Lesbian Comic: Honey & Honey

February 24th, 2008

One of the questions I get quite often is “Are the terms seme and uke used in Yuri (or do lesbians in Japan use them) the way they are used in BL?”

Like just about every question I get, the answer is yes – and no. (I’m starting to sound positively Elvish these days, with my inability to provide straight answers to deceptively simple questions.) ^_^

Since educating people on lesbian relationships and gender roles is part of what Takeuchi Sachiko’s Honey & Honey is about, this seemed like a good time to address that question here.

First, let’s talk about the terms, seme and uke. Seme (pronounced “seh-meh”) refers to the pursuer, the person who initiates a sexual relationship. Uke (pronounced “oo-keh”) is the receiver, the person who receives those advances. These positions in the relationship are based on power, and preference. They date from early Japanese male homosexual relationships, where the uke was traditionally younger and had less power than the seme, who was an adult male with some social status. These terms are similar to what we mean today when we say someone is a “top” (seme) or “bottom”(uke.) In BL stories, the seme is the more masculine in terms of gender role, while the uke tends to be more feminine. These are of course generalizations and yes, I know, there are exceptions to the rule. In general, the positions of seme and uke represent who has the power in the relationship – and who takes it up the ass, if you will allow me to be blunt.

In contrast, the commonly used lesbian terms tachi (pronounced “tah-chee”) and neko (pronounced “neh-koh”) are more aligned to our English terms “butch” and “femme,” rather that a direct match to seme and uke. As I discovered for the last Now This is Only My Opinion, tachi comes from tachiyaku, the kabuki term for an actor of a male role. Neko, in the only etymology I could find, was supposed to be from the combination of nemu and ko – e.g., the girl you sleep with. In Honey & Honey, Takeuchi says that tachi tend to play the male role, and neko the female, in a lesbian couple. (Women who switch back and forth are called reba, because they “reverse” roles.) As with butch and femme, there’s a certain natural tendency in some women towards one or the other.

In Japan, where many tachi are, in fact, playing the “man’s role,” they, well, they treat their women kinda crappy. Because that’s what men do, you know. In the US, butches tend to be way more solicitous of their femmes, because they are the Queen, and we live to serve, as I once found myself explaining in a lesbian bar in Japan. I was assured at the time that American butches are way nicer than Japanese tachi. If Masako in Honey & Honey is indicative, I’d say that I was told right. But I’ll get there in a sec.

Here’s where it gets weird. ^_^ The reason that I find the terms seme and uke awkward when it comes to lesbian relationships is because when it comes to female couples, it’s the femme that tends to be the seme. They make the rules, they call the shots. So, while yes, seme and uke are used, if you look at, say, Haruka and Michiru from Sailor Moon, there is no doubt whatsoever that it’s Michiru who is seme there, despite Haruka’s role as tachi. Seems counterintuitive, but that’s how it looks from this side of the mirror. ^_^

Now that we’ve cleared all that up, let’s talk about Honey & Honey. Like the sequel, Honey & Honey Deluxe, this book was designed to explain lesbian and sexual minority life to straight women, with gentle humor. Everything from “how did you know you were lesbian?” to breaking up, from debunking “all lesbians were abused by men” to dating basics. Sachiko (neko) and her girlfriend Masako (tachi) go out together to buy underwear and have dinner and face confusion, derision and misunderstandings from friends and family, as well as find support, love and community.

I can’t say I really *like* Honey & Honey, in part because Masako, as both tachi and a bisexual, tends to behave very callously, and stereotypically. Instead of representing bisexuality as simply finding both sexes equally appealing, Masako acts like an omnisexual pervert, acting like she’ll stray at any second. And as a tachi she tends to treat Sachiko unsympathetically. I realize that this is probably meant to be played for humor, but it sort of wore on me.

However, as with the sequel, the story does what it is supposed to do – it educates the nonke (straight/heterosexual) audience, explaining what lesbian life is about; the good, the bad, the annoying, the funny, with a cheerful attitude of “you’re a woman – you’ll understand what I mean.” In the beginning note Takuechi makes it plain that lesbian life is not painful or sad or lonely at *all* – in fact, she’s having a blast. For that alone, it’s worth reading the book. ^_^


Art – 6
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Lesbian – 10
Service – 0

Overall – 6

If you’re a young person, trying to swim upstream against all the “but…” questions from friends and relatives, grab a copy of the this book and hand it over to the questioner – that’s *exactly* what it’s for.

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8 Responses

  1. Neo_Hrtgdv says:

    Wow! very interesting explanation, I remember we had a discussion at the CoYuHi about why Uke and Seme shouldn’t really be used in Yuri, and sometimes not even Tachi and Neko (the whole “not following heterosexual roles for lesbian relationships” issue). This manga looks interesting so we’ll be checking it up as soon as we can.

    Thanks for a nice review and great explanation ^-^

  2. Whether or not it promulgates the patriarchy, the fact is that many Japanese lesbians use Neko and tachi to describe themselves. A quick glance at the “Lesbian and Bi Fujyoshi” community on Mixi tells me that neko outnumber tachi significantly. I take that to be roughly the same as the percentage of “straight-acting” gay men in any want ads in any weekly anywhere. By which I mean – it means just about nothing. :-)

  3. Bonny says:

    It is a testament to my sleep deprivation that when you said you sounded “Elvish” I actually thought for a second that you meant you sounded like Elvis Presley.

  4. I have no Elvis in me. :)

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