Every single gay male has heard the following naive question: which one of you is “the woman” and which is “the man”?
It’s a question only posed by straight people who are absolutely flummoxed about the nature of gay sex. Flummoxed! Of course the proper retort is, “We’re both boys!” That’s the whole point of gay boning, all. But the thirst to understand which boy is putting his P in an A and which boy has opened his A for P is really about making gay sex legible, and legible in a heterosexual context.
Gay dudes have a term for this, too, it turns out: top or bottom. Then there are the versatile people of the world who like to flip-fuck or who are perfectly at home and talented in either position.
In some way having a label makes gay sex easier because everyone knows what to do. But the problem is that tops are almost always seen as more manly, virile, and aggressive, whereas bottoms are usually linked to effeminacy because we think they have a subservient position. Just don’t tell the power bottoms that.
People are obsessed with knowing who is the top and who is the bottom because gay sex is not necessarily legible in the same manner as straight sex. How many times have you been dating a new guy and you voluntarily told your BFF, “He’s a TOTAL TOP” or “He’s a great bottom,” or how many times have your friends asked you what was going on in the bedroom between you and a new love interest?
On this week’s episode of Looking, for instance, we get a “racy” scene where Patrick (Jonathan Groff’s character) gets his cum swallowed by Richie (Raul Castillo) during some pretty slurpy-sounding D sucking, but that’s not even the most interesting part. When Richie tells Patrick he wants to fuck him, Patrick is all, LOLOLOL I DON’T DO THAT LOL, basically revealing his own bottom shame.
Hey, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t like bottoming and even some who don’t like to top. But Patrick took it to a bottom-shaming place when he tells Richie that he thinks his mother would be ashamed of him if she thought he was a bottom. Why? Because gay sex is only legible to straight people in terms of the heterosexual matrix, and if someone’s son is fucking a dude/is a top, well then that’s way preferable than if he was getting plowed by D’s all day long.
This attitude is wholly cultural and deeply rooted in how we think about gender. Like, men are supposed to be men. Like, men don’t take dicks up the ass.
I was talking to a bunch of my gay male friends recently about bottom shaming and one of them pointed out that he always attracts bi or “curious” straight tops because 1) they already know he’s gay and 2) they already assume he’s a bottom because he is slightly effeminate.
“I own my sissyness,” he told me. Get your orgasm, girl.
My other friend, who stands 6 foot 3 inches, said that a being bottom doesn’t make you less of a man.
“You can top from the bottom. Like, let me sit on it, let me do me and you do you. And then I will go to my corporate office and litigate.”
The problem with bottom-shaming is when gay sex taps into misogynistic shit around male dominance. I keep thinking about that scene from Rescue Me where Mike and his roommate are chilling on the couch watching a game, just bro-ing out, when suddenly Mike is giving his roommate a blow job, #EveryGayCollegeStudentsFantasyEver. When Mike steps to him about it, Sean is all, “Well I’m not gay. You’re gay, you sucked me. I didn’t suck you.”
Oh for real?
Cocksuckers and bottoms are often seen as less than men by society and even by gay men. A guy who is super tall is automatically assumed to be a top just because of his domineering height, whereas a person who is really short might get pigeonholed as a bottom. A tall top might look for shorter guys exclusively, and a short bottom might be on the hunt for taller guys.
But even people of certain races are assumed to be one or the other just because of their race. A top who is effeminate might have a tougher time than his “straight acting” counter parts, and you might get stuck bottoming if folks see you as even slightly fey.
There’s more: anyone who has had gay male sex knows that it includes a whole economy of degradation, where bottoms are often called “bitch” or “cocksucker” or “sissy” or “faggot” in the bedroom. There is countless pornography where “sissies” and “faggots” service “real men.” And hey, some people like being called names in the bedroom, but that doesn’t take away from the issue any.
The whole bottom/top debate moves beyond physical traits, things we are born into, and towards flash decisions made based on appearance and gender performance. A hot bottom might X out a Tinder profile of a guy he thinks isn’t “toppy” enough for his needs, and a smoking top might only like “masc” and “straight acting” bottoms. In all cases, effeminacy or feminine traits are a no no, faggotry and sissydom are bad, and all the cultural power belongs to the top.
I’m not sure how much gender performance plays a role when I think about the types of guys I’m attracted to. Sure, I have a preference for tall-ass skinny hipster-y guys who look like they maybe did some coke this morning before they worked on an art project lol, but there are tons of bros my height who could get it. The point is that gay men often read clues like fashion, gender performance and height or body size to try to figure out if a guy is a top, a bottom, or if he’s maybe versatile.
At the end of the day, this whole debate is about protecting manliness. But why does it even matter to be seen as a “man” in the first place? And to whom does it matter? Can’t you just be a body that enjoys having stuff done to it by other people, without the bullshit misogynist industrial complex swooping in? Can’t we just have sex?