Can we please kill this whole Top/Bottom thing?

Warning:  this blog post contains frank discussions of gay sex.  

Imagine this scene from a straight romance novel:

Harold gazed longingly into Marjorie’s eyes and whispered, “I’ve been waiting all night long to get you into a sixty-nine.”

Marjorie took a quick sip of her wine in an attempt to hide the blush creeping into her cheeks.  She gazed out over the city skyline and breathed in the warm night air, giving herself a moment to think.  Normally, Marjorie considered herself to be a missionary-style woman, but for Harold she could be flexible.  “Yes,” she gasped finally, “that sounds really hot.”

What’s wrong with this scene?  I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it:  they’re not even in the bedroom yet, and they’re already negotiating positions!  Who would do that in real life, except perhaps two people negotiating a BDSM scene?

Yet, if we change the two main characters to gay men….

Harold gazed longingly into Mark’s eyes and whispered, “I’ve been waiting all night long for you to top me.”

Mark took a quick sip of his wine in an attempt to hide the blush creeping into his cheeks.  He gazed out over the city skyline and breathed in the warm night air, giving himself a moment to think.  Normally, Mark considered himself a bottom, but for Harold he could be versatile.  “Yes,” he gasped finally, “that sounds really hot.”

Sure, for men, right here it’s a little raunchy, but no more than other scenes I’ve read in the genre.  It now doesn’t seem all that unusual.  Why?  Because gay men often negotiate who’s the top and who’s the bottom before they have sex, or at least that’s what’s going through their heads.  Right?

Well, um… no.  Not really.

coin_wideOkay, I can’t claim to speak for all gay men.  Perhaps some gay men do this.  But honestly, I’ve been out since 1983 and over the thirty years since I came out, I’ve had lots of sex.  I’ve topped; I’ve bottomed; I’ve done other things I have no intention of talking about in a blog open to the general public.

Do you know what I haven’t done in all that time?  Declared myself a “top” or a “bottom” to anybody.


Nor have I ever thought to myself, “I’m a top,” or “I’m a bottom.”  Is this because I’m “versatile?”  No, it’s because I’m just a guy, and when I have sex, we go into the bedroom (or wherever said sex is going to occur) and just go at it.  At some point, somebody might ask, “Would you like to fuck me?” or “Can I fuck you?”  Imagine!  Actually asking what your partner is in the mood for!

Yes, I’ve known men who would never let anyone fuck them.  Although these guys often refuse anal sex, period, because they find it repulsive or just don’t happen to like it.  (I’ve already discussed the fact that not all gay men are into anal sex in a previous blog post.)  What it has almost never been is because they are “bottoms” who never like to “top.”

Sure, they may have a preference.  Just like straight men and women have preferences.  According to Wikipedia, an examination of over 55,000 profiles of gay men on the popular hookup site “showed that 26.46% preferred top, while 31.92% preferred bottom, and the largest group (41.62%) preferred versatile.”  In other words… nothing.  We might as well call it split down the middle with 42% not caring either way.  And it’s about as useful as polling straight couples about their favorite position.

But my main point is, straight men and women don’t identify as the sexual position they prefer, so why should gay men?

And don’t even get me started about “pitcher” and “catcher.”  I don’t know the origin of the phrase, but I’ve rarely heard it issued by someone who wasn’t disturbed by the idea of gay sex in general.  I’ve certainly never heard gay men refer to each other that way.

Now, I suppose the gay “scene” is different in the cities and in various parts of the country.  I can only really talk about the way things are in my area, and age makes a difference as well.  But these aren’t terms I want to be associated with.


Filed under gay, Life, Romance, Sex, Writing

17 responses to “Can we please kill this whole Top/Bottom thing?

  1. Let me just say thank you for your informative blog posts. I actually hadn’t read the other one you referenced above about anal sex, so I read that, too. I’m a heterosexual female, so my knowledge of gay sex is limited to what I hear and read. Luckily, my two best friends, who are a committed gay couple, have answered enough of my nosy questions. 😉
    They actually told me they reserve anal sex for special occasions, because, frankly, there’s a lot of prep work. At which point the one said “so if I come home and the garden hose is snaking into the bathroom, I know I’m getting lucky!” HA!
    So, thank you for your opinion…’s good to hear!

  2. thenarcissistwrites

    You know, this is actually good information to have. I honestly thought it would be a topic of conversation for gay men at some point before sex, lol. Good to know, thank you!

  3. fefeeley412

    Reblogged this on F.E. Feeley Jr. and commented:
    Should an old cliche die out?

  4. JB

    You’ve hit on one of the primary differences between gay men writing gay romance and women writing gay romance. I’ve encountered this before and also been confused. As you said, we may occasionally, once sex is initiated, discuss who is fucking who or whatever, but I don’t know any gay man who consciously thinks or says, in the heat of the moment, that he is a “top” or “bottom.” Are these words used at other times, perhaps in conversation or as profile descriptors, etc…, yes. But not while sex is happening or about to happen.

    Perhaps if there is a kink involved? I wouldn’t know about that, but otherwise… no. Thank you for putting this into words 🙂

    • The thing about the profiles is, they don’t represent a particularly romantic scenario. They’re written specifically for gay men to talk about what they like sexually, geared toward hooking up. Therefore, they’re not really typical of how we behave when we’re dating.

  5. Pickle

    Great post! I figured this may be the case, and appreciate your insights. What’s funny is that my opposite sex partner and I do actually ask each other who wants to “top” or is feeling “toppy” before sex, but that’s probably because most of our sex is BDSM flavored, so it’s necessary to establish some structure so that we’re on the same page. Even so, we have a switching dynamic, so it’s like the so called “versatile” category. The top and bottom (and worse, the seme and uke from yaoi) stereotypes (archetypes?) are kind of ridiculous. I love reading about guys who don’t fit into some little box like that. You’ve written them well, from what I’ve read of yours (my favorite thus far is Murderous Requiem). Anyway. Thanks for the post.

  6. As usual, Jamie, entertaining and educational. Thanks for the info.

  7. As another gay man, I undersign this post.
    The top/bottom thing is nothing but a format borrowed from the patriarchal model i.e. who’s the woman in the relationship? Absolutely ridiculous.

  8. Thank you for posting this. In First Impressions I quote an article I read that said 40% of gay men don’t engage in anal sex. I know a lot of authors (particularly the straight women authors) who think M/M romance has to have anal sex happening in every chapter if not on every other page.

    • Exactly. I’d have to say the majority of men I dated probably didn’t like it that much. Some did. But the point is that we shouldn’t insist being gay is all about anal sex, when we’re just as open to other forms of sexual expression as straight couples.

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