Yes, it is an all too common question, one that can make the questioner seem sadistic and which sends shivers of embarrassment down the spine of the one asked.
Are you a top or bottom?
And the reason why this is a dreadful question to ask or answer is simple. Men, be they straight or gay, carry a certain machismo (call it ego) that they don’t want publicly punctured by being shown up to be lesser men than they want to be seen as. That is why short, little men buy big cars and talk about them as though the size of their cars makes up for their lack of stature. It is exactly the same reason why men who marry women who are bigger than they are tend to be the most abusive. A small man will beat up his bigger woman just to prove to himself that even though he is smaller, he is more powerful. Small(er) men usually feel that they have more to prove and it is no accident, therefore, that the most successful, richest and most prominent men outside of the bedroom are men 5ft7″ or shorter. Taller men take their looks for granted, and usually assume that their size will speak for itself so they have less need to shove, push and muscle their way into being respected.
But this is about sexual tops and bottoms. For a man to admit that they like to bottom takes a certain amount of confidence that only a tiny minority of men have. This is true even for straight men who like to be ‘woman-handled.’ Many men like to be tied up and thrown around like rag dolls by their women but are usually too timid to say it and so they will act out these fantasies with dominatrix prostitutes while they keep sex with their wives orthodox. When you put it in a gay perspective, it becomes even more fraught to admit (even to oneself) that one enjoys being buggered at all. It is bad enough having to admit to homo-sodomy, but also to admit to being the one sodomized? That is a bridge too far for most men since it denotes an admission of loss of power and control; it is an admission of weakness that few men will ever voice.
Yet, it need not be. The problem with the public’s perception about gay lives is that everything gay men (but not gay women) do is reduced to a sexual act. Take away the sex and what remains is not very interesting to observers. But the moment you learn that Jonathan is dating Henry, the first question that usually comes to mind is “Who is the top?” even though you might not actually articulate it. Since there is nothing we can do about how the human mind works, this column will not attempt to dissuade anyone from thinking about gay men in terms of tops and bottoms. It is impossible to change that mindset.
What can be changed is the misconception that being gay is just about having sex, or that it is merely about homo-sodomy. Odd as it might seem, gay men (and women) are capable of having very deep feelings for each other that transcend sexual activity. They are capable of acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and deep care that have nothing to do with taking any clothes off. When we speak about same gender loving, we are usually talking about companionship, sharing experiences, enjoying the company of a fellow man with whom you are bonded by a commitment and, yes, deep love. It doesn’t matter that you might not even have any kind of sex with that man – indeed the test should be the strength of feeling(s) when you are not having sex with the man or woman you love. Once any bystanders understand that gay men and women are capable of loving like that, our relationships become a little less pigeon-holed into the top/bottom/homo-sodomy caricatures.
Obviously, the sexual dynamics are important and it is not realistic not to consider who is the stronger personality in a gay relationship. The reason why that is important is that, like in straight relationships where there has to be a focal point of strength in order to give the relationship direction, gay relationships, too, need a source of strength. The strength might come from physical size or prowess, financial clout, practicality, intellectual superiority or social versatility. Unless there is a demarcation of roles according to the strengths of the partners involved, any relationship, and especially any gay relationship, is doomed. But those attributes usually have nothing to do with who does what sexually behind closed doors.
But when it comes to who is buggering who, the truth is that there are very few gay men who will forever have no inclination to being buggered if they find someone they are truly, madly in love with. And the reason is that once you are in love, sex is sharing and so whatever you do with your partner ceases to be about a power struggle or a dominance test. The question of being a bottom ceases to be an indication of weakness because the love you have for each other transcends all that. Equally, men who absolutely will not accept being buggered, perhaps because of a previous experience that was traumatic, will find themselves succumbing to advances of someone they are in love with.
So, when a man says that he is absolutely and utterly a top, chances are that he has not found a loving relationship with anyone and all he has is sex for kicks. And men who plead to being explicitly bottom are likely closing their minds to the possibility of sharing more than a sex act with their partners. Generally, once love takes the place of raw sex, who is taking it in the behind (if at all) ceases to matter and those who dwell on top and bottom roles are thus missing the beauty of same gender loving, and are instead going for the raw, lust-filled and frantic sex that one can have with anyone once the sex johns hit one.
If there is nothing more than animal instinct involved, who is top or bottom matters infinitely. It is in such raw situations that even the pain and horror of being buggered is amplified. For, if it is all about sex, unless both of those involved are in the same place mentally, chances are that one of the players is likely to be more ready than the other and if, as is usually the case, it is the one who is topping who is more ready, there will be limited consideration for the one who is being torn into, making for a very uncomfortable experience to say the least. But where two people become one mentally, the issue of pain becomes immaterial and you can see that the physical body language of both partners is in sync. That is when whoever is top or bottom becomes secondary to the sexual union, and both the giver and receiver actually enjoy the physicality of the moment. You don’t have to be a total top or bottom to achieve that kind of heavenly transportation but it certainly helps if, should you choose to, your mind is transported to that area in order to enjoy what should be the ultimate icing on the cake of same gender loving.