Some Japanese queer vocabulary

Let’s get this thing back on schedule!

o-kamarice pot
Effeminate homosexual man, crossdresser, or M-to-F transsexual.
o-nabe “pot, pan”
Masculine lesbian, or F-to-M transsexual.
o-koge “burnt rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot”
Fag hag; woman who enjoys the friendship of gay men, or actual romantic relationships.

Terms from English:

Gay men, specifically.
baisekushuaru, bai
rezubian, rezu, bian

Terms in Sino-Japanese:

dôseiai and dôseiaisha
same-sex-love, same-sex-love-person
danshoku, nanshoku
“male eroticism” (“male colors”); older term for male-male love, originally pæderastic.

A tachi “sword” is a butch lesbian, while femmes are neko “cat” (apparently a term for unlicensed geisha). As elsewhere, not everyone is comfortable with this kind of gender binary. Mixed forms are sukadachi “skirt tachi” and zuboneko “pants neko”. It’s not clear to me how strongly these genders are associated with sexual roles, but at any rate a riba (from Eng. “reversal”) is a switch.

O-nee-kotoba “big sis’ speech” is the exaggerated form of female-gendered language used by effeminate gay man. A “queen” owner of a gay bar is usually called a mama-san. A nonke is a straight; ikanimo-kei (“indeed!-crew”) are evident gay.

An interesting word for transsexual (esp. M-to-F) is nyû-hâfu “new half”; this is attributed to Betti, an Osaka pub owner, who described him/herself as otoko to onna no hâfu yo in a 1980 interview. The word hâfu has a history of use to describe people of mixed ancestry.

OCCUR surveyed the four most common terms and found the following associations:

  • dôseiai sounds serious and suggests the academic study of homosexuality;
  • homo suggests discrimination;
  • gei sounds American, politicized, and progressive;
  • o-kama refers to drag or trans, makes one think of public entertainers, and is a negative term unless used for oneself (sometimes in a self-mocking way).

Source: Hideko Abe’s Queer Japanese: Gender and Sexual Identities through Linguistic Practices. Among other things, it has chapters on the linguistic features of lesbian bar-talk and o-nee-kotoba.

6 thoughts on “Some Japanese queer vocabulary

  1. I know it’s not huge news or anything, but after the unscheduled hiatus, I thought I’d try returning to the strategy of posting stuff from things I’m reading at the moment.

  2. Minor typo: ikanomi-kei → ikanimo-kei. (“Ikanomi-kei” would be “squid-drinkers”, which actually does sound like plausible slang…)

    otoko to onna no hâfu sheds some interesting light on the implicit meaning of “hâfu”, doesn’t it? If it just meant “Half my ancestry is X, and half of it is Y”, then otoko to onna no hâfu would not be remarkable in the slightest (I have a mother and father too!). For Betti to use it that way, it must instead mean, specifically, “I am half X, and half Y.”

  3. I forgot 両刀使い ryōtō-zukai, which apparently refers to someone who can use a sword with either hand. Was it in your source?

    いかにも系 ikanimo-kei makes sense — you don’t have to be immersed in any arcane subcultures to figure out what it means.

  4. Thanks Matt! I had originally written ikanami, then “fixed” it to ikanomi… A particularly dysxelic day.

    両刀—I hadn’t! Great word! I suppose “both swords” here must mean the daishô set, as in Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryû’s distinctive technique. Bisexuals get all the best expressions; in Portuguese I’ve heard “110/220v”, “AC/DC”, “gillette” (the old-style blade cuts both ways), “amphibious”, “two-way [as in street]”… Though, to be fair, the same words would work equally well for sex roles, or BDSM switches, or bigenders.

    Abe didn’t have 両刀使い—she was not really tryling to make vocab lists, it was just the way I framed the post. Her focus is on how minorities negotiate identity through linguistic behavior; so she’s mainly interested in words relevant to identity boundaries. For example, in her lesbian bar-talk research, lesbians draw a strict distinction from o-nabe:

    Chigaimasu ne. Ishikiteki ni mo. Kore wa yoku iwareru n desu kedo, o-nabe-san wa, rezu-no-ko to wa tsukiattari, anmari shinai n desu yo. Sore wa, o-nabe-san wa jibun ga otoko to shite miraretai tte yû no ga aru kara, onna wo suki na rezu-no-ko to wa, tsukiaenai.

    Notice how o-nabe are marked as out-group with -san, while rezu are -ko. The book is full of interesting tidbits like this. There are chapters on: advice columns in queer magazines; speech of Shôwa-era crossdressing male prostitutes (danshô); and lots on o-nee-kotoba.

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