Book Review

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

it's good though it's very optimistic

After I read and raved about Gengoroh Tagame’s acclaimed manga about male homosexuality in contemporary Japan, My Brother’s Husband, multiple people suggested I read this, Nagata Kabi’s manga, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. First published in 2016 (this English translation by Jocelyne Allen in 2017), this book evolved from a manga blog post Kabi published after she lost her virginity, aged 28, to a sex worker she had hired through an agency that specialises in lesbian sexual experiences.

This manga is described as “true” on the cover, and other than when Kabi jokes about changing her own appearance to make herself “cuter”, what she presents in this book is described within itself as true.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is about many topics close to my readerly interests, in particular the need to find ones own sense of purpose and the psychological repercussions that we get burdened with when we find the life models society pushes towards us unfulfilling.

Kabi drops out of university and then spends a decade in and out of meaningless jobs, pursuing a career as a manga artist in her free time. She has some success at this and decides to pursue it full time, living at home with her parents and using money she’s saved from previous work. Kabi’s parents let her live with them for free, but they don’t encourage her, in fact I’d go so far as to say that they bully her: they patronise and undermine her, they mock her choices and ignore her decisions, they treat her as a failure and encourage her to see herself as one. It’s one of those autobiographical stories – as many are – that paint people within it as unrepentantly bad without necessarily meaning to: I’m sure Kabi’s relationship with her parents is more nuanced than the more narratively interesting, though one-sided, idea presented here. 

In life, we are often encouraged to see conforming as positive, and in particular this is an attitude popular amongst older generations than mine. Dickheads behave like dickheads because they think being a dickhead is the right way to behave. People try to crush others’ individuality because they think that will make them happier in the long run. People do terrible things with intentions that aren’t inherently terrible, but their lack of reflection evidences a disgusting ignorance and a conscience as thick as the massive poos I’ve been doing since I started eating grown-up breakfast cereals.

Encouraging people to maintain traditional modes of existence that cause them great unhappiness is a form of abuse. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a hard read for anyone who has experienced this, particularly in its incredibly optimistic conclusion that essentially confirms the idea that self-realisation leads inexorably to happiness.

Self-realisation was, for me, a step towards a long-term greater contentment, but looooong before it became something I was able to build upon, it was something that became a source of pain.

Knowing what you need to do to be happy doesn’t make doing it any easier, and nor does doing one thing differently make doing any more (or the same one again) any easier.

When I was younger, the cycle I’d get trapped into would involve feeling so desperate for change I’d do something rash, and then find myself feeling guilty and ashamed and externally punished until I, again, felt so desperate for change I did something rash and etc etc etc…

Self-validation wasn’t enough, and nor was self-validation when, later, combined with secondary validation from my dog. Nothing was enough until the external whatever-the-opposite-of-validation-is was gone. It is easy to understate the importance of self-awareness, but self-awareness without self-confidence is often, in my experience, likely to send the self spiralling ever further.

At risk of ripping off an essay I’m working on more seriously than anything that gets posted on here: for many years, I thought sexuality was the only potential route towards happiness. But fucking people never made me happy, in fact it never made me feel anything but shame until a couple of years ago, and I think that using sexuality to affirm the self can backfire: the lover can become a personless tool, an instrument for pleasure and experimentation, and the idea of self is still rooted in its response and its reactions to/from an external. Also, an overwhelming self consciousness is not a top lovemaker’s attribute.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an engaging, personal, read, but it takes self-realisation and the discovery of sexuality as a swift and universally positive thing. Depression and anxiety and unsatisfying careers dribble away once Kabi is enjoying her sexuality, and as much as life would be easier if this were the way things went, I don’t think it is for many. Life gets harder, innit, when you realise your aspirations and ideals aren’t compatible with those of your peers and your family and anxiety etc doesn’t drop away even though you know their opinions (whether real or imaginary) should be ignored.

It is, even if I disagree with the tone of its conclusion, a beautiful, fun, funny book. It is positive and it allows sexuality and romance to be considered as separate things which is important. But….. But but but but but, it’s too positive, for me, too hopeful. Life can always be better than when it’s at its worst, but even the good times fade eventually to beige.

I’m grumpy. This is not a grumpy book.

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Order my sad prose chapbook via Selcouth Station Press.

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