Taboo Writing Has Always Struck a Chord In Me

And it looks like I’m in pretty good company.

Shannon Ashley
Oct 20, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Niti K. on Unsplash

Growing up, I read a lot of banned books. It helps that I went to public “magnet” schools in the Twin Cities, because that’s what was frequently on our class reading lists.

Books like Bridge to Terabithia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher In the Rye, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Othello, Of Mice and Men, The Color Purple, Lord of the Flies, The Jungle, and others filled my youth during school hours.

Outside of school, I was drawn to more books my mother never would have approved of. Thrillers from R.L. Stine and Caroline B. Cooney. Stories with all sorts of “smut” I didn’t quite understand. Dramas like the Sally Lockhart Series and Flowers In the Attic.

When I browsed bookstores with my father, I tended to gravitate toward true crime.

I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but there’s something inside of me that rather craves books and movies that deal in the macabre or even taboo. And I am still a sucker for torrid tales like The Thorn Birds and Peyton Place.

Sometimes, it’s a little bit shocking for me to discover that salacious storylines have been a part of literature since it began.

I was raised in a strict and conservative household, in which my mother was adamant that good people didn’t have unmarried sex. They didn’t swear or excuse abortion. And she called homosexuality a slap in the face to God.

Good girls don’t even want to have sex, or at least, that’s what she taught me. Sexual desire was something gross and unusual for women. When I first came across Flowers In the Attic, I thought for sure my mother would find out and accuse me of having some sort of incestuous hang up.

Luckily for me, my mom was more interested in reading my diary and notes from my friends. For whatever reason, she remained in the dark about my proclivity for stories about sex and scandal. Though she did go through any books my dad gave to me, and confiscated those that were about puberty or health because she disputed their claim that masturbation was natural.

It’s been said that I am an oversharer.

As far as writers go, anyway. Some folks have protested that I share too much information in most of my writing. One reader complained I am a “TMI juggernaut,” while others have commented that “nobody cares” because my topics aren’t appropriate for strangers.

Some folks complain that blogging has ruined writing.

They feel lost in a sea of vulnerability and wonder why anyone would want to read what they consider to be such drivel. I must admit I’m somewhat befuddled by their confusion because, isn’t it obvious? People have always been interested in TMI issues.

Writers have long shed a light on things like sex, abortion, illicit affairs, and anything else in the realm of the taboo.

What is it that draws us into the taboo, anyway? Perhaps, it’s because such things speak to the rebellion within us to perfectly conform and meet the expectations of our culture. And maybe some of us find more solace in what others find strange simply because we’ve been silenced for so long.

But let’s be honest. The written word has long been a kind of refuge for every sort of unspeakable thing. It’s been a way for readers and writers alike to work through their deepest traumas and make sense of their pain.

Of course, as technology and social media makes the world so much more connected, it’s only natural that more writers delve into these personal and even “unseemly” tales.

Spilling our guts out is perfectly human.

Writers have always been interested in telling all. This is truly nothing new. And while every reader may not be interested in messy or sordid tales, plenty others do care.

What is it that feels so good about these stories? Some folks assume it’s all just junk food and guilty pleasure, but I disagree.

I think we love the taboo simply because it connects us to that feeling of being deeply human. We are flawed and fragile, so, we love to be reminded that we are not alone.

And do you know what? We really aren’t alone.

“Anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

- Fred Rogers

I have a thing for taboo writing, and maybe you do too.

In fact, considering that most readers worldwide are female, it only makes sense that we would seek out broken and human tales to help us find our own voices which have long been suppressed.

But I think men can find joy in what some call “oversharing” too. Whereas women’s voices have been shut down, men’s emotions have received a different sort of suppression. Perhaps a little extra vulnerability might serve them well.

If you happen to find peace in too much information, you are far from alone. And it’s really nothing new in the world of writing.

We likely just notice it more because we spend so much time online.

Join my email list to keep in touch and I’ll send you my 12 tips to crush it as a blogger. Or, check me out on Write Already for a behind-the-scenes look at two female writers who are making it work.

Honestly Yours

Essays with heart

Shannon Ashley

Written by

It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 📧

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 📧

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

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