This Graphic Novel Explores Issues of Sex, Gender and Self-Harm Like None Has Before
Originally released online, the graphic novel My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness has taken both the comics world and the queer world by storm. The relatively brief work by Nagata Kabi is autobiographical. And though the cover looks a bit like an erotic manga, it’s really not.
The story follows the author as she loses her virginity at age 28 to an escort. But as it turns out, there’s very little actual sex in the comic. Though the story is about sex, it’s more about sex in the broad sense rather than the physical act.
Kabi pulls no punches about herself. Much of the book is about her struggles with depression. She longs for a place where she fits in — and to really know herself. She talks about self-injury — and how by cutting herself she was able to reduce the nebulous emotional pain with a vague cause to concrete physical pain with an obvious cause.
Much of Kabi’s depression is linked to her need to please her parents. For most of the book, she’s living at home. She’ll bring achievements to her parents hoping for praise, but mostly gets “Yes, but you need to do this” in response.
She also discovers that as a side effect of trying to please her parents, she’s attempted to stay a child. Though for most of her adult life, she lived an asexual lifestyle, she wasn’t asexual.
Kabi also experimented with being agender, though less because that was how she identified. She writes, “It wasn’t that i wanted to be a man; it was more that I hated belonging to a gender at all. I was excessively afraid of being defined as a woman before I was seen as myself.”
Two books Kabi read helped her discover herself. A book about children of domestic abuse — though Kabi wasn’t one — explained the relationship she had with her mother. Kabi was constantly seeking approval from her mother, which manifested itself in a longing desire to be held and touched.
The other book, a manga called Life’s Mountains and Valleys by Natsuko Taniguchi, showed Kabi the importance of loving herself. She hadn’t been; aside from not taking care of herself, she would repeatedly push down her own desires in favor of what she thought would please her parents.
Those two revelations made her realize she needed to live for herself rather than her parents. As an experiment she looked up to see if there were any lesbian escort services around. There was one really close to her. So, despite telling herself she was just looking, she booked an appointment.
Though the appointment goes reasonably well, it’s still incredibly tense for her. After all, so much of culture is about how absolutely amazing sex is. And most times in media portrayals of sex, it’s an instant thing where both parties know exactly what to do, regardless of experience levels. As anyone who’s not a virgin can tell you, that’s not exactly the case. There’s often a lot of fumbling about.
The influence of media has a lot to do with My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness as well. Kabi realizes that she’d only ever really read “Boys Love” or yaoi manga — stories for women featuring men in love.
Yaoi itself isn’t exactly accurate; she mentions the “yaoi hole — a mysterious organ in [yaoi manga] that doesn’t appear to be the anus in position, shape or function. When they bone, stuff goes in, it gets wet, etc.” So not only was she basing her concept of sex on a relationship that didn’t include any women, it wasn’t even accurate.
Part of the problem is that she never really saw herself, or people like her, in media. And the stuff she did see was generally wrong. This is true for a lot of late bloomers — pop culture at large places sex itself on the highest of pedestals. It’s the ‘end all be all’ of human existence. TV shows and movies are obsessed with sex. But rarely is it depicted accurately.
The United States is notoriously prudish about showing actual genitalia, and in Japan it’s actually against the law to show pubic hair or genitals at all. (That’s why if you’ve seen Japanese porn it’s frequently censored despite being, y’know, porn.)
But with more works like this, that can change. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness still doesn’t show any genitals; there are a few shots that are outright censored, but usually Kabi gets around it with creative staging. Really, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is about the emotional component of sex.
The graphic novel’s United States publisher, Seven Seas Entertainment, is marketing My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness as a book for “Older Teens 16+.” The book is directed to teens who can use some real talk about what sex is and what it’s like, warts and all. As she writes, “The problem isn’t the stuff in fiction. It’s the fact that we’re never given the correct information.”
The book doesn’t end with Kabi being 100% cured or anything like that. She’s still awkward. She still hasn’t had sex that she hasn’t had to pay for, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The escorts in this graphic novel are depicted as kind and generous.
Though Kabi’s still working on herself, she’s come a long way. And since the graphic novel ends with her discovering that she finds it easier to write about herself than to write pure fiction, hopefully we’ll get more volumes soon detailing her continued journey of self-discovery.