Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seme, Uke 攻め, 受け

You may have heard words seme and uke before, they're two related terms used to describe the roles of characters in gay fiction, mostly gay fanfics, with their gay ships. But what does seme and uke mean? What's the difference between a seme and an uke? And what does seme and uke mean in Japanese?


To begin with, seme and uke are, nothing more, nothing less, than words for "top" and "bottom" in gay fanfics, that is, the guy who penetrates and the one who's penetrated.
  • seme 攻め
  • uke 受け

This is the most basic, most widely accepted definition. When fans of yaoi やおい, shounen-ai 少年愛, BL, and other gay fiction say seme and uke, they most likely mean "top" and "bottom," nothing more, except things are a bit more complicated than that.

Sex vs. Sexless

If a fanfic or doujinshi 同人誌 is sexually explicit, pornographic, hentai 変態, and it features gay sex, then anyone with a pair of working eyes can tell who's "top" and who's "bottom" in it. However, the terms seme and uke are rarely used to talk about gay sex that happens. They are often used in shipping of characters who are not even canonically gay to begin with, so they can't be canonically top or bottom.

This means that fans of BL, specially fujoshi 腐女子, will take two heterosexual male characters from a manga or anime, form a gay couple of them, and fantasize which one is seme and and which one is uke based on what the character looks or behaves like. It has little basis on reality, it's pure perverted fantasy.

Extrapolating that, it's become common for people to erroneously call characters seme and uke based on just their looks. Remember: the terms seme and uke regard strictly what would happen in bed if something ever happened in bed. If you call a character uke, he must be the bottom. An uke top is an oxymoron. If he looks like an uke, but is a top, he's seme, that's just what the words mean. Conversely the most seme-looking guy who's a bottom is by definition an uke.

Since BL puts less emphasis on sex itself and more on the relationship between characters, one could say that which character is depicted as "top" or "bottom" in the sexual act merely reflects the dynamic of the relationship itself. That is, seme and uke in BL rarely considers the possibility of a character's sexual preference, and is instead is the logical assumption made by the shipper based on whether the character would be the "guy" or the "girl" of the gay couple.

Conversely, cases where the shipper just makes a couple of two characters and, well, one needs to be seme, one needs to be uke, what to do?! Also exist. So there are cases seme-uke are decided randomly and without thought, meaning they mean nothing.

Outside of BL

Although seme and uke are mostly used with gay ships, it can also be used for lesbian ships and even straight ships. I'll explain in detail later, for now let's focus on gay since it's the most common case.

Seme vs. Uke Characters

Generally speaking, the difference between seme and uke characters is as follows:
  • seme 攻め
    Assertive. Dominant. Protective.
    Brave. Strong. Resourceful. Knowledgeable.
    Taller. Older. Composed. Manly. Ikemen イケメン
    Takes the "man" role in the gay relationship.
  • uke 受け
    Passive. Submissive. Impressionable.
    Timid. Delicate. Troubled. Inexperienced.
    Shorter. Younger. Cute. Effeminate. Bishounen 美少年
    Takes the "woman" role in the gay relationship.

However, since most characters in manga and anime weren't created to be a textbook BL couple, they often lack some (or most) features to say for sure they're seme or uke, but fujoshi will ship them anyway.

That is to say, for one fan a character may be seme and for another fan the same character may be uke. Also, for the same fan, a character may be seme if he's paired with one character, but uke if he's paired with another character. I'm assuming the seme-est of the two ends up being seme, but who knows? There are also couples which can be reversed.

Couple Dynamics

In many cases ships are made of a childish uke character without resources (poor, abandoned by parents, lives on the streets, has to pay off an huge debt, no, wait, that's Hayate) or knowledge paired with more grown-up seme characters that are either rich or successful in their fields and can teach or financially aid the uke.

That is, the seme is often more powerful than the uke in pretty much every aspect and that translates in the romantic and sexual roles. The seme also usually takes protector roles or mentor roles. Although generally the idea is that the uke is the one in dire need of the seme's aid, in some cases it's the seme who needs attention or love, and the uke ends up being the one there to offer it.

Introversion and extroversion have little effect on seme and uke. There are cases where the extroverted uke looks naive and the introverted seme looks composed, and there are cases where the introverted uke looks shy, and the extroverted seme looks flirting. It often boils down to who puts most energy into making the relationship come to fruition, and that's usually the seme. Either by trying conquest or using his power to force it.

Lastly, there are certain couples of seme and uke that deliberately invert the power factor. Where the seme is timid or has lower status and the uke displays superiority and is the one trying to get in a relationship with the seme. (there's a list of types of seme and uke below)

How Seme and Uke is Decided

Ultimately, which is the seme and uke in a given couple is mostly based on the shipper's intuition.

A Japanese thread on "how to decide seme and uke?" seme-uke no kime-kata 受け攻めの決め方 had answers like these (and yes, I translated them right).

ago ga nagai hou ga seme tte kimatteru
It's obvious the one with the longer chin is the seme!

tan'ni shinchou ga takai hou ga seme, hikui ga uke
Simply put the one whose height is taller is seme, the shorter is uke

mae made "taikaku-sa" tte itteta kedo 195cm no kyokan otoko-mae uke ni mezameta
Until some time ago I said it was the "difference in physique (height)," but I my eyes were open [after seeing] a 195cm [tall] otoko-mae uke. (a type of uke that looks manly)

meshi wo tsukutteru hou ga seme de kuwasete moratteru hou ga uke desu
The one making food is the seme while the one that eats is the uke.

azatoi hou ga seme desu
The sly/cunning one is seme.

seme no tame ni inochi wo nagedaseru hou ga uke de futari de ikiyou to kangaeru no ga seme
The one who would throw out his life for the seme is the uke while the one thinking about living as a couple is the seme.

aite no subete wo ukeirete aisareru yori aishitai ha no hou ga uke desu
The one who would accept everything of his partner and would rather love than be loved is uke.

"idakasete kudasai" tte iwarete "shou ga nai na" tte kotaesou na hou ga uke ka na
The one that gets said "let me hug you" and seems to answer "if it can't be helped [then sure]" is the uke.

"uwa-me-dzukai sareta hou ga uke" de "miorosaretai no ga seme"
"the one who wants to be looked up to is uke," while "the one who wants to be looked down upon is seme." (probably physically, not figuratively)

tinko ga dekai hou ga seme
The one with the bigger dick is seme.

kimegata wa kabe don desu
The way to decide is kabe don (act of slapping a wall so the person you're talking to is between the wall, your arm, and the rest of you)

megane ga suru hou ga uke
The one wearing glasses is uke.

shiri no ana kara u-ko suru hou ga seme
The one that s#!ts from his butt hole is the seme.
(implying ukes don't poop, because ukes have a BL ana BL穴, an imaginary "BL hole" that allows for gay sex to happen without problems, and yes, that's actually a word.)

uke-seme no kime-kata wa koin-tosu janai no?
The way to decide uke and seme isn't coin toss?

Origin & Japanese Meaning

In Japanese, the word seme 攻め comes the verb semeru 攻める, which means "to attack." The word uke 受け comes from the verb ukeru 受ける, which means "to receive."
  • seme 攻め
    The offense. (or attacker)
  • uke 受け
    The receive. (or receiver)

In other words, seme is the one who "attacks" and uke is the one who "receives" such attack. Given this meaning, it probably originated from sports or martial arts, however, do note that the opposite of seme would normally be mamori 守り, "defense," and not uke.
  • "seme" no hantai wa? 「攻め」の反対は?
    What's the opposite of "offense"?
  • uke! 受け!
    Receive! (this is a fujoshi)
  • mamori! 守り!
    Defense! (this is a normal person)

In this sense, seme and uke are closer to the American gay baseball-related slangs "pitcher" and "catcher" than "top" and "bottom."

The verb semeru can mean to attack physically or verbally. It can also mean to advance troops or attack strategically. It can mean to make a move forward, even romantically. It can mean to blame someone for something, just or not. Etc.

The verb ukeru can mean to receive or accept things, feelings or even people. In anime, the common uketetatsu 受けて立つ, literally "receive and stand," means to accept a challenge for example, instead of running away from it.

Generally speaking, the seme is the character with a more assertive personality who takes the "man" role and takes lead in sex, while the uke is the character that's passive, takes the "woman" role, and is led in sex. So one is attacking (making advances), while the other is "receiving" those advances.

Japanese Usage

Just like in the west, in Japan the terms seme and uke are also used by Japanese fujoshi. But there are a couple notes about the usage.

First, seme 攻め and uke 受け are sometimes written only with the kanji, without the okurigana.
  • seme
  • uke

Second, it's often paired with the word kyara キャラ, meaning "character:"
  • seme-kyara 攻めキャラ,
    Character who is "top."
  • uke-kyara 受けキャラ.
    Character who is "bottom."

There's also a  number of adjectives that are commonly used before the nouns seme and uke to create countless types of seme and uke. (these were listed further below)

Importance in Shipping

The main use of the terms seme and uke is in shipping. Specially BL shipping done by fujoshi 腐女子. In both western fanfics and Japanese doujinshi 同人誌 featuring gay couples of characters, often parodying some other work, the top of the gay ship is always called the seme, and the bottom uke.

In manga for gay men, the bara 薔薇 genre, consumers don't care much about who's top and who's bottom. There's no fixation with seme and uke. But in gay fiction made for women, BL, the thing is different. These female consumers do care about who's seme and who's uke. To an absurd level even.

Seme x Uke Ships

If there's a ship of two characters, changing who's seme and who's uke is said to change the whole dynamic between two characters. Thus, if someone ships A seme with B uke, they don't necessarily ship A uke with B seme. And they don't consider the two ships to be the same.

Furthermore, just like some ships are pretty much canon and some ships are just wrongships, sometimes a character is clearly, obviously, naturally, seme (or uke) and any person who thinks otherwise is considered a fucking idiot.

The importance of seme and uke in yaoi and yuri shipping, as seen in manga Yuri Danshi 百合男子, where a character ships Ritsu x Mio and other Mio x Ritsu from the anime K-On!

Uke Is More Important Than Seme

The uke is often the most important side for shippers. This means most shippers will pick an uke character they like, then they figure out some seme to make a couple, and sometimes they don't really care who it is.

This means that if one character looks like he's extremely uke in a series, he'll be paired off with pretty much every other character in the same series, making every possible ship. But characters who lean to the seme side don't get the same level of attention.

This also means that a fujoshi's priority is to turn characters into bottoms. That's their main concern. Sometimes, this means they'll think all characters of an entire series are uke characters, and there isn't a single seme in it.

Pairing Name Order in Yaoi and BL

In Japan, pairing names of characters, or CP, "coupling," or kapuringu カプリング, sometimes shortened as kapu カプ coz why not, as seen on discussions in the internet, products such as doujinshi, and tags on fanfics, often feature a standard ordering of seme then uke which is.respected by pretty much anybody who knows about it. This means that, for example, in a ship between Naruto and Sasuke, we'd have this:
  • Naruto x Sasuke (NaruSasu)
    Naruto is top. Sasuke is bottom.
  • Sasuke x Naruto (SasuNaru)
    Sasuke is top. Naruto is Bottom.

So the seme, top, always comes before the uke, bottom, in a pairing name.

This is mostly true in yaoi. Few fans of yuri care about seme and uke or the ordering. Also, in very rare cases in straight ships the guy is uke and whoever is writing cares about the order, so the girl's name would come first, but don't count on it.

Types of Seme and Uke

Because the fandom is what it is, there are a number of types of seme characters and types of uke characters that distinguish in the most random ways one character from another. The terms below are mostly used to classify Japanese fanfics, or SS, "short stories."

Do note that the words below are pretty much just an adjective before a noun, just like the phrase "yellow car" in English. There's nothing special about them. (I got most of them from the Pixiv dictionary, pages 攻め and 受け, by the way)

Seme vs. Zeme

A note on Japanese language: sometimes when a word is used as suffix, the pronunciation of said suffix changes in way that's called rendaku 連濁. This only happens in compound words.

In the case of the word seme, it would turn into zeme. For example, kotoba-zeme 言葉攻め means "verbal abuse," literally "attack of words." This only happens in compound words. So kawaii-zeme would be wrong, since it's an adjective and a noun, separate words: kawaii seme 可愛い攻め.

In some dictionaries I found 総攻め written as sou-zeme, although referring to "total attack" not to a "total top." The Pixiv dictionary says the reading is sou seme, and I'm gonna trust Pixiv on this one. Therefore I'm assuming every type of seme is X-seme, not X-zeme.

Non-BL labels

Both seme and uke are anime characters so they can get labelled with any random fandom terms such as tsundere, kuudere, yandere, ikemen, bishuonen, otaku, hikikomori, etc. Since those were already explained in other articles they won't be explained here.

sou uke 総受け

From the prefix sou 総, meaning "total."

A sou uke is a character who is a "total uke." That is, a character that is always uke. No matter which other character he is shipped with, he's never seme.

Sou-uke, "Total Bottom," from the BL class of the anime Outbreak Company アウトブレイク・カンパニー

Alternatively, a sou uke is a character that makes all other characters become seme for him and go after him.

sou seme 総攻め

Counterpart of sou uke.

A sou seme is a "total top." A character who is a seme no matter which other character he is shipped with. Or, alternatively, a character who makes all characters become uke for him.

heibon uke 平凡受け

The word heibon 平凡 means "common," or "ordinary."

A heibon uke is an uke with nothing special about him.

sasoi uke 誘い受け

From the verb sasou 誘う, "to invite" or "to tempt."

A sasoi uke is a "seducing uke." An uke who, as the popular phrase goes, "is asking for it." Practically, but not always literally. He can be just doing things like saying "today is hot isn't it," and taking off their shirt, etc.

This term specially denotes a scenario where the uke takes initiative, since the general idea is that it's the seme takes active role in conquest and thus must make the first step. Something like a sasoi uke is needed in rare scenarios where the seme isn't assertive enough.

osoi uke 襲い受け

From the verb osou 襲う, "to assault." Not to be confused with the adjective osoi 遅い, which means "slow."

An osoi uke is an uke who jumps over (assaults) the seme. This is like a sasoi uke on steroids. Maybe the seme is too dense to get a hint so a more physical approach is required.

Anyway, an osoi uke can be anything from simply touching, kissing, flirting, to groping or even sexually assaulting (yes, I mean raping, although not legally "raping" since he's an uke and ukes can't rape blahblahblah).

do-S ドS, do-M ドM

The terms do-S and do-M mean someone is a "sadist" and "masochist" respectively (from S&M).

A do-S seme ドS攻め is a seme who's a sadist. A do-M uke ドM受け would be an uke who's a masochist.

Normally in Japanese just S or M would suffice to seriously call someone "sadist" or "masochist." The do prefix here is used to make it "very" or "super," as in "super sadist" or "super masochist." It's exaggerated, and often used jokingly or as criticism toward someone.

For example, a boss who gives a high workload to his employees would be called as do-S, a "sadist," due to his mercilessness, and not really because of anything to do with sex. Due to this, do-S is a rather common slang, and do-M isn't used as much.

That is to say that while do-S seme is a common term, do-M uke is not.

Also, mazo uke マゾ受け is another way of saying "masochist uke." It works for mazo seme too.

kichiku seme 鬼畜攻め

From kichiku 鬼畜, meaning "brute."

A kichiku seme is a seme who is also a brutal sadist (toward the uke, likely). Probably called this for having no pity in a way or another or making excessive demands. In other words, a kichiku seme is an extremely do-S seme.

kenage uke 健気受け

From kenage 健気, meaning "brave" or "industrious."

A kenage uke is an uke who unconditionally loves the seme no matter what terrible things are done to him.

hetare seme ヘタレ攻め

From the verb hetaru へたる, which means "to fall exhausted, "comes the word hetare ヘタレ, which in this case is used as a personality.

A person who is hetare ヘタレ is someone weak-willed, easily scared. That has a loser attitude.

A hetare seme is, pretty much, the weakest possible seme that nobody really knows how the hell did he even become a seme to begin with. Must have been some sort of BL miracle after a fujoshi wished upon a star.

Anyway, a hetare seme is shy of gay romance. Doesn't think he's worth his partner. And will be extremely cautious to the point of being passive. So for a hetare seme to even exist at all, he needs to be paired with a non-orthodox uke that is more romantically assertive than the average uke (like a sasoi uke or osoi uke) otherwise it'll be a timidness contest.

wanko uke わんこ受け and wanko seme わんこ攻め

From the word wanko わんこ, which is a childish word meaning "puppy," which combines "woof," wan わん with "child," ko 子, In this case it refers to a wanko personality, not to an actual puppy.

Basically, a wanko is someone who's loyal and faithful to someone else, just like a dog.

So a wanko seme is someone devoted to their uke, and a wanko uke is devoted to their seme.

koakuma uke 小悪魔受け

From ko-akuma 小悪魔, a "small" akuma 悪魔, "demon." In this case referring to the ko-akuma personality.

A koakuma uke is an uke who's slightly sadistic (do-S uke?!) and will use his appearance to toy with his seme. It's called "small demon" or "small devil" because it's not like he's going to manipulate people into some sort of satanic ritualistic sacrifice, but just having fun at others' expense.

bitch uke ビッチ受け

From bicchi ビッチ, loaned from English "bitch." In Japan, this word has a meaning closer to "slut," someone who'll date anyone, and not anything like to a stuck-up bitch.

A bitch uke is an uke who thinks of sex all the time and probably will do it with anyone and everyone.

hime uke 姫受け

From hime 姫, meaning "princess."

A hime uke is an uke that's treated like a princess. That is, cherished by one seme, or even by multiple.

joousama uke 女王様受け

From joou-sama 女王様, meaning "queen."

This is totally different from hime uke. A joousama uke is not an uke that's treated like a "queen," it's an uke who acts like a "queen." That is, with an air of superiority toward the seme and maybe toward everyone else, and full of pride too.

tsukushi seme 尽くし攻め

From verb tsukusu 尽くす, which means "to do until exhausted" or "to devote."

A tsukushi seme is one wholeheartedly devoted to the uke, and is willing to do anything and everything for him. This kind of seme is a match for the joou-sama uke, since no other seme would be stupid devoted enough to tolerate the whims of the joou-sama and stick around.

otokomae uke 男前受け

From otoko 男, "man," and mae 前, "front," or otoko-mae 男前, "man front, " meaning someone who acts like a man.

An otoko-mae uke is an uke who acts like a man. Just being a man doesn't cut it, he has to act like one. The point of this word is that it's contradictory to the expectation in yaoi that the uke, who's bottom, must consequently act less like a man, more emotionally and feminine, or at most neutral.

An otoko-mae uke is an uke thats make one think he's a seme character from his personality and behavior.

otome uke 乙女受け

From otome 乙女, meaning "maiden."

An otome uke is an uke who looks and acts like a "maiden." That is, the very opposite of the above.

macho uke マッチョ受け

From maccho マッチョ, which comes from "macho."

A maccho uke, or macho uke, is an uke who, well, looks muy macho. That is, he has a lot of muscles and is tall and looks like he doesn't belong to a fujoshi-centered genre.

A maccho uke is different from otoko-mae uke, because he looks manly, but doesn't necessarily acts manly.

nonke seme ノンケ攻め

From the word nonke ノンケ, a Japanese LGBT slang for "heterosexual."

A nonke seme is a seme who is straight. How? Well, fuck, I have no idea. I don't think I've ever heard someone say "I'm a guy, I have a boyfriend, but I'm straight." Though I did see a character say "I'm very straight, but I'm exclusively gay for you" in Archer.

The normal scenario is that a nonke seme starts a straight guy who has had his share of girlfriends and maybe wives through his life, but upon finding his ideal uke he changes teams. The power of uke compels heterosexuality!

yoko seme 横攻め

From yoko 横, meaning "horizontal." More specifically, yoko-renbo 横恋慕, literally "horizontal love affair," that is, cheating someone or ending up in a love triangle.

A yoko seme is either a nonke seme who has a girlfriend, or a gay seme who already has an uke, or even a more contrived example would be a yoko seme who is an uke in his current relationship. It means the story is about an "sideways" affair.

mujaki seme 無邪気攻め

From mujaki 無邪気, meaning "innocent." Which combines mu 無, "nothingness," with jaki 邪気, "maliciousness." In other words, "no malice."

A mujaki seme is a seme who, as the word literally says, has no malice. Unlike those other malicious semes this one is just a pure, innocent guy, who ends up on top of another guy somehow.

A mujaki zeme is the diagonal opposite of ko-akuma uke.

oyaji uke オヤジ受け, oyaji seme オヤジ攻め

From the word oyaji オヤジ, meaning "old man," usually a slang for "father" or "uncle," but in this case, I hope, it just means a random old man.

So... an oyaji uke or seme is a character who... is an oyaji.

He's middle-aged. A middle-aged uke.

(I can't take this seriously after watching Mahoujin Guru Guru...)

oresama seme 俺様攻め, oresama uke 俺様受け

From the word ore, meaning "I" or "me," first person pronoun, and the honorific sama, which to give some added respect toward someone.

Basically, oresama is a pompous way of referring to oneself that you'll only ever see in anime, because it sounds pretty stupid and arrogant and it sounds sound like you're looking down at everyone around you.

So an oresama seme or oresama uke is a character who thinks he's the greatest in the world. The oresama uke is probably a level down to the joousama uke, because that one isn't just full of himself but is also demanding.

josou seme 女装攻め

From josou 女装, literally "woman's clothing, "meaning "crossdressing."

A josou seme is a seme who crossdresses. This is probably a word because, since it's the uke takes the female role, if anyone would crossdresss you'd expect it to be the uke, not the seme.

kawaii seme かわいい攻め

From the word kawaii 可愛い, meaning "cute."

So a kawaii seme is a cute seme. Again, this is probably because this appearance is expected from uke, not seme. And seme is probably expected to look cool or something, not cute. (is this pokémon?)

heppoko seme へっぽこ攻

From heppoko へっぽこ, meaning someone that's inferior in skill to others, or something that's inferior in quality to others. In other words, "useless."

A heppoko seme is a seme without fame, fortune, or social status, but one that has love. And hopes he can protect the uke with just his love and devotion.

kuuru seme クール攻め, kuuru uke クール受け

From the word kuuru クール, loaned from English "cool," but meaning something along the lines of looking cool, calm, and composed, and has an air of authority around him. The term kuudere クーデレ also comes from this.

So a kuuru uke or a kuuru seme is a character who looks like that.

toshiue 年上, toshishita 年下

The words toshi-ue 年上 and toshi-shita 年下, literally "year above" and "year below," written with the directions up and down, are used to mean someone who is "older" and "younger" respectively. When combined with uke and seme it just specifies which is the older one in the ship.
  • toshi-ue uke 年上受け, toshi-shita seme 年下攻め
    Older uke, younger seme.
  • toshi-shita uke 年下受け, toshi-ue seme 年上攻め
    Younger uke, older seme.

gekokujou 下克上

The word gekokujou 下剋上 is literally "down wins up," meaning a kind of "overthrow." It refers to when someone of lower status ends up overpowering someone of higher status. Historically, this term has to do with assassinations, but of course this isn't the case in yaoi.

A gekokujou couple is on where the seme has a lower status than the uke. This can happen for a number of reasons. The uke can be the boss of a company and the seme his employee, or the uke can be a prince or king and the seme his servant, or, most likely, it's a senpai-kouhai 先輩後輩 couple, with a senpai-uke and a kouhai-seme.

senpai wa sasoi uke! (senpai is sasoi uke!) gekokujou!! gekokujou!! 先輩はさそい受け!!下克上!!下克上!! from manga Tonari no Yaoi-Chan となりの801ちゃん

Note that, for some western fans, gekokujou refers to a seme who doesn't look like a seme initially but becomes a more seme-like seme later. This is a misconception coming from taking the effect of gekokujou for the cause. Because the seme has lower rank in society, he has less power than the uke at the start of the story, but in bed he'd take lead, meaning he'd have more power when the story reached that part. This makes it look like the character went from uke-like to a seme, but that's just conflating societal roles with sexual roles.

riba リバ & kotei 固定

The word riba リバ, which comes from ribaashiburu リバーシブル, in English, "reversible," is used to indicate that a couple of characters is, well, reversible. This means that who is seme and who is uke can change or doesn't matter.

In contrast, kotei 固定, "fixed," indicates seme and uke is not be reversible.

Seme x Seme, Uke x Uke

Most BL couples are seme x uke, but some of them go beyond and are made of two characters that lean to the seme or uke archetypes.

Note that even if it's a seme x seme ship or an uke x uke ship, one of them ends up having to be seme, "top," and the other uke, "bottom," in case of sex. They are just called that because they look like they'd both be "top" or "bottom." In practice that's not possible. It only works because both (or one) of them becomes riba and switches to the other side.

homo yuri ホモ百合

In Japanese, a uke x uke couple is also called homo yuri ホモ百合 or BL yuri BL百合. This is probably because yuri 百合 is a genre of lesbian fiction, and a couple of uke characters is, supposedly, a couple of two characters who should have female gender roles in a gay ship.

Seme Uke in Yuri

Although the most basic and generally accepted definition of seme and uke is "who penetrates" and "who is penetrated," things get a bit complex when these words are used in lesbian fiction, yuri 百合, also called GL or "Girls' Love."

That's because women do not have penises. I repeat: women do not have penises. Okay, fine, let's be PC, some trans-women may have penises, but generally speaking women do not have penises. YOU GET THE IDEA.

So it wouldn't make much sense if seme and uke were used in lesbian fiction, as it doesn't fit the commonly accepted definition above. And Japanese lesbians don't use the terms seme and uke to talk about on themselves either (the terms they do use are written further below).

However, fans of yuri are not LGBT. They are mostly straight men and women. They don't know the terms lesbians would use because, well, they aren't lesbians. All they know is the terms the fandom uses for homosexual shipping, and those terms would be seme and uke used by yaoi fans.

Anyway, when yuri fans do use the terms seme and uke, they use it with an alternative, slightly more complicated meaning.

Behavioral Definition

The alternative definition, used both by yuri fans and some yaoi fans, is the following:
  • seme 攻め
    Takes lead in relationship.
    Makes the advances.
  • uke 受け
    Is led in a relationship.
    Gets advanced on.

This aligns with "man" and "woman" roles since the stereotype is that it's men who go after women, who make the advances, who invite them do dance, to date, who kneel and propose marriage, etc. Obviously, this isn't true in reality, I'm just saying what the stereotype is, and the reason why seme and uke are what they are.

(By the way, "carnivore," nikushoku-kei 肉食系, and "herbivore," soushoku-kei 草食系, are Japanese slangs used to describe men and women who actively go after the other sex and those who don't, which would be like seme and uke. These slangs are based on predator and prey, probably.)

If you reverse this alternative meaning from lesbian fiction back into gay fiction, you can theoretically get a contradiction. Because if you have a male character who makes the advances but prefers to be "bottom," then he is both seme and uke at the same time. Schrodinger's gay! So you can see why the BL fandom keeps the definition strictly as "top" and "bottom" and not "assertive" "passive" the way the yuri fandom does.

Heterosexual Seme and Uke

Of course there had to be a section on this too. In heterosexual fiction, straight couples shipping, or as it's unbelievably called in Japan, NL, "Normal Love," the words seme and uke are also used, although rarely.

And there's a good reason for this. Saying who is seme and uke in male-female relationship is close to redundant, it's naturally the guy who is seme, and naturally the girl who is uke. But there is an exception: when the gender roles are reversed, the guy becomes uke, the girl becomes seme.

Depending on which definition of seme and uke you want to use this can mean two things. If you're talking sexual seme and uke, then the girl needs to penetrate the guy somehow to be seme, probably with some sort of sex toy. If you are talking about behavioral seme and uke, then the guy needs to be passive and the girl is assertive.

LGBT Criticism

Remember when I said that in BL people usually consider seme to be the "man" and uke the "woman"? Well, some homosexuals in Japan find this idea both sexist and homophobic.


Homophobic because instead of acknowledging it's a man-man or woman-woman relationship, it pretends it to be a man-woman relationship, which can be taken as heteronormative, promoting the idea that hetero must be normal. And sexist because it attempts to define what is the role of a man and a woman in a relationship.

However, I'd like to remind you that gay and lesbian fanfics, manga and anime are mostly produced by and consumed by straight people, not lesbians or gays, for fantasy entertainment, not for realism education. So while the criticism is valid, I think it's like a plumber saying the Mario franchise wrongly portrays his profession. Sure he's right, but nobody really cares.

Manga that's made for gays, not for straight people, tends not to care as much about seme and uke. These are usually classified as bara 薔薇 in Japan. A fan of BL is not necessarily, and is often not, a fan of the bara genre, and vice-versa is also true.

In other words, if countless fans of BL, who are mostly straight women, and vastly outnumber gays and lesbians, wanted to buy realistic, non-homophobic, non-sexist gay manga, then they would. And if they did, bara would be a bigger genre than BL, which it isn't.

So imho making this sort of criticism toward BL is like telling someone to not buy what they like, and instead buy what you like, and I don't see why any fujoshi or anyone else would buy stuff they don't like and don't want for themselves to please people they don't know nor will ever meet. It's their money, let them burn it however they want.

Tachi, Neko タチ, ネコ

The words seme and uke are very common in the fanfic and doujinshi world, but not outside of it. This is because those fans of yaoi and yuri are usually straight. They have no reason to use gay terms in the real world. In the real world, real gays and lesbians would use these instead:
  • tachi タチ
  • neko ネコ
  • riba リバ
    Versatile. (from "reversible")

The words tachi and neko are used within the Japanese LGBT community. Apparently, they were first used exclusively by lesbians, but have since began being used by gays, too.

The slangs tachi and neko are words exclusively sexual. That is, tachi is just "top," or, sometimes, "butch."  Likewise, neko is just "bottom." It isn't like seme and uke that has a mountain of secretive nuance embedded into them.

Also, in LGBT seme and uke are terms used with slightly different meanings from fiction. When they're used in such context, seme is the one taking lead (assertive), uke is the one being led (passive). This means that in that a tachi-uke (someone who's passive and "top") is possible according to the LGBT non-fiction definition. And a neko-seme would be like an osoi-uke in BL.

Origin of Tachi and Neko

These seems to be any different possible origins for tachi and neko. The neko term at least would make anyone think of a "cat," neko, but then what is tachi? Usually, tachi 達 makes plurals in Japanese, but that tachi has nothing to do with what we're talking about. So what is it?

Well, according to タチ、ネコの語源を知っていますか?, the most widely accepted origins are the following:

The word tachi comes from kabuki 歌舞伎, a type of Japanese theater show. In kabuki, the tachi-yaku 立ち役, "standing role," is a name for the leading male role. That is, it refers to the role of a man, just like tachi would be the "man" in a gay couple. So that's where tachi could've come from.

The word neko probably comes from wheelbarrow. This is because construction wheelbarrows are also called neko in Japanese. But why wheelbarrows? Because, apparently, the way one holds the handles of a wheelbarrow is similar to the way a tachi would hold a neko's legs during intercourse.

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