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So You Top or Bottom?
My first response to this question is often ‘My name is Matt’. My second response is silence. I just don’t get it.
In the gay male community there is an apparent need to categorise – top, bottom, bear, twink, butch, fem…. the categories go on for what seems like forever. It’s exhausting.
Let me just say this to you – what I have already said and what I will say to you in a moment is not a popular belief in the LGBTQ community. I may make a few enemies. I am a little anxious, actually, about writing this post but I feel that this needs to be said.
I understand that labels can be very helpful when coming to terms with yourself and accepting your sexuality and/or gender identification but what happens further down the line when, perhaps, your sexuality or gender identification changes? It happens.
Let me first tell you about myself, whilst most people assume that I’m gay, for many reasons, I’m actually not. I am not really anything. Sometimes I find men attractive, sometimes women and sometimes both. It’s not really an issue for me. It used to be an issue for me when I took to heart other people’s perception of me – ‘Oh you’re camp so you are definitely gay’ ‘Oh come on, you’re always talking about men, you must be gay’ ‘Well how can you date a man but still fancy women?’ the list goes on….. but let’s talk about ‘Top or Bottom?’
I work as a sex coach, amongst other things, my job as a sex coach is to help people to make the most of their bodies, their emotional selves (which makes for better sex) and of course to address any sexual problems that they might have. The biggest obstacle that many of my clients have is to overcome that huge label (whatever label that happens to be) that either themselves or society has slapped upon them. It is not uncommon for my clients to become deeply confused because everyone else thinks that they are gay/straight but actually they feel the opposite and/or they have begun to experience feelings on the other side of the fence, as it were. The key here is to simply accept what is going on. The ideal situation is to allow it to unfold naturally but this is very difficult to do with all the categorising still going on in our LGBTQ community. There’s no room to breathe.
As a man who has sex with men, I am expected to take on a certain role within my relationships and within my community. I have to be one or the other. I have to be ‘Top’ ‘Bottom’ ‘Dom’ ‘Sub’ ‘Butch’ ‘Fem’ whatever, so long as someone somewhere can put a label on me they are comfortable. But the labels don’t stick. I change so quickly that people can’t keep up. This results in me feeling very lonely. Yes, not fitting in is lonely. Is this why we pretend to fit in?
Top or Bottom isn’t really the issue, it’s the emphasis that we put onto this label that causes all the problems and I’m going to give you a very simple example that demonstrates the negative effect:
I was recently flirting with a guy who I hadn’t met. He asked me the dreaded question (via WhatsApp) ‘Are you Top or Bottom?’ and I replied ‘Neither’. I left it at that but he persisted by asking ‘So do you just do blow jobs then?’ now let me tell you what this all means and how this attitude restricts us: firstly and practically it means that we have mechanical sex. It’s a very male thing to do but it isn’t helpful. I have had my most powerful and intense orgasms with my clothes on. Yes, I have. Good sex is all about the emotional connection that you have with your partner, it isn’t about what goes where. That’s the practical stuff. Now for the labelling stuff – I am not a top, I am not a bottom and I am not versatile. So I don’t fit in. I have even been accused of having ‘internalised homophobia’ because I don’t do anal sex. This attitude towards men who have sex with men non-anally is sadly very common: ‘You’re not a proper gay then’ ‘You can’t be bisexual you don’t even do anything’.
The ‘You don’t even do anything’ comes from a lack of understanding about just how diverse great sex can be with no penetration and it is also from a heterophobic point of view. Yes, you heard me right.
Heterophobia and ‘internalised homophobia’ are very closely linked. If you are not a ‘proper gay’ then you must be nearer to the heterosexual label and therefore you don’t belong. You are not a ‘proper gay’ for whatever reason you therefore must hate yourself.
It’s complex. It is also easily remedied.
I have a great deal of confidence in myself, my sexuality, my ability to have great sex and – my ability to stand alone. As LGBTQL (‘L’ here stands for label-less… see what I did there?) we are already used to standing alone until we find our community. This is a skill we’ve learned – well done us! Then when we find our community some of us find that…. we don’t fit their either! Well done us again for spotting it.
The twist in the tale here dear reader is this – in accepting the fact that you don’t quite belong you have already gained some confidence from this self-knowledge. At the end of the day, we never really truly fully belong with anyone else other than ourselves – so ask yourself: ‘Who am I?’ If your answer comes quick and fast and provides you with a label – you have some way to go. That’s okay.
If your reply slaps you in the face with a great big ‘I have no idea!!’ Congratulations. You have arrived.