transgress |transˈgres, tranz-| verb
infringe or go beyond the bounds of (a moral principle or other established standard of behavior)
“You think you know pain?… You’re just a tourist with a typewriter… I live here.”
—Charlie Meadows, from Barton Fink (1991)
If an author or a particular work is labeled transgressive, what moral or behavioral boundary is being infringed upon? Certainly it’s not the act of writing itself that’s transgressive (at least not here in the industrialized West), so that leaves us with the content or subject matter of the writing. Still, what is the cultural demarcation in question, and how has the author breached it? This question leaps to the fore whenever I see my own work slotted beneath the transgressive branch of the fiction taxonomy. It’s quickly frustrated, blindly sniffing at corners and cracks of the infinite labyrinth that is the internet. The frustration stems not so much from the lack of an answer, but the lack of any source to be held accountable for the label. Okay, it’s for lack of an answer, too. And it’s not the question or the frustration, but mine.
Transgressive behavior is easy to identify on the surface, but discussing even a cursory list of such behaviors opens up institutional-size cans of worms that can mire the participants knee-deep in squirming muck. After unsanctioned violence (anything outside an MMA ring or other contact sport, but then we have to talk about the battlefield, and thus open up another can), we’re left with victimless crimes (drugs, of course, and perhaps sex work, but my own brief hesitation as to whether victimless should be in quotes/italics is the sound of more night crawlers plopping onto the pile); sex, sexuality and sexual expression in pretty much any form outside the Judeo-Christian norm (e.g., homo-/poly-/trans- anything, gender bending, role play, fetishes, ad. infinitum); likewise for religious belief and expression. The resulting index of behaviors, beliefs and practices will have so many respective adherents that the most obvious response to any one item is, Transgressive to whom?
Click here to read the rest of this story