What Is Mild Transgressive Fiction?

Shannon Waite
4 min readJul 10, 2023


PREFACE: If this is your first trip to my blog, I write a lot of transgressive fiction and my blog posts are resources for other transgressive writers. I offer book reviews, transgressive topics for inspiration, research on social change, and creative writing techniques. The article below is meant to support writers looking for information and/or ideas. Welcome!

Mild transgressive fiction — I mention in my blog post “What Is Transgressive Fiction” that I considered a lot of writing to be transgressive fiction after first learning the genre some 15+ years ago. My introduction was through Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters and I’d never read anything like it. I assumed things even in that contemporary/conversational form, or remotely risque, must be transgressive fiction. Since reading and researching more, I now understand/define transgressive fiction as a text whose purpose is to explore/critique social norms through excessive or exaggerated transgression. This focus makes it difficult for a text to really fall under a different genre, as I talk about in “What Is Transgressive Fiction.”

But where does that leave the other writing that I read that feels similar to the transgressive fiction style, but doesn’t quite cut that definition?

This is where I’ve decided to coin the term “mild transgressive fiction”. It’s when a text breaks some norms, but is not focused on making a political statement through norm breaking. Or when a text is not intentional about having characters break (exaggerated) norms but instead acknowledges the broken norms that people don’t want to talk about or feel embarrassed by if they do.

For example, I will discuss a short story from Miranda July’s anthology No One Belongs Here More Than You. In her story “The Shared Patio”, July has the narrator describe a living situation in which a couple rents the first floor and she rents the upstairs floor. The narrator is concerned about the use of the patio and if the couple understands it is to be both of theirs. She marks the days they use it down on a calendar and matches her time on the patio to theirs. She eventually talks to the husband and enjoys the patio with him while his wife is at work. During a conversation, he has a medical emergency and the narrator, unsure of how to respond, instead dreams that they have a very intimate conversation, acknowledging some kind of romance, despite recognizing that he is still married. In reality, the wife comes home and manages to save her husband and the narrator sort of slips away, unnoticed again.

This story does not describe some blatantly shocking scene, right? There’s no rape, drugs, body destruction, nothing gory or disgusting. There’s no big critique on society. But there is transgression — it’s just subtle. The story is about a woman who watched her neighbors a little too close for comfort — stalkerish? Then she doesn’t try to help her neighbor when he’s dying (although he does survive by his wife). Then she continues to imagine him intimately, even though he’s married. All of these things go against accepted norms.

And I think this is where defining transgressive fiction can become difficult for people, because like I previously mentioned, a lot of stories involve transgression — but it’s hard to define those texts (like “The Shared Patio”) as transgressive fiction, and it’s because of this. Because they are what I’m calling mild transgressive fiction —stories that include transgressions, they acknowledge them, point out the ways in which they are wrong or uncomfortable, but are not necessarily a story about them, or not critiquing society through them, or not trying to create change through them. These actions are instead just a part of the story, or maybe about a theme unrelated to social norms.

The thing is, this kind of transgression is sneaky, but is more relatable. Way more people are going to have experienced paying too close attention to ‘a neighbor’, or dreaming of someone in a taboo way, than say murder.

My review for Here in the World by Victoria Lancelotta (coming this Wednesday!) addresses her stories as such texts, discussing ‘politically’ and ‘socially’ incorrect things, but in a more subtle way than other transgressive fiction.



Shannon Waite

Shannon Waite is an author focused on transgression and social change and, largely, how to combine the two. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com