In defence of bottoms

Mambaonline | 16 October 2013

There comes a time in every coming out story when the mother, mischievous and cocky with wine, finally plucks up the courage to ask the question that’s been wriggling to get out since she first clapped eyes on the first boyfriend. The question that is simultaneously endearing in its naiveté and infuriating in its baggage: “But, who is the man and who is the woman?”

Fortunately, in my case, my mother was then so overwhelmed with WASPy prudish horror that she immediately covered her ears, shook her head and changed the subject, and I never had to answer, beyond reprimanding her for being so heteronormative (I was a very political teenager).

I found it funny watching her squirm in the uncomfortable silence that followed the question, the silence that betrayed that she had, gayness aside, just asked her son how he likes his sex.

But then it suddenly made me angry. It made me angry because I realised she had assumed I was, in her words, ‘the woman’. And I was then made doubly angry at myself for being angry at that assumption in the first place. What was wrong with being a bottom? Why was I so defensive; unless my mother’s clumsy phrase had unearthed in me a whole swathe of insecurities and issues? Did I buy into the world’s view of receptive sex as disempowering and emasculating?

If you think about it, the entire English language is structured around the idea that being a receptive partner is humiliating. The relationship between the person fucking and the person being fucked is a metaphor for so many situations in life, from taxes and store rip-offs (protagonist = being fucked) to acing an exam or proving a boss wrong (protagonist = fucking the world). We define whether we are indomitable or victimised by our idea of sex. It is truly bizarre. It betrays the fact that the mainstream assumption in our culture about sex is that it is a relationship of power and domination.

That is a peculiarly patriarchal and distasteful paradigm. What about love? Or even fun and enjoyment? Who decided that only one partner in the sexual act could be proud of enjoying it, and the other should feel shame? And what does this little linguistic twist mean for women? And, bringing this back to the point at hand, bottoms?

When we’re not carefully constructing our points of view to be polite and open-minded and modern, do we secretly all think that being a receptive partner is embarrassing, or “more gay” than being an active partner? The Ancient Greeks only considered the receptive partner to be gay, in fact.

The nature of roles in gay relationships is really interesting. Are the versatile among us the most balanced humans on earth? A perfect mix of yin and yang, masculine and feminine, transcendent over historical shackles, resplendent above the linguistic cages, social expectations and psychological torments of straight (and straight-like) relationships? As comfortable being the stay-at-home dad or the captain of industry.

And the not-so-versatile: what makes them what they are? Is it daddy issues? Self-hatred? Or something much more straightforward, natural and unavoidable, like a subdivision of sexual orientation, or taste in music? Is being a bottom just further along the spectrum that stretches from straight to bisexual to gay? Or is it, as I suspect (knowing quite a number of camp tops and shoulder-punching bottoms) an entirely unrelated spectrum, with different causes and different implications?

My friend loves to say that bottoms ought to be entitled to BEE* privileges as they are a disadvantaged people. I don’t know how much subliminal damage has been done through socialisation and Christianity and the Ancient Greeks. But if they are oppressed, they are oppressed by the same forces that keep women down and stop humanity from reaching its full potential.

Which means, in some strange way, that taking it up the bum, and enjoying it, is essential to move us from an aggressive world of domination, to one of love and freedom. It is a noble act of social emancipation. And mothers everywhere should be proud of their sons for fighting the good fight.

*Black Economic Empowerment

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