52. the locus of language in sexuality


I was just asked about this tonight, and thought I’d write a quick post about it:

“Are you a top or a bottom?”

This is probably the most frequent question that comes up amongst gay men when entering into a sexual relationship. It helps to define sexual roles and lay out expectations about who will be, for lack of a better word, fucking who; who will be “dominant” and “submissive.”

For me though, this type of language and labelling isn’t very helpful, and is more indicative of the hetero-proxy sexuality that has permeated the gay community since it came into the mainstream back in the 1960s. Without going into a lengthy discussion of Eva Sedgwick or Judith Butler, I posit that this sort of boxing of gay sexuality into “top” and “bottom” is a mere co-opting of existing and established heterosexual roles rather than the fostering of a true and authentic expression of the Mars/Mars interaction that takes place between men in a sexual relationship. It assumes that one partner will play the part of the “man,” and the other, by extension, the part of the “woman”, which by inference presumes that “gay sex” = “anal sex”, when there are far more expressions of eros than the few we make do with. Many gay men have no interest in that at all.

Furthermore, such language limits and suppresses exploration between partners, and locks them into predefined roles such as “dominant” or “submissive,” bolstering the idea that a “bottom” is naturally the passive partner in the relationship, and that such a pairing is one of domination and  subjugation rather than an egalitarian one built on mutual love and respect.

This is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t have preferences for one thing or another, sexually speaking. There are some guys who truly enjoy being “tops” or “bottoms.” What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be defined and labelled by those preferences, just as I personally don’t think that I should automatically be labelled “gay” for having a preference for men, and more than mixed gender persons should be labelled “straight.”

Language like this has only served to divide us and promote stereotypes and misunderstanding. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

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