A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of coming across and listening to a podcast on transgression, particularly in erotic literature with hosts Harper Eliot @harpereliot and Molly Moore @mollysdailykiss, and featuring erotica writer Remittance Girl @remittancegirl. (IGRD29: Transgression with Remittance Girl)
Transgression is not about excusing that, that there’s no excuse for that, its reprehensible, its disgusting. And for some people, its hot.
Transgression always has consequences, you know even if theyre personal transgressions, theyre personal barriers or boundaries that you, that maybe society doesnt give a shit about you crossing, but you have a problem with it.
There is always a strange blowback to transgression, in that you feel personally, as if youve wounded yourself in some way, after its over. It doesnt mean that you didnt feel pleasure, but theres a consequence to it.
The key takeaways (I found), of the podcast were: the definition of transgression; that one has to have boundaries to trangess; that transgression always has consequences; where the transgression lies (writer/audience/subject); why it is important to write transgression and finally—Is transgression okay?
In a brief exchange on Twitter, I suggested that many of us are aware of own deeply hidden transgressions and then I spent some time thinking about transgression in erotic writing. Transgression is an enormous topic. Its a ubiquitous action that is in constant effect and highlights the state, or levels of conflict that as humans, we are in. In considering my own thoughts on (erotic) transgression, there were some truths I had to consider to be able to write honestly about it.
I was raised with a particular belief set, which in turn set the boundaries for my early years. It was a strange juxtaposition. Admiration of the human form was encouraged, provided that it wasn’t sexual. While I was comfortable with the patriarchy, I was also taught I wasn’t defined by my sex, which further engendered independence.
But there was guilt. Oh, the guilt. Having a conscience was paramount to my existence. I was taught that it only takes man three times—of doing something wrong, as in the same wrong thing—before his conscience becomes numb to it. It’s only now as I write this that I sense transgression and I have had a long relationship.
I was also physically disciplined. I take no issue with this; however, it’s only more recently I have questioned from time to time my predilection for discipline, whereas before I had never drawn a correlation between the two and by that, I’m not saying I never considered it, I just never felt it had any strong bearing.
Of course there is more to it, and I realize by writing this, that my upbringing may appear a poster child candidate for the guilt/sex relationship, but strangely enough any sort of guilt I may have had, was more a transgression against someone else, rather than one against myself, but in saying that, there is a backdraft, whereby acknowledging that transgression, I still experience guilt.
After listening to the podcast, I took the discussion to the ERWA list with these thoughts:
I often feel for writers (across the genres), we are writing transgression before we even truly understand our own motivations for writing.
When we begin to exercise a mastery over our writing, then we start to delve much deeper into our characters and their conflict, what their journey is, and whether or not they have resolution.
And perhaps deeper still, what does this mean to us personally, and how we are transgressing (exploring?) ourselves through our writing—in essence, do we have a message/statement, or what are we trying to say?
We write conflict and character development, and it’s easy for us to write drama, to rely on archetypes and tropes, but what happens when you go beyond that scope? When I first considered transgression in erotic writing, I felt as though I’d had an epiphany. I’d been writing pieces that sat on the cusp of what could be considered transgressive. For many of those I know, the idea of beating or whipping someone for pleasure would be horrifying. So when there was a call for submissions for a transgressive erotica anthology, I found I had rephrased the way I asked questions of my characters.
And so I began writing about a M/F couple who have a violent sexual relationship, which they can’t seem to stop, and there is a question mark as to what they are doing. While they seem to be uncomfortably comfortable in their transgression, it starts to become a problem for the male when it becomes evident one of their female friends is suffering domestic abuse.
This was a very interesting place to be in terms of transgression, and probably more to the fact that I was uncomfortable with how comfortable I was with writing their violent interactions, and for myself it went on to demonstrate the levels of transgression. E.g. I didn’t enjoy writing how he slapped her.
Breathing heavily through her nose she looked up at him, her mouth curling into a contemptuous sneer which he smothered with his palm. She twisted her head to the side, feeling his fingertips slide against her lips. Opening her mouth, she clamped her teeth, to which he almost wrenched the porcelain out of her gums as he yanked his hand back. She didn’t have time to flinch against the slap of flesh that cracked in her ear, the echo resonating the oblivion that left her dying in its wake.
And while slapping doesn’t do it for me in general, there have been occasions where I’ve found it arousing, and then have attempted to justify it because of its context. Taking that into account, I’ve had to ponder my relationship with violence. The idea of maliciously inflicting pain on another human being is abhorrent to me, but then it all depends on the context. Inflicting consensual pain in a sexual context is a different matter altogether. And if the consent is a matter of endurance, well that sacrifice for another’s pleasure is more so.
Considering my thoughts that we have some idea on what our deeper transgressions are, I do agree with RG that writing transgression can be a sandbox for writers discovering their own hard limits.
In saying all that and writing erotic transgression—which I feel adds another dimension to characters—as much as I enjoy introspection I am wary of too much exposition. Sometimes I feel that too much exposition can lead to justification and therefore develop the relationship with the idea that its okay, therefore removing the transgression. I think that this is fairly evident in genres such as romance, or erotic romance where readers have expectations of the genre, and therefore are already open to overlooking transgressions.
What I feel has happened over time—and perhaps its more prevalent recently—is: shock vs transgression in writing. In the rise of dark erotica, there seems to be an underlying of: How far can we push it? How morally wicked can we be, and still get away with it? And what is interesting is that authors have done this before; however, it was not labeled dark erotica, and is nothing new. (Please note, this is not a discount of dark erotica.)
That being said—to me—its an interesting, tangled web. The stories grant licence to the audience, to indulge in fantasy, to subject them to erotic transgression, but, if the reader is able to turn the last page and walk away without a second thought, in writing transgression, has the author done their job?
It should not be just about the shock factor. And sometimes, there is no why. Or even there if there is, it won’t be verified. That’s where the discomfort should lie, and from there the questions should arise.
At least, as a reader, this is my perception. And this is perhaps where jouissance comes into it. As I am not read in Lacan, I cannot really delve into an analysis of jouissance, but if I take that jouissance is transgressive, that it’s pleasure/pain, even if I am not experiencing the transgression personally, I believe there is still a transgression. Then the author has done their job.
In my experience transgression is somewhat conservative in the sense that the boundaries are smaller. The more rules you have, the more likely you are to experience transgression. If one is not a proponent of jouissance, then transgression is likely something one wishes to overcome by way of removing boundaries. If one is a proponent of jouissance, then I would believe that one is interested in maintaining their boundaries, or rather controlling their boundaries with the understanding that they have a choice of where they wish to stake them, and when they want to cross those boundaries and have them remain intact. They want that pleasure/pain.
(Then in saying that, I’d believe we all have element of masochism.)
And so when it comes to ones own private erotic transgressions, I think of self-preservation. One can avoid judgment as much as one can avoid having their transgression diminished. So when it comes to: Is transgression okay? Well, if it becomes okay, then its not really transgression. And for some people, it is not necessary for it to be okay.
And so therein lies the beauty of erotic transgression, and its cost. In erotica, it does more than just arouse, and therefore whatever your payment, or consequence, hopefully that loss equates to a gain—or rather, truth—within your writing.