CONTENT WARNING: THIS PIECE TALKS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH AND SEXUALITY. BE MINDFUL IN CASE YOU’RE NOT COMFORTABLE APPROACHING THESE TOPICS. ALSO I DEFINITELY RECOMMEND READING THIS IF YOU CAN, IT HAS A REALLY GOOD QUALITY OFFICIAL RELEASE YOU CAN GET HERE.
Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness got me. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to put my journey to self-compassion into words, then suddenly this manga did it better than I ever could. This silly messy adult manga about a lesbian woman going to an escort agency was one of the most touching things I’ve ever experienced. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that. But Nagata Kabi is honest and vulnerable in a way that I wish I could be, and that’s what makes her tale so moving.
My Lesbian Experience is really straightforward with sexuality. I mean, it’s called MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE. Nagata owns her identity without hesitation, and the raw scribbled aesthetic brings out its authenticity. When she first starts talking about her attraction to women it’s done with a light humorous touch. She shows the way she gets excited by pictures of women but feels indifferent about men, a moment that a lot of people I know connected to. It’s pretty casual, and that’s because she doesn’t find anything controversial about being a lesbian woman. It’s just… life. With all the tasteless tragedy porn about LGBTQ+ people this isn’t just endearing but also really important. Marginalised people need to be okay with simply existing.
This isn’t to say Nagata ignores the role of prejudice in her experiences. In fact she makes it pretty clear how invisible her identity was growing up. The only acceptable physical closeness she could have with a woman was with her mother. But after a certain point even that stops being accepted. Adult expectations creep up on her, not just the expectations of what’s socially okay but also the expectations of success in life. And for her parents Nagata’s success can never be enough.
She finds confidence busting her ass in a part-time job, to the point she overcomes her eating disorder and starts to feel like she has a “normal life”. To that all her mother can say is “it’s just a part time job”, something which not only hurts Nagata but doesn’t make her life better in any way. She even avoids renting an apartment because her Dad said that they only rent to salaried workers, which turns out to be complete nonsense. A lesson of adulthood is that sometimes our parents don’t know what they’re doing either. We internalise what they say until one day we realise they can say things that are wrong, and even harmful.
That may not seem totally related to her being a lesbian woman but it absolutely is. Because it’s all part of the shame of not being “normal”. Nagata never talks to her parents about her struggles with mental health or sexuality, but more importantly she didn’t talk to herself about it. Heck, she didn’t even have the language to do it if she wanted to. It’s pretty widely known that Japanese schools barely teach any sex education, and when your sexuality doesn’t meet normative standards that makes you even more invisible. Without the knowledge that people share her experiences Nagata believes that her mental health and sexuality are a personal flaw. Something that she doesn’t deserve to have accepted.
So she suffers in silence. Floating from job to job hoping one of them will give her a sense of belonging. None of them do, because they only really want her when she’s capable of being productive. Nagata can’t move forward because she doesn’t love herself, and she doesn’t think she’s allowed to. But when she finally does, the thing she needs to accept becomes comically obvious: “It’s sex stuff”. And in her own mind what better way to understand sex stuff than to HAVE sex?
Then Nagata calls up an escort and realises she has no idea what she’s doing. It might seem funny that she got to 28 and only understood sex through erotic comics, but it’s an achingly real problem. So many people get their expectations of sex from porn because teachers and parents aren’t comfortable giving them better resources. It’s not hentai’s fault that people have confusing ideas about what boobs look like, but it DEFINITELY shouldn’t be their only point of reference.
We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for not knowing these things though. When it becomes clear that Nagata doesn’t know what to do the sex worker responds with empathy. Nagata likely isn’t the first or last woman who’s come to her with no real concept of sex. She tells Nagata that it’s possible to get better at these things. All she has to do is keep moving forward and opening herself up to new experiences. The escort tells Nagata that she wants her to be happy, despite having only just met her. The ability for someone to believe in you without hesitation can be powerful. It can make believing in yourself seem a lot more possible.
With this sense of confidence Nagata is able to do her own research on sexuality. It’s embarrassing for her to realise how little she knew, but going out of her way to learn more is the only helpful thing she can do to overcome it. It makes her see how much the education system failed her. Like she says, “Schools are so afraid of waking up an innocent child. But, hello, she’s already awake”.
Kids aren’t stupid, and one way or another they end up having to learn about sex. For a lot of us that meant getting things from really bad sources, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. By admitting we could know more it allows us to go out and research these things. This is ESPECIALLY important for the journey of Nagata and other LGBTQ+ people. To know your identity exists, to know the science that’s out there and to know the lived experiences of people just like you is empowering. It can unravel a lifetime of shame and it can make you understand… you.Nagata Kabi was taught by her parents to stay away from things deemed dangerous, and it left her struggling to adapt to adult situations and find her sense of self. But in a moment of bravery and self-confidence she decides to become a manga author and discuss her experiences as a lesbian woman. She knows she might be hurt by precarious work and shunned by society, but she accepts that.
Nagata follows the dream her parents wouldn’t approve of, and decides to come out to a society that may never understand her. She has the strength to do this because, above all, she values what she knows and feels. Because she knows that she’s enough. We’re all enough. There may be days where we don’t believe that, but we all truly are. And by accepting ourselves in the moment, no matter how sad or useless we feel, we can find the confidence to be stronger people.
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