Are we all too hung up on 'tops and bottoms'?

2015-07-14
JamesDQ: What do gay men have in common with Tupperware? A: There’s never enough tops for the bottoms. Well that’s interesting, because, in a highly scientific survey conducted on popular ‘dating’ app Grindr, I established that of the fifty men nearest to me on London’s Southbank, five identify as ‘bottom,’ ‘bttm’, ‘btm’, ‘passivo’ or ‘Taylor Swift lyric in profile’; nineteen proclaim to be ‘top’ or ‘dom’ or just an ‘up arrow emoji’; three describe themselves as ‘vers’ and the rest express no preference. There is no mystery as to why the ‘Masc Dom Tops’ are readier to advertise their sexual proclivities. When in gay company, conversation inevitably turns to sex and the ‘total top’ is a much sought after commodity while being a bottom (the recipient in anal sex if you need me to define the term) is often sneered at. ‘Massive Bottom’, ‘Hungry and/or thirsty Bottom,’ ‘Slutty Bottom’ or the slightly nicer ‘Power Bottom’ are hardly terms to aspire to. I’m reminded of the phrase ‘Top Privilege’ as coined by Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford. He posited top guys benefit practically in gay sex situations in a variety of ways. Bottoms must avoid spicy (or indeed solid) food if anticipating anal sex; must thoroughly shower and douche before sex; endure a foreign object/s in their bums; anal tearing; sore bots and responsibility for any poop that creeps into proceedings. Crazy, but they probably, at least a little bit, ring true to those of us who are partial to penetrative sex (a shout-out here to the many gay and bi men who have no interest in anal sex). Whether we like it or not, anal sex requires a little more prep (no, not that PrEP) than vaginal sex. Not all of this prep is even good for us – clinically speaking, douching is not recommended as it washes away a totally natural mucus layer that actively helps protect your back passage from both tearing and bacterial infections. There’s an unpleasantness, not to mention an insidious misogyny, in talk of ‘masc tops’ and ‘fem bottoms.’ We’ve all winced, I’m sure, when some straight person, however well-meaning, has asked ‘so which one’s the man and which one’s the woman?’ Clearly, in a gay male pairing, both men are men. However, flick back to Grindr – or any dating app – and within the community we are perpetuating the idea that some of us are more masculine, more valuable, than others. I’ve long held the opinion that anyone with MASC 4 MASC on their profiles should immediately change said text to ‘Self-Loathing Homophobe Seeks Same for Mutual Shame Chill Sesh’. Which is the bigger anathema? Being gay or stereotypically female traits? Is it homophobia or misogyny? Are the two permanently entwined? Moreover, far more so than straight men, we seem addicted to labels that essentially dehumanise and objectify us. ‘Bottom’, ‘top’, ‘bear’, ‘cub’ or ‘twink’ strip us of name, individuality and personality. They reduce us to a single-function sexual plaything. We become 2D fantasy figures and then bemoan the cold, hard nature of the gay scene and how no-one in the darkened club or sauna has taken the time to get to know the ‘real me’. We willingly decapitate ourselves on Grindr as thought and speech are made redundant by nipples and abs. Another question – and answer honestly – would you let a soulmate pass you by if they took the same role in bed as you? Would you even go on a first date with them? We can’t wholly blame social media and apps. Let’s face it, long before Gaydar, gay men were dangling hankies out of their back pockets to advertise their preferences. Maybe it’s just convenience. For ease of compatibility, at some stage that conversation needs to be had. I suppose better to get it out of the way before hearts and feelings are on the table. At the end of the day, none of us are entirely in control of what turns us on and off. I reckon the vast majority of us are on an 'anal spectrum' anyway, with most being versatile – and isn’t sharing and compromise what a relationship’s all about? No, we can’t control or censor fantasy, but we can be mindful of the negative stereotypes we might be unwittingly propagating. When it comes to bottoms and tops, the only douches worth worrying about are the ones who seem to think their sexual preference says anything about out-dated social constructs of manliness. Words by JAMES DAWSON Also by James: Gay men and biphobia: It's real and it needs to stop