Over the next few weeks I am going to write a three-part series on lesbian loneliness. The inspiration for these posts comes from Nagata Kabi’s graphic novel/manga My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and her two-part sequel series My Solo Exchange Diary (volumes one and two). I will be drawing heavily from Nagata’s narrative, including quotes, and ideas directly from the manga artist and writer herself. However, I wish to add my own spin on this. I want to highlight the ways in which not only mental illness, which is covered in detail in the series, but conditions such as autism, can contribute to “lesbian loneliness”. In these blog posts, I will not be covering intersectional experiences other than my own, that contribute to lesbian loneliness, as I believe loneliness is an incredibly individualistic experience. Furthermore, it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that having a certain experience automatically means a person is simultaneously experiencing loneliness. I cannot speak for others, but I can speak for myself, and I can draw from and analyse Nagata’s own experience, which she details in this autobiographical series. Anyway, on to the post, in which I’ll discuss three of my favourite topics; lesbianism, loneliness, and intersectionality!
Before I read My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, I deduced that the crux of the manga would be the author’s written experience of her appointment with a lesbian escort agency. The manga is heavily advertised as being about a lesbian who, by the age of 28, has no sexual or romantic experience due to her lack of confidence and who, consequently, makes an appointment with an escort agency in order to lose her virginity. However, what struck me most deeply while actually reading it was how the author’s loneliness was compounded not only by her isolating position as a lesbian in a society where lesbianism is hush-hush outside of Yuri manga, but about her intersecting experience as a person with mental illness. Nagata’s experience with both depression and an eating disorder is emphasised throughout the novel and, in fact, making a taboo appointment with an escort agency actually encourages her to try to get better. When Nagata makes her appointment, she works hard, for the first time in years, on her personal hygiene, begins to eat better, and attempts to regrow hair on her trichotillomania induced bald-patch.
Despite being a relatively short graphic-novel, Nagata covers a broad scope of issues that resonated with me as a lesbian reader. The feeling of isolation, of dating being easier not only for heterosexuals, but for people with more confidence. Another interesting thing that Nagata details in this graphic novel is her struggle to hold down a job and to live independently. Throughout the duration of this novel, she lives with her parents (despite almost being 30). This fact most definitely resonates with me as an Irish young adult living in a city during a housing crisis. Instability and insecurity in Nagata’s narrative manifests in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as obsessive hair-pulling, cycles of starvation and, subsequently, binge-eating. On top of her inability to maintain her personal hygiene and her sense of being “stuck” living at her parents’ home, this leads to self-esteem issues and lack of access to dating-culture. While mental-illness manifests itself in a myriad of different ways in different individuals, Nagata expertly details how the intersection of being mentally ill and of a sexual minority (while living in a capitalist society which does not make allowances for people who are struggling to find work our housing) can lead to excessive bouts of isolation and, as a result, may impede the romantic aspect of a person’s life.
The one thing that keeps Nagata tethered to life, to a semblance of hope, is her tenacious pursual of her passion; manga art and writing. While she struggles to gain traction in the publishing industry with her works of fiction, she ultimately succeeds in earning a steady pay-check once she publishes this autobiographical manga (originally published as a serial online, and under a pseudonym, for obvious reasons). Despite dropping out of college and quitting any job she managed to secure, Nagata never gave up on art. I think this is an incredibly beautiful and admirable fact, as I am a person who has often given up on their own artistic endeavours, particularly during times of depression or during grueling relapses with my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The climax of the novel (pardon the pun) is Nagata’s visit to the lesbian escort agency. She meets her escort, Yuka, who is bubbly and cute, in a public place and they walk to a love hotel together. As they book their room, Nagata wonders if she really knows what she is in for – if she can understand it – since she has never experienced any kind of romantic relationship. Talkative and kind, once they enter their rented room, Yuka runs a bath and the two women bathe together. Despite Nagata’s inability to communicate confidently with her, this scene is exceptionally sweet – Yuka, sensing her nervousness, asks her about her life, whether she has a crush on anyone, and generally tries to make her comfortable. However, it seems that the act of bathing each other is jarring to Nagata – as it is a physically intimate act that, in her mind, should coincide with emotional intimacy. Despite Yuka’s attempts to relax her, once it becomes time for the two to engage in sexual intercourse, Nagata freezes. While Yuka attempts to pleasure her, Nagata is fixated on her lack of experience and her inability to touch her sexual partner back. Nagata cannot touch her unless her hand is guided by Yuka herself. When they finish, and bathe again, they leave the hotel holding hands. At this moment, Yuka comments that it is like they are “friends now” (109) and Nagata thinks to herself how wonderful that would be; to have a friend. After this experience, Nagata realises that she needs to have a pre-existing intimacy with a person before engaging with them sexually.
This section of the novel reminded me, peripherally, of the limited options there are for lesbians, bi, and pansexual women to meet. Like the escort agency, meeting women on dating apps such as Tinder or Her is similar in its forced intimacy. It is never comfortable to go on a date with someone you have only spoken to through a screen. This can be a particularly daunting task for people with social anxiety or other mental health issues. Similarly, gay bars and gay clubs can be exclusionary environments themselves, particularly for women on the spectrum. The flashing lights, the loud music, the mixed odours of sweat and alcohol and perfume, the heat, the crowds – all of this is a nightmare for those with sensory issues and the perfect cocktail to trigger sensory overload. This makes these queer spaces not only difficult for some people to go to, but impossible. And, sure, there are LGBTQ+ societies and wonderful organisations such as LINC, but for someone who has struggled with socialising or who is limited when it comes to places they can socialise, it can be very daunting to go to these societies or clubs alone. And where does that leave queer women with mental illnesses that impede them and/or who are neurodivergent? In these ways, living in a society that is not aware of accessibility or dedicated to catering for everyone, can make the life of a twenty-first century lesbian quite lonely indeed. In light of that, may I direct the attention of any bi, lesbian, pan, or queer women reading this blog post to this survey being run by DIVA magazine and Kantar. Please excuse the sneaky self-promo of my academic twitter, as the survey in question has been quote-tweeted by me! If you end up following my account, expect more tweets about the LGBTQI+ community, andabout the importance of intersectionality, accessibility, diversity, representation, and equality within and outside of literature. My hyper-fixations slip through, at times, too – so don’t be alarmed by the few tweets relating to the singer Jonghyun or the band SHINee or the frequent updates about my wonderful dog Casper!
As this blog post hasn’t been as interactive as I would like, I’m going to finish by linking a few songs by my favourite sapphic singers! Enjoy!
Nagata, Kabi. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. East Press, Tokyo, 2016.
Cover Art credit:
|Cover art, featuring Nagata (right) and Yuka (left)|
(Sabishisugite Rezu Fūzoku ni Ikimashita Repo)