“But if baby I’m the bottom, you’re the top!” said the great songwriter and sage, Cole Porter. Gay men obsess over these roles. I will not attempt to exhaust the very rich power dynamics written implicitly, historically or culturally, into the top/bottom dynamic. I do however, want to explore some recent personal revelations.
My recent epiphany reminded me that my own sexual liberation is not static and should always be in progress. Since coming out when I was 18, I considered myself a top. I was never against the idea of getting fucked and I actually tried it a few times (a couple being fairly successful—at least from my end—pun intended). I still identified to myself and others as a “top,” or as the Internet would have it: “Top/Vers.”
I was having a flirty and nicely charged encounter with a charming 20-something (I’m a seasoned 30-something) on a night on the town (Night on the town? I am seasoned!). The attraction was palpable and we both easily agreed we wanted to hang out outside the club. We decided on my place—or as the Internet would have it, I was “hosting.” Right before we were about to leave, he threw out the disclaimer, “I am a top, though.” He said this as if it were a warning that this might be a deal-breaker. My response to him was, “Does that mean if you’re not fucking me you’re not having a good time?” He said, “No, it doesn’t.” And so we went home, nobody fucked anybody, and we had a fantastic time together, old-school-meet-at-the-club take-em-home-style.
What I recognized though, in this younger man, was me being so “top identified” in my 20s and what that was really about. I was thankfully not victim to the school of thought that being a top made me more of a man (In some cultures only the bottom is considered “gay”). I always identified as a liberated feminist, which means I hold great regard for the feminine and the feminine top as well. And I like to think I’ve embraced my top identity in as gay a way as possible (i.e., with a military hat, a jockstrap, and Swarovski studded riding crop?).
But I identified with being a top because, without knowing it, I was being lazy; physically, emotionally, and sexually lazy. I may have even taken advantage of the ego stroke gay guys give you for the perception that being a top means you’re more of the man (even though I myself did not think that). Only after getting spectacularly fucked for the first time in years did it fully dawn on me that it is unquestionably more challenging to be a bottom than a top.
Sure, there are those natural wonders that seem to be born with asses ready to have large things inserted into them at all times, but still I maintain that it’s harder for the bottom.
To give myself some credit, despite my admonition of laziness, I have always been creative at finding ways to have a hot time by giving and receiving pleasure without butt fucking. The emphasis on what sexual position one holds when negotiating a hook-up often belittles the possibilities outside of butt sex. Too many gay men take the top/bottom dichotomy way too literally—as if one couldn’t be bottom- or top-identified within other sexual acts (oral sex, role play). There’s also the reality that, for me, other sex acts that lead to orgasm don’t feel like a lesser version of themselves. But with the necessity for condoms (I wont risk sero-conversion for better sex), butt sex does. For those reasons, I’ve always been more invested in other fetishes and sex acts than butt fucking.
Having gotten more in touch with my inner bottom in my 30s, I have a deeper, yes, deeper, appreciation for the vulnerability of bottoming. Can we go there? A good top will always try to protect the bottom from feeling ashamed if there’s an accident while fucking. But the bottom is at the top’s mercy in that situation. An asshole top will make the bottom feel dirty, wrong, or ashamed. I prefer cleanliness for myself in both roles—no judgments for those who get into getting dirtier—it’s just not my thing. As the top I get to be the good guy if there’s an accident and go and quickly wash up or even get to be the reassuring guy that everything’s nice and tidy down there. As a bottom, after doing whatever I can to get as clean as I can be, I can only hope nobody will make me feel dirty—in the bad way. Once again, harder being a bottom.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned about the power of vulnerability and the multitude of ways the ass and my hole gives me pleasure. I will continue to spread the gospel that Dan Savage confirmed for straight men: that wanting things in and pleasure from your own ass has nothing to do with being gay. Loosen up, my straight brothers. That’s right, I said “loosen!”
My gay brothers? Loosen up on these roles! That doesn’t mean abandoning them completely or creating more judgmental attitudes towards those who hold tightly to them. Simply recognize that sometimes we think we are or like one thing and don’t yet know we are or like something else too. Sometimes, we want to be and like it all in one moment. There are even times in our sex lives when top/bottom does not even come into play and we may put more focus on touch, or fantasy, or mutuality. RuPaul always says he likes to play with all the crayons in the crayon box. We can do that for our sex lives. Let’s not box-in our own sexuality when homophobia has done that too us for so long. Sexual identity and sexual exploration doesn’t end the moment we come out as wanting sex with other men. On the contrary, it’s only just beginning.
Photos, Top and (ahem) Bottom: Edwin Pabon.
Got a question for Sir Ari? Contact him at Ari@Arigold.com.