Staff Picks

I Am Only a Foreigner Because You Do Not Understand

Gabbi Cisneros

October 26, 2023


Despite the book's theme of being misunderstood, I find the sparse text of this graphic novel to make the author's feelings very understandable.

I Am Only a Foreigner Because You Do Not Understand by L. Nichols, Secret Acres 

IAmOnlyAForeignerBecauseYouDoNotUnderstand.jpgIn a continuation of their memoir, Flocks, L. Nichols reflects on their past and their identity as a trans person amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even if the trans experience is unfamiliar to the reader, many of the anxieties and joys that Nichols shares are easy to empathize with, thanks to the narrator's straightforward verse and mix of cartoonish and naturalistic style. Because of the tumult of the last three years—the global pandemic, the uprisings, the political fallout, and the sabotage of the autonomy of women and queer communities—many of us very well understand the feelings of loneliness and alienation expressed by Nichols.

Vignettes with titles of one or two words—"Skin," "Fragmented," "Neither/Nor"—reveal a brief but deep look at the author's thoughts and formative experiences. Deep as in beneath-the-skin, skeleton-deep—because the skeleton is a recurring avatar for Nichols.

Only a few chapters express contentment, but I find this to be a smart choice, one that highlights the humanity of the author and their readers. As Susan Cain writes in Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole: "the secret that our poets and philosophers have been trying to tell us for centuries, is that our longing is the great gateway to belonging." By sharing bleak experiences and emotions through the highly evocative medium of a graphic novel—where facial expressions and body language are visible, and text is sparse and carefully chosen—Nichols creates room for readers to either fill in the details on their own or ruminate on the abstractness of the author's account.

Though the book is small and chapters short, each page is heavy with meaning in the pursuit of further explaining the statement on page 11: "My body is a foreign language, spoken too quickly to understand."



L. Nichols may be a stranger, an author, an artist, an MIT-educated engineer, and a father, but by the end of this impactful graphic novel, you should realize what is more important than who someone is is how someone feels.

About Gabbi Cisneros

Gabriella Cisneros is a moderately bilingual artist whose passion for storytelling extends from reading to filmmaking, video editing, writing, photography, and social media. Working at Porchlight is kind of a dream job for someone who has a 55 page, indexed document of interesting words she’s found in books. Gabbi regularly makes time for taking photos, traveling, attending concerts, trying new restaurants, blogging, fitness, and—of course—reading.

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