3. A book written in East Asia: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi
With a title like that, I was not sure what to expect with the 2016 graphic novel My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata. I knew it was an autobiographical account of a woman’s experience with a Japanese sex worker, and my partner had assured me that it was not as heavy as the title implied, but I had no real idea what the tone would be. The title is frank, blunt and almost casual about something deep, and that ended up being my experience with the novel as well. Nagata dives right into her eating disorders, self-harm and sexuality with a skipping tone and cartoonish style, which feels almost necessary to keep the subject matter from being overwhelming.
I read this book over the course of a couple days, practically flying through the sparsely text-filled pages, but I feel like I have such a complete view of Nagata and her situation (and a broader perspective on Japanese mental health issues and sex work). This is a manga that manages to be a fun read while also peeling back Nagata’s skin for the world to see. And that is an amazing balance to find.
In the first chapter, Nagata gives a speed-run through her history of mental health issues that largely cropped up after she graduated high school and felt suddenly unmoored. For all that this is a book about her seeing a lesbian escort, the discussion of her sexuality comes later, after she spends the time laying a lot of groundwork. If you are uncomfortable with her blunt way of speaking about mental illness, the first chapter will probably weed you out of the audience, but if it is something you can read, I would recommend going on.
The middle third is largely about her actual experience with the sex worker, and the final third pivots into a story about artistic creation. Nagata published a short version of this manga online in 2015, and it quickly gained popularity and shot her slow-moving manga career into the spotlight. She finds herself having to navigate this popularity and the results of having her fame based around such a revealing and personal story. The ending feels a bit overworked, as she quickly tries to analyze a situation she is still in, but I would still consider it a very strong and rounded work.
I am a queer woman who has battled her own mental health issues over the years, so My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is perfectly crafted to hit me hard. But Nagata’s writing, art and message are accessible enough that I can see why it has resonated so much with audiences. And if nothing else, the bravery required to be publically vulnerable to this degree has to be admired.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.