle when getting started in the genre, and there is an obvious reason for this. When you’re first starting out as a writer—no matter what genre you’re writing in—you tend not to know a whole lot of other writers and you haven’t built up any sort of reader base yet. So, your friends and family are kind of who you’re stuck with to use as your first beta audience. And if your friends and family don’t happen to enjoy the genre you write in, or worse, they’re completely unfamiliar with it and it actually is a big turn-off for them, then it’s easy to get all your writerly hopes and dreams crushed due to the assumption that the problem is that you’re not a good writer, not that you have the wrong audience.
So this happens to all new writers, to a degree. But I believe it’s especially hard for transgressive fiction writers because of the subject matter we deal with in our writing. You can go by the Wikipedia definition of “drugs, sexual activity, violence,” yada yada yada, but what it really comes down to is that transgressive fiction writers explore topics that make other people uncomfortable. And we do it to challenge readers. We do it to make people look at things within themselves that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise looked at, and ask themselves questions that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise asked.
When you’re working with art in that way—using aggression and darkness wrapped up with intelligence and beauty—to push people to grow, you’re bound to get back a lot of resistance, and projection.
For example, if you write a story about a character who experiences sexual fantasies rooted in an ugly trauma from their past, and you tell that story as honestly and vulnerably as possible, you are definitely going to get readers who freak out on you. Some people will have experienced similar trauma and have a big reaction to your work—whether that’s relief or anger—and others will just feel threatened that you’re even talking about such things and lash out at you. These are the people who might snidely comment that you’re just writing about your own “twisted fantasies.” It’s a way to deflect from the piece of art you’ve produced, a way to subtly undermine it so no one has to talk about it.
But that’s why transgressive fiction is so valuable today more than ever. Transgressive fiction is an art form that unearths the dark, ugly, weird, uncomfortable parts of ourselves and brings them into the light. It is a genre of writing that challenges and pushes and yes, at times, even violates. It deals with fear at the deepest level and demands growth at any cost.
So, of course a lot of writers are scared to dive into it, or even dip their toes into writing it. The thought of moving so violently outside the box of mainstream writing, of expressing the wildest facets of our creativity, and then feeling that pushback from others and being labeled “twisted” or “obscene,” well, it’s daunting.
But here’s the good part: If you do have that calling deep inside to write transgressive fiction, and you start writing it and putting it out there, the most awesome thing happens. You will start to find other writers like yourself. You will find them on Amazon, publishing books like the ones you’re writing, you will find them on social media, and you will find them on creative hubs like TransgressiveFiction.info. They ARE out there. And then the next time you write a story that is dark, crazy, insanely weird, and totally profane, those people will be eagerly waiting to read it and discuss it and encourage you to write another one.
But if you want to find your people, you have to come out of hiding. You have to express your creativity as authentically as you can and own it. You have to commit to sharing it with the world.
This is true for ALL writers, no matter what genre you choose. If you have a head full of ideas, but you’re not writing any of them down, or a drawer full of stories, but you’re not showing them to anyone, then the chances of you finding your people are near zero. And you’ll be stuck for God knows how long wringing your hands over the reactions of your friends and family to your writing.
Not only do I know it’s hard, I’ve been there. I know that sometimes it can feel damn near impossible to share your writing with the world. But you gotta do it. The time is now.
No more excuses.
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.