The Librarian Is In

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The Librarian Is In





Literatures and cultures librarian Katrina Spencer is liaison to the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, the Arabic department, the French department, the Gender Sexuality & Feminist Studies (GSFS Program), the Language Schools, Linguistics and the Spanish & Portuguese departments. These affiliations are reflected in her reading choices. 

“While I am a very slow reader, I’m a very critical reader,” she says.

My Lesbian 

Experience with 

Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi and translated by Jocelyne Allen from Japanese, 2017

143 pages

Happy Women’s History Month!

The What

This piece is a first-person, memoir manga, the first of which I’ve read. The story centers on a young woman, Kabi, who is anxiety-ridden about many aspects of her life: work, self-care, sexual expression, intimacy, fulfilling her parents’ expectations, maintaining a stable income, approaching independence and her own mental health. While Kabi is in her 20s, she remains living at home with her parents. She has dropped out of school and acutely feels pressure from her family who wants her to be a productive member of society by becoming economically self-sufficient.

Like many people, Kabi struggles to identify how to find balance and engage with an adult world while simultaneously and gainfully pursuing something she loves and is good at. (I’m sure this last concern will have resonance with many readers of this column.) To assuage her longing for closeness to another adult woman, the author seeks out an encounter with an escort so that she might sample contact, touch and sexuality with a counterpart. This unconventional approach leads Kabi down a road of unexpected self-discovery.

Spoiler Alert: While orgasms do not ensue, something perhaps just as good does.

Trigger Warning: If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or self-harm, you will find reflections of both in this work and a tale of triumph in the pursuit of self-love.

The Why

This work is housed in the browsing collection and it was likely the pink and white cover that caught my eye, and the title (“My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness”) certainly stopped me: it was so honest about a central part of its subject matter: lesbianism, a minority and oft-stigmatized sexuality. The frank boldness of the title drew me in.

As I looked it over, I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to start reading because unlike Western books, the “front cover” rested in my right hand. And when I read the dialog boxes in the panels, left-to-right, I did that wrong, too. Given the narrative is born of a Japanese tradition, the flow of pages and the speech bubbles go from right-to-left. (I’ve seen this with Arabic but not with a translated work.) With a title such as this one and a format of graphic narratives that I already love, I was won over.

While I found “profound” and/or “compelling” moments to be rare, “vulnerable” moments were common. As of December 2017, 87 out of 87 people gave this work five stars on It was also there that I found out the work has a sequel, “My Solo Exchange Diary.”

I will commend the work for treating lesbianism without affect. That is, the narrative drew very little attention to the fact that a woman might and/or want to sexually engage with another. Her experimentation was not an “anomaly” or especially “remarkable.” In passing, it did address the idea that the sex the author had been most exposed to was either between a man and a woman or two men. In other words, it suggests that internationally, lesbianism has little visibility. And moreover, sex education is neither holistic (acknowledging a multiplicity of sexualities) or required worldwide. I liked that this tale was not about “coming out” and, in that respect, it made for a progressive gesture at normalizing same-sex sex.

Lastly, the drawing throughout is certainly effective but not especially impressive. I like how manga, in print and/or on-screen, has special ways of conveying urgency and extremes.

However, the strength of this work is more the story than the visuals. For another work with a similar feel, I’d recommend “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (book and DVD) as it also treats the sexcapades of a woman who often feels like a failure. And for a similar format (graphic novel) and style (memoir) that treats sexuality outside of heterosexuality, see Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home.” Oh! And if you read Portuguese and want to read a professional sex worker’s take on the business, grab Bruna Surfstinha’s “O doce veneno do escorpião.” (You can order the translation through interlibrary loan: Also, “Paying For It,” by Chester Brown, recounts a man’s tale as he attempts to attain sex from a completely transactional approach.

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