This is the single biggest emotional stumbling block gay men have about bottoming—being labeled less than a man. For many of us, bottoming isn’t an opportunity to enjoy a pleasurable sexual experience but an act that threatens our sense of masculinity and the respect that goes with it. Many gay men believe that if they bottom they will become “a bottom.” They fear that bottoming will create a new unwanted identity for them; that they’ll become, ahem, the butt of everyone’s jokes. It just may be that you haven’t been able to bottom (or been able to enjoy it) because you have so many emotional issues around the act. If you can get away from the falsehood of bottoming as anidentity and see it for what it is—an erotic activity—the more relaxed and receptive you will be.
It might be helpful to understand how so many of us came to associate bottoming with effeminacy. The answer can be found in one of the most important gay books you’ll ever read—historian Byrne Fone’s Homophobia: A History. He makes well-documented assertions that sex between men in Ancient Greece was “normal” and idealized, but that there were strict rules regarding its conduct.
There were Homo Do’s and Homo Don’ts. And the biggest Don’t was to enjoy penetration. Being the penetrator was synonymous with being a man. Anything that subverted the concept of masculinity was punished with social ostracism and ridicule. And nothing mocked masculinity more than getting penetrated. Greeks and Romans didn’t really care whom you had sex with (women, men, boys, slaves) as long as you were the penetrator. The Romans even had a word for it: Vir. It was an exalted term, symbolizing the ideal man: He who penetrates other men but is himself not penetrated. Today we still live out those vestiges of antiquity.
We label men “tops” or “bottoms” in part because we’re living out antiquity’s fear of the feminine. In heterosexual thinking, the penetrator (man) is more valuable than the penetrated (women). We’ve adapted that consciousness in our own community, where the penetrator (top) is more valuable than the penetrated (bottom). Clearly, labels like “top” and “bottom” can be useful shorthand for sexual likes and dislikes. But
instead of stating what we prefer— “I like to bottom”— we turned that preference into an identity —“I’m a bottom.” By developing identities out of these labels we cut ourselves off of any unlabeled possibilities. In our
world, tops can only date or hook up with bottoms and bottoms can only do the same with tops. That’sa whole lot of blindness in a sighted community.