Just Because I Bottom, Doesn't Mean I'll Make You a Sandwich
The politics of letting go
How one person’s journey of self-discovery in the bedroom led them to reconsider their practices in the kitchen.
Listen to an audio version of this piece above or on our podcast (and in your usual podcasting app).
By Jay Gee | Narrated for audio by Pericles Santis
I’m new to bottoming. As a self-identified slut, it surprises me that I’m only now learning how to bottom, somewhat late in life – in my oh-so-dreaded thirties. In gay years on the Chicago scene, I’m now An Elder. It’s like I’m learning a new language, one peppered with references to douching, poppers, fibre supplements, toys, and specialty diets. But beyond following prescriptions to avoid dairy and drink enough water, I’m also seeing myself in a totally new light.
In my twenties, I spent my most promiscuous years identifying as a vers top: I would bottom on occasion but never really enjoyed it. I indulged in regular hookups with a mix of guys where we would explore what turned each other on, but I tended to go for guys who preferred bottoming. That was just what got me off. In those years, I never really considered my gender identity: I thought I was cisgender at the time. I was a homonormative cis-gay vers-top. I enjoyed frequent hookups with guys in the Chicago area. I exclusively topped with my most recent ex and the other guys we would mess around with. I prided myself on being the one others thought to be in full control.
Everything changed when I met my current partner. We encountered the usual way — via the apps — and I was overwhelmed by his charm. His confident smile instantly won me over. He identified squarely as a top and knew what he liked. He had never been penetrated and certainly wouldn’t be any time soon. When we started talking, we laughed about both being tops, joking that we would endure taking turns bottoming or saying we would need to invite in a third to make it work.
But as our relationship deepened, something shifted within me. I felt comfortable relinquishing power to him and allowing him to take the lead. To take control. My sexual preferences, my world, flipped upside down.
To bottom is to let go entirely — physically and mentally. For me, though, letting go has never before been an option. Until now, the contours of my selfhood were always defined by control and restraint. Even my own emotions were no match for the dominion I had over myself. I ignored or reigned in inconvenient feelings of remorse, jealousy, and grief. I steered conversations so that the spotlight would shine over my head. I manipulated, and I hurt those closest to me. To let go, then, would be to lose myself.
I remember it well. On the pallet-supported bed in his spacious but bare-shelved studio, face dug into a pillow, knees flush to the chest, hands clasped, arms extended along my back. A position reminiscent of the amateur porn littering the seedier corners of my Twitter feed – motel cumdumps, darkroom gangbangs, winsome college lovers. Except I didn’t have the bird’s eye view. I was the one who now lay writhing, self-consciously adjudicating whether the wetness I felt was lube or shit, feigning moans on a cacophonous scale climbing from minor pain to — dare I say — major pleasure? Here, balled up in a reverse fetal position, fumbling in the dark trying to align his cock with my asshole like a mid-air jet refuelling operation, in total awe of his girth and my asshole’s elasticity, I learned to unfetter from my reign of self-imposed control. I’d always imagined it happening differently.
With my current partner, I'm now only bottoming. And I’m loving it. I’m revelling in the feeling of releasing, of letting someone else take the wheel. It’s the feeling of every cell in my body suddenly vibrating at the same frequency, a sensation so powerful that my mind, which never shuts the fuck up, finally falls silent. All I feel are the corporeal markings of pleasure. Have you ever been dicked down so good that you question your very existence? This is essentially what happened. I’ve experienced my first anal orgasms and even hands-free orgasms. It’s been so good that I haven’t wanted sex with anyone else, and I haven’t wanted to top either.
But giving myself up has changed how I show affection outside of the bedroom. Despite the veneer of effortless, almost irreproachable, fortune and charm I use to cloak it in everyday interactions, I have a softer side. In particular, making and sharing food is my love language. I'm someone who would give you a take-home bag of cookies after a threesome. Not only am I the kind of person who would do this, but I have done this. I remember discretely placing Ziplocs of freshly-baked chocolate macadamia nut cookies in the backpacks of two Russian gymnasts, just beside the bottle of poppers. I always ensured that my special guests left with a full belly, one way and the other. That’s what I consider being a good host.
When I started dating my current partner, I spent lots of time in the kitchen — as I always had — making us food. After he would toss my salad, I’d toss a literal salad for him in return. But after about two months of getting railed exclusively, I started feeling uneasy. Why did I feel so compelled to cook for him after sex? He would blissfully gorge on whatever I made him as I grappled with not feeling the same joy providing nourishment that I used to. With every post-coitus meal, I was filled, inch by inch, with equal parts spunk and irritation.
Is he just asking me to do this because I’m taking the more “feminine” role in our relationship? I’m sure it’s fine. He would do this with anyone, right? I should be fine with it.
I unpack discomforting and vexing situations to death and ruminate helplessly for inordinate lengths of time, as is my wont. Outwardly, I suppressed revealing these feelings, thinking that maybe I was just being dramatic. But with my mind on spin cycle, I lurched and bucked through endless mental reruns looking for a sign, a clue, an inkling as to the crux of my resentment. Why had I become so sensitive to associations with care work and the feminine after bottoming?
Eventually, the seemingly endless rounds of mental acrobatics unveiled what lay buried for the better part of my life: shame. Steadily and potently distilled from my fear of being perceived as feminine, weak, and not in control. My partner identifies as a cisgender man, and even though I’m somewhat masculine-presenting, I now identify as non-binary. I grew up with traditional gender modelling from my cishet parents and didn’t want to repeat the same “the masc is the head of the household” bullshit that I had grown up around. But somehow, I was clinging to remnants of a brittle masculine artifice.
Theologians, social economists, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists alike have written extensively on the intersections between sex, gender, and power, and how traditional gender roles are perpetuated in queer relationships. Queer people live in the same society as our cishet counterparts, and we are subject to the same patriarchal and misogynistic maladies, including those related to positioning within sexual acts. One historian notes that the legacy of bottoming as taboo dates back 2,500 years and is steeped in thinking that equates sexual passivity to feminization and, therefore, inferiority. We inherit these taboos from the Greeks and Romans, who chose to imbue sex acts based on position with no regard to one’s selfhood. Topping was an act of masculine domination, whereas bottoming meant being feminized into submission. Only a top could desire someone else, their desire pushing them to take an active role. Meanwhile, a bottom was to be desired, passive, and dominated. Powerless. To ancient civilizations, it wasn’t “gay”. It was just sex. But it was — and still is — about power.
In ‘The Long, Deep, Surprisingly Versatile History of Bottoms: From Ancient Greece to Modern Misogyny,’ João Florêncio gathers that “all homophobia is inseparable from the patriarchy because homophobia is a form of misogyny. You hate gay men because they are closer to women, as if they betray masculinity by being penetrated.” And so-called bottom-shaming is just an extension of this internalized homophobia, a hatred of the perceived femininity within. This implicit misogyny runs rampant in queer circles as it does in heteronormative relationships. Queer relationships operate in a binary frame because much of our relationship playbook came from the dominant heteronormative culture, which finds comfort in binaries and punishes those who fall outside them. In many ways, the fight for queer recognition and equality has engendered assimilation into these regressive structures to achieve progress.
When left unaddressed, internalized and externalized misogyny can be a source of contention, rotting the foundations of queer and cishet relationships alike. These binaries of male and female; masculinities and femininities; dominant and submissive; tops and bottoms: we can choose to reinforce or reject them as we see fit. In previous relationships where I showed up as a top, I’ve been cautious not to perpetuate these harmful norms, and tried my best to subvert them. The dynamics of this new relationship helped to accelerate the stripping away of decades of learned shame, bringing me closer to a more authentic version of myself. Yet insecurities are durable.
I make great sandwiches, which unsurprisingly became my partner’s recurring cravings to recharge after a romp. But after a few casual requests to make him one, I could no longer ignore the gnawing feeling in my stomach. I didn’t want him to feel that just because I would bottom for him, I would cater to his every whim and put myself in a position of servitude. What role model would I be for other people more femme than myself? Should they resign themselves to traditional roles and succumb to society’s expectations of mascs as providers and femmes as caretakers?
So, I brought my feelings up with him. It wasn’t easy for me, the once-unflappable vers top coming into vulnerable layers of himself. Still, I told him about the new and uncomfortable thoughts that I was having, the midnight ruminations, and how I associated these discomforts with our sex life. I told him that if he expected me to cook for him and clean up after him, I would come to resent him.
It was a challenging conversation, but he listened. And he cared. He reassured me that it wasn’t his intention to make me feel compelled to care for him just because he stuffed me with cum. He said that he didn’t want to put me in an uncomfortable position or for me to feel compelled to do anything that I didn’t want to do. After all, he assured me, consent is essential in every aspect of a relationship, and certainly within ours.
In the months since then, I’ve noticed a concerted change in his actions and my thinking. He asks whether he can make me a sandwich or if I can make him a coffee. I know that when he asks me for something to eat, it’s not with any gendered expectation rooted in misogyny or an imbalance of power because I’m free to do the same. We’re free to ask for help, support, and food when we need it. Food once acted as a wedge in our romantic relationship, but now it’s a way for us to bond. We cook together. We wash each other's dishes after enjoying a juicy steak and cobb salad. Just because our sex life has a power balance where he is in physical control doesn't mean that this dynamic extends to other parts of our lives. We're partners.
I’m changed by my new awareness of the nearly-fossilized shame that welled up in me upon penetration, conscious of how bottoming did away with the projections I had thus far believed to be true about myself. It confronted me with the naked truth of my own emotions and the social constructs that shape them. I’m disquieted by the shame I felt about being feminized — a reminder that this nascent balance we’ve found in our relationship is a choice, not a given. On a larger scale, I feel like living this equity is essential to advancing the politics of the queer community, sidestepping the hetero norms that have been laid out for us and forging our own ways of being and relating. (Power bottoming, anyone?)
In the meantime, I’m still learning more about bottoming. My partner and I have had our fair share of messy encounters (we may have even had some painting). But he has been as patient with my process of getting to know my body in this new way as he was with my inner turmoil.
Maybe I'll get him to bottom next.