View From The Top: How I Went From Top To Dominant

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Using all of my will
To keep very still
Still even on the inside.
—Ani Difranco, “Studying Stones,” from Knuckle Down

view-from-the-top-stonesWhen I think of stone, I think of an Alaskan beach rock, smoothed down by glaciers and lapping waves, the kind of consistent gentle pressure that can break down mountains. I think of sitting on the pebbled beach for hours, sorting through rocks with my gaze and fingers, stashing dozens in all the pockets in my clothes. I think of keeping one with me at all times, smoothed further by the oils of my skin. My mom said it made sense for me to carry around rocks, since in my astrological chart I have no planets or aspects in earth signs.

By the time I was out as queer and crafting my erotic life, I identified as stone. It was a badge of honor I wore for my gender, declaring my level of body dysphoria. It was a shorthand way of telling dykes on first dates that I wanted to be the only one doing the actions in bed. On the cusp of claiming I was a top, claiming stone was personal and indisputable, so it was easier to claim than topping was. In queer communities, stone is often perceived to be based in trauma, in gender dysphoria, in self-protection — something no one would dare challenge or judge.

Stone is different for me now. Ten years later, the access to tools for changing one’s body to alter gender dysphoria is different, and the knowledge of dysphoria is different, so we need not stay so still inside. Stone is a legitimate and real identity, don’t get me wrong — but there are more options for healing and change for genderqueer and trans folks than there have ever been. So things are changing: me, and the queer communities’ relationships with stone.

In 2008, my period of slutty play, copious casual dates, and learning to top was starting to slow down. I craved having a long-term partner, going deeper, doing the more intense play that only came with longer-term trust and intimacy. The thrill of topping was fading. It still honored me and floored me and got me hard and wet that beautiful, powerful, badass women would tell me what they wanted and let me do dirty, vulnerable things to them, but I was starting to feel completely drained and exhausted after dates and BDSM scenes, rather than elated and giddy. I wanted more… something, but I wasn’t sure what.

That was about when I learned the definition of service topping — topping based on the bottom’s wants, desires, pleasures. Topping as service. I had been service topping for years, I realized. There’s nothing wrong with it — I still service top, more than occasionally — but I started uncovering a deeper craving, a new hungry mouth that demanded something new to satiate it. I wanted to have that elated, floaty feeling after sex and scenes, that feeling like at the end of a yoga class where all my limbs feel lighter and my core feels stronger and my head feels clearer. That still happened, with a particularly good scene or with someone new and thrilling, or when I was learning a fresh skill. But after a bit of time with someone, no matter how much I liked them, something was still missing.

In a conversation with a mentor of mine, where I lamented my lack of energy and my desire for “more, something, I don’t know what,” they casually said: “Maybe you’re just a dominant.”

I blinked. “What’s the difference?” Even though I thought of myself as knowledgeable about power dynamics, I tended to use top and dominant somewhat interchangeably, and the erotica short stories I obsessively consumed did, too. I asked all the friends I could about their understanding, and most seemed to divide it into some sort of physical act verses psychological act thing — that topping was about doing something, and dominance was about being in control.

Around the same time, I dated a girl for about three months, and we played with all sorts of SM: slapping, flogging, sensation play, rough sex. But when I asked her (ahem, told her, in the most dominating voice I could muster) to crawl across the floor, she looked at me, puzzled. “Why?”

The confusion in her voice was enough to make my body lock up tight — caught in the headlights kind of tight. I hadn’t realized that what I was requesting was out of the realm of what we’d already been doing, but as soon as I asked for it, I knew I wanted it. I wanted to be in control of her body in ways beyond just sensation or rough sex. I wanted her to crawl over to the toy box and fetch the cane, then bring it back to me in her mouth. I wanted her to crawl over to where I was sitting and service me, get me off.

I wanted to tell her what to do. And I wanted it to be for my body’s direct pleasure.

I couldn’t handle explaining all of this to her, so I gulped, mumbled some excuse, and we went back to playing. I felt the stone in me sink down, down, down and settle in my pelvis, and a new sort of desire was born.

Sinclair Sexsmith is a feminist dominant, poet and strap-on expert who writes the award-winning sex blog Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 36 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. I’m recycling a joke from the AS kink FB group, but one time I was riding to Tucson on my Motorbike a lot. I had to carry my things in a backpack, and I’m small so the adjustable parts of the straps were long. So on the ride down the plastic end bits would hit me in the ass periodically. Which I referred to as “self service topping” 😀

  2. I want to stitch your words into a blanket and wrap myself in it. I adore having aspects of my being packaged into succinct titles to give to my partners, and your writings have been a huge aid in finding the right ones.

  3. I love this article. In fact, I’ve found the entire series utterly captivating. Topping vs Dominating. I like the way you made the distinction. Great imagery. I’m waiting with bated breath for the next installment. C’mon, don’t leave me hanging too long. I need my fix!

  4. “I wanted to tell her what to do. And I wanted it to be for my body’s direct pleasure.”

    This makes you sound like a misogynist man. I hope you will give that some serious thought.

    • I love this series bc it parallels so much me discovering my desire to bottom? Like, it’s nice to see my desires matched from the other side, because it can become easy to believe sometimes that “there’s no way my partner loves being dominating AS MUCH as I love submitting… it must be selfish of me to request that we do this”? Does that make sense? Anyway.

      Re: Elizabeth – I think there’s merit to your statement, but as a queer-feminist-lefty/radical-sub-WhateverOtherLabel, my *personal* response to that statement was not “this is misogynistic” but rather “YES. I want to DO THAT.” Equating dom/sub undertones with misogyny can be damaging and shame-y to folks who want that sort of play in the bedroom — Sex play is different from actual, real-world politics when it is play and when the partners communicate about it and when the relationship is entered on even footing and when both parties get to decide what happens, all of which seems to be happening in the stories told in this series.

    • (Hi,Elizabeth — it’s me, Elizabeth!)

      I’m curious if you identify as kinky, and whereabouts in the kink universe you reside, given your response to the sentence of Sinclair’s that you quote here.

      I’m a switch, and the submissive portion of my kinky little heart found the exact quote that sounded misogynistic to you to be incredibly hot. I really enjoy it when my Domme lets herself be entirely selfish and just uses me for her pleasure. I wouldn’t feel that way about some random person trying the same thing — because I very carefully chose her as the person I give that power to because of who she is as an individual and how she makes me feel, and because I know she values me as an individual and values the submission I offer her (she’s enjoying controlling *me*, and fucking with my head in ways that we both enjoy — I don’t feel at all interchangeable or disposable to her).

      Sinclair didn’t say “women/femmes should be submissive” or “all women should serve me” or even “this woman should serve me because she’s a woman/femme/sub”. Comments like that would be entitled and misogynistic, definitely. But to me the comment just sounds… dominant. And it sounded very personal — not about wanting or expecting to be able to tell women in general what to do, but wanting to tell this very specific and much-desired woman what to do (and it sounds to me as if, once Sinclair realized being dominated wasn’t what that specific woman wanted to do, they backed off and did a lot of reflection. Which sounds like the opposite of misogyny to me.).

    • No.

      I’m 95% stone and a service top. I spend literally hours upon hours focused solely on my partner’s pleasure, doing what she likes.

      And I love that. But sometimes, I just need the tables turned, and I need to be touched in the way I want, for my pleasure alone.

      No one could accuse me of neglecting my partner’s needs (not that Sinclair can be accused of that either! They’ve been impressively careful to talk consent!), and I’m not kinky, and this still applies to me.

  5. Once upon a time, many years ago, I read Macho Sluts (it may have been banned in the US for a time which made it all the more’dangerous’) I then kept the book on the headboard of our (past relationship) bed. I am fairly sure I could not have had a conversation with my now former gf about any of the desires I was having nor could I sort out the ‘reasons’ for those desires. I do think I looked at myself as somehow broken and my ex as even more broken.
    I do know I was attracted to some of the descriptions in that book and almost fascinated by all the ways women could interact with each other surrounding sensuality, and consenting power & desire.
    I have never thought of myself before as a stone butch but, in more recent years, I have played around, mostly in my mind, with my queer identity and my desire to have (consensual and temporary) ultimate control over a sex scene with a ‘bad ass’ woman.
    It’s odd that this seems more possible the older I become and the more comfortable I become with the ideas of sexual dominance & submission.
    So, with all that out there, thanks, Sinclair, for kicking up a shit storm for me again surrounding the nature of desire. (I do mean that in a good & respectful way)

  6. Sinclair.. I think you’re probably the sexiest person whose writings I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I love your articles they are the highlights of my week (especially as someone fairly new to kink)
    Just wow! You’re great and don’t stop with the amazing work 😉

    • I don’t see anything weird about this turning you on. It’s frankly sexy – both in regards to the subject matter as the honesty and vulnerability required to work through and speak about one’s desires.

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