Considering how much of my existence revolves around the media I consume, I can’t say I’ve ever found something that I can truly relate to.
If you spend as much time online and reading analytical articles as I do, it’s almost impossible not to come across someone talking about a game, movie, novel or TV show that has helped them through tough times because of just how relatable and emotional it is. For the longest time, this was a sensation that was completely alien to me and, honestly, it made me quite sad. What made me so different? Why was it so hard for me to connect to things the way other people did?
It was a feeling I sustained for a while, until I read Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, after finishing my third year of university this summer. And after reading it through God knows how many times and crying my eyes out upon each revisit, I can safely say that it is the best manga I’ve ever read- but you’d never catch me recommending it to anyone. I’m here to tell you why.
But first, what’s the story?
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a 2016 manga (Japanese graphic novel) written and illustrated by the aforementioned Nagata Kabi, who also happens to be the subject of its story. The manga tells a tale “ten years in the making”, following Nagata’s life from the ages of 18 to 28.
The manga presents its overall tone and themes from the outset, opening with a then-present day, anxiety-ridden Nagata face to face with a female escort whom she ordered in order to lose her virginity. However, as the escort makes a move on her, Nagata uses the time to reminisce on what brought her to this point.
The reader quickly learns that Nagata’s life as a young adult was one full of hardship- emotional, mental and personal.
After dropping out of university, Nagata develops an eating disorder, which also gets her fired from her part-time job; the one thing keeping her from complete despair. However, even when she recovers and finds another job, she still finds herself in a depressive spiral due to the parental and societal expectations placed upon her, including not being a salaried employee and having no experience in the fields of romance and sex.
The latter is what leads her to hire the escort we see in the beginning, only to find that towards the end of the manga, Nagata finds herself almost entirely unable to enjoy and perform during the encounter. Despite her mixed feelings though, our unlikely heroine finds the experience- no matter how lacklustre and awkward- to be a step towards liberation, self-discovery and the normal life she’s always wanted.
But what’s so relatable about that?
Now obviously there are some parts of the manga that I can’t relate to.
For starters, I’m a 21-year-old university student at the time of writing and Nagata was a 28-year-old dropout. I’ve never suffered with an eating disorder and, probably most notably, I’ve never hired an escort. But everything else in My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness resonated with me in a way that no other piece of media has to this day.
I knew that this manga was going to hit me hard within the first ten pages, when Nagata describes leaving university and being jobless as “losing the things that had given [her] shape.” I’m not sure whether the timing played into it, but given that I had just completed my undergraduate degree and had the whole of summer to wait until I started my Masters, this feeling of shapelessness, without routine and academic expectations, was something I could relate to.
But, by far, the manga’s crowning jewel is its main themes: adulthood and sexuality.
I am someone who was “the good kid” growing up. I always did well academically; I never smoked, drank or did drugs, I never partied, and I haven’t even had my first kiss. I basically never did any of the things a typical teenager/young adult was expected to do. As a result, whenever other people ask me about my experiences in any of these areas, I very rarely have anything to say. Not only that, but it often makes me feel alienated from various genres of media, especially coming-of-age and romance stories.
So, imagine my surprise when I come across this manga that seems to embody my feelings perfectly.
The latter half of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness sees Nagata coming to terms with her lack of sexual and romantic experience. She concludes that even though intimacy is something that she yearns for, her own self-loathing and the lingering fear of judgement from her parents made her almost adverse to sex or anything of the like. She even admits that writing the word ‘sex’ when putting together the manga was hard for her- something I can deeply relate to now that I’m writing this article. It was hard for her to not only see herself as someone who deserved and wanted these things, but an adult who deserved and wanted these things.
At 21, I am legally an adult, if not a young one, but I cannot deny that the “good kid” label sticks with me even now. I get anxious buying things for myself, making even the slightest of risky decisions and, yes, anything that even closely relates to sex. Seeing someone put this internal struggle of remembering you’re an adult who can do adult things into words was strangely liberating and- dare I say- relatable.
It immediately put Nagata’s story in a different league for me… But I still wouldn’t tell someone to read it.
If you’ve got this far, you’re probably still wondering why I would never recommend such a charming, unique and insightful piece of literature. The truth is, ironically, I think I found My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness too relatable- and I suspect other people will too.
When I started reading it for the first time, I was excited at the prospect of finally having a piece of media I could empathise with, but, even now, I can’t get through it without crying. Seeing issues and internal debates you’ve had with yourself put into words is such a raw, yet humble, manner is a strangely conflicting experience. On the one hand, it’s incredibly validating to know that you’re not the only one who thinks this way, but on the other, having it shown to you directly can be difficult.
Reading about how Nagata felt like she was “bad at being alive” and how she should know her own wants and needs, separate from what those around her expect, was like looking into an unfortunate reflection. Like some cursed mirror in a fantasy story showing you the parts of yourself you don’t want to face. Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck after reading and while it certainly prompted some well-needed reflection, some of those issues still remain with me, making revisiting this work difficult.
Let’s Wrap it Up
For such an emotional story, the manga has a happy ending, but one befitting of its overall down-to-earth tone. The final chapter sees our anxious heroine use the aftermath of the escort as a springboard towards self-improvement; learning about herself and how the world works around her. Despite this, though, it’s clear that she’s not completely free of her anxieties and still has a long way to go in the romance department, but- in her own words- “it would still be better than what we’d have before.”
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a rare kind of book. The sheer emotional and mental whiplash Nagata’s story inflicts both on and off the page is something I have yet to see replicated anywhere else, and the complexity and specificity of its core themes are truly remarkable for such a short work. It’s a tale of anxiety, depression and self-discovery executed in a wonderfully uncensored, personal way. And no matter how much I connected with it; no matter how cathartic it was to see my own thoughts and feelings conveyed to me, I still wouldn’t tell anyone to read it.
Words by Ly Stewart
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