Tops & Bottoms & Vers, Oh My! Are we defined by our position preference?

A unique aspect of the gay community (incl. cis and trans gay, bi, and other guys who do ‘stuff’ with guys) is our organising of identity around sexual positionality. The most frequent message you will get on Grindr or an equivalent app is “u top or btm?”, either first up (even if it’s on your damn profile), or a few lines into the conversation.

Clearly, the discourse of sexual positionality is an important facet of our community (regardless of if you actually like anal sex) – and it makes or breaks potential dates, relationships, and so on (who hasn’t heard of – or been that guy – who laments that ‘oh pity we’re both tops’ or ‘it’s never going to work he’s also a bottom’). I wanted to take the opportunity to offer some commentary around this wild, wild world we’ve invented and poke fun at some of the assumptions that come into play.

‘Adaptable Versatiles’ and ‘Obligate Versatiles’

While there seems to be a spectrum of bottom | vers bottom | vers | vers top | top akin to a Kinsey-scale of positionality, I propose that there are also two types of versatiles (omg don’t categorise me). These are the free-flowing ‘adaptable vers’, and the flip-fucking ‘obligate vers’.

The adaptable vers are the kinds of vers who just go with whatever partner they end up with – “you’re a top, cool I’ll bottom” – and they’re basically the universal donor of gay sex.

The obligate vers is a bit more complicated, as they essentially want someone else is who both tops and bottoms, and they’re best suited to partners who are vers bottom, vers top, or an adaptable/obligate vers.

An obligate vers is probably content for a casual fling with a pure bottom or top, but for anything long term they crave either flexibility in positioning or demand literal flip-fucking in the bedroom (fuck, you both have to douche!)

Mixing it up: Masc Powerbottoms and Camp Sub Tops

There’s an ingrained assumption that to be a bottom is feminising – this is a patriarchal and phallocentric concept that tells us that taking a cock up your arse means that you’re somehow feminine. That is bullshit. You’re feminine if you feel that you’re feminine, and anal pleasures are for anyone who wants to experience them (this applies to you, cis straight boys reading this and their partners).

Conversely, there’s an assumption that topping is masculine – like if that’s what gets you off, power to you – but don’t assume that experience for other people. The meanings attached to your genitals and what you do with them is up to you and up for negotiation with your partner/s.

Aside from gendering these activities and identities, the BDSM concepts of ‘dominance’ and ‘submission’ are assumed to already be a part of bottoming or topping – namely, that bottoming is a purely submissive experience and that topping is an entirely dominant experience.

This is absolutely not true – and these experiences change between partners, between different times you’re having sex or even in the midst of having sex.

You can be a dominant bottom (often called a ‘powerbottom’) who takes control of the pace of sex, and you can be a submissive top who does what the other partner tells him to do. Sex can be fun when we play on stereotypes, when we challenge them, when we feel safe to try new experiences, and when we decide what works for each of us.

If there’s one thing that our gay sensibilities have taught us is that we don’t have to stick to the reproductive script – missionary can be fun, but don’t let it be your only mission – so explore all of the wonders that our sex has to offer, and remember, there’s no place like homo!

Anthony K J Smith

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