Pride month is here! To celebrate LGBT communities around the world, let’s learn some LGBT terms in Japanese.
First off, the term for sexual orientation is 性的指向 (せいてきしこう, seiteki shikō). The concept of different sexual orientations is somewhat new in Japan. Therefore, LGBT representation and acknowledgement have only recently come into the spotlight. Younger generations are more vocal about LGBT rights and representation, so these terms have only recently reached the general public. Since sexual orientation is only now making headway in mainstream Japan, many of its LGBT-related terms are loanwords.
For example, the term “coming out” in Japanese is カミングアウト (kamingu auto), a literal translation of the English phrase.
The scientific term for homosexuality in Japanese is 同性愛 (どうせいあい, douseiai). It literally translates to “same sex love” since 同 (どう) means same, 性 (せい) means sex or gender, and 愛 (あい), of course, means love! This pattern will be seen throughout the orientations we look at below.
To say “homosexual/gay person” you add 者 (しゃ), which means person, to create 同性愛者 (どうせいあいしゃ).
The English loanword ホモセクシュアル (homosekushuaru) is also used. This term is sometimes shortened to ホモ (homo), though this can be offensive to some.
The most common term used for “gay” is also a loanword: ゲイ (gei).
The same goes for lesbian: レズビアン (rezubian).
The shortened version, ビアン (bian), is the most used version. It can also be shortened to レズ (rezu).
The official term for bisexuality in Japanese is 両性愛 (りょうせいあい, ryousei ai). This is very similar to the term for homosexuality, however, in this case, 両 (りょう, ryo) is used, which means both or two.
The term バイセクシャル (baisekusharu) is also used. Like in English, it is often abbreviated and written as バイ (bai) to mean bi.
The concept of pansexuality is not well-known in Japanese society. Even so, it has an official title: 全性愛 (ぜんせいさい, zenseiai). 全 (ぜん, zen) means “all” so the term literally translates to “all sex love.”
The much more common term for pansexual, however, is the loanword パンセクシャル (pansekusharu). It is also shortened to just パン (pan) like in English!
Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction. In Japanese, the official term is 無性愛 (むせいあい, museiai), because 無 (む, mu) means no. Literally “No sex love.”
Like the other phrases, the more commonly used term is the English loanword: アセクシュアル (asekushuaru).
If a person has no sexual attraction but does feel romantic attraction, we typically use the term “aromantic” in English. In Japanese, this orientation is known as ノンセクシュアル (nonsekusharu), literally “non-sexual.” It can be shortened to ノンセク (nonseku). The official term is 非性愛 (ひせあい, hiseiai).
Let’s also look at the terms for heterosexuality.
The official term for heterosexuality is 異性愛 (いせいあい, iseiai). 異(い) means opposite or different, so this term translates to “opposite sex love.”
A common slang word for straight is ノンケ (nonke). This word comes from the English prefix “non” and the Japanese word 気 (き), which, in this instance, means “feeling.” The term originated in the LGBT community, so it is used mostly within the community, but is still common knowledge. It generally refers to straight men.
Loanwords are also used: ストレート (sutorēto) means straight and ヘテロ (hetero) is the same as in English.
The concept of gender identity is rather new in Japan, so it is not as well-known or as understood as it is in some countries. Due to this, the term for gender identity, 性自認 (せいじにん, seijinin), is not often used.
The most common term for transgender is トランスジェンダー (toransujenda). It can be shortened to トランス (toransu) or トラ (tora).
The terms FtM (Female to Male) and MtF (Male to Female) are also used the same as they are in English. They are not common knowledge in the general public, but are used within the trans community.
Unlike most of the other terms, nonbinary does not have an official term or loanword. This is because the concept is much newer in Japan and awareness is only just beginning.
The term closest to nonbinary or gender-queer in Japanese is X-ジェンダー (ekusu jenda) which can also be written as エクスジェンダー.
You may have heard of sexualities in Japanese being compared to cooking pots. The term おかま (okama) is believed to have originated during the Edo period (1604 and 1867). Its official definition is rice pot. The pot became a euphemism for a person’s–especially a male’s–backside. From that, it became a derogatory term used to describe gay men, drag queens, and trans women. This word can be offensive and so it should not be used to refer to a person or group. However, some in the LGBT community have reclaimed the term and use it to describe themselves. It is especially common among drag queens now.
The female counterpart to おかま is おなべ (onabe), which means cooking pan. This word is used to describe lesbians, trans men, and even tomboys. Like おかま, it is a derogatory term that has been reclaimed by some who want to use it to describe themselves.
The last cooking term is not an LGBT word, per se. It is おこげ (okoge), which literally means “burnt rice stuck to the pot.” This term refers to women, particularly straight women, who love gay men, prefer their company, and/or fetishize them. This term is mostly used by the LGBT community.
The loanword クィア (kuia) is the literal translation of the word “queer.” In English, queer has become a reclaimed word that many in the LGBT community use to describe themselves. In Japanese, the word is mostly used in an academic sense. It may be seen in research papers, news articles, and similar platforms.
Another term found in news articles in addition to common conversation is “sexual minority.” The official term used for this is 性的少数者 (せいたきしょうすうしゃ, seiteki shousuusha). It is also referred to by its loanword 性的マイノリティー (せいてきマイノリティー, seiteki mainoriti), which can be shortened to セクマイ (sekumai). “Sexual minority” is used both inside and outside the LGBT community. It is an umbrella term for anyone within the LGBT community, aka the sexual minority.