Neko, in Japanese, simply means “cat.” However, this word’s meaning changes when used in Japanese LGBTQ communities. Due to the history of the term in Japanese LGBTQ communities, neko within the BL genre has come to refer to characters who are less dominant in a sexual relationship.
“Neko,” when used in the BL genre, is generally written in katakana characters (ネコ), much like how it is within the gay community in Japan. In this context, the word is not used literally but figuratively. There are multiple theories about the origins of this particular usage of neko.
One theory states that the word originally came from the slang word “pussycat” and referred to a woman’s genitalia. “Pussycat” was then later shortened to キャット (cat) and transformed into the Japanese word for cat, neko. Another theory states that it originally comes from the word 猫車 (“nekoguruma,” which means a wheelbarrow) because when a person uses the wheelbarrow, it resembles the doggy-style sex position.
While the literal meaning of “neko” is still “cat,” the figurative meaning is “a person who is less dominant within a sexual relationship (not restricted to penetrative sex).” This word is also interchangeably used with the more popular term uke.
Within the gay community in Japan, neko is one of the words interchangeably used with uke used to indicated someone’s preference in sexual relationships. Unfortunately, the stereotype of uke/neko being associated with more feminine, girlish traits and being passive in bed has also caused some in the gay community to be adverse to using these words. While neko was adopted into the BL genre, uke is more prominent, most likely because it has been used longer within the BL community.
Neko: Modern Usage
Currently, within the BL community, the usage of neko has not changed much. It is still popularly used alongside the term uke, even though in the past decade, many fans have begun using the term “migi” (right side), when referring to a character’s role in a relationship. Neko has also become popular enough that publishers have used it as a subgenre category. One example can be seen in the increasingly popular ネコxネコ BL (“neko x neko”) or ネコ同士 BL (“nekodoushi”, literally means ”both cats”), a subgenre which portrays romantic stories between two men who both prefer to be neko in the relationship.
ゲイ用語の基礎知識 – ネコ
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