Growing up, I could best be described as if Tracy Flick from Election was a loud-mouthed goth in addition to being an insufferable overachiever. Every moment of my life was heavily scheduled, and I had more responsibilities with extracurriculars my freshman year of high school than most people have in a lifetime. I desperately needed to find a way to relinquish the power and energy coursing through my veins, but when you’re too young to drive and still have a curfew, finding that outlet can feel impossible.
My asthmatic ass couldn’t find a release with exercise or sports, because it mostly just made me feel like I was going to pass out at any given moment, and I was too neurotic to smoke weed knowing there was a possibility of getting “randomly drug tested” as part of eligibility for some of my extracurriculars. So, I did the thing a lot of people do when they’re trying to figure out their shit, and I had sex with a lot of people.
Given that my exposure to sex was whatever I consumed in the media or whatever Tumblr gif I managed to save between my dad sending emails and my mom playing fake online slot machines on the family computer, I spent my formative sexual years doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing, and never really thinking about what made me feel good. Sex was never bad, per se, but I never had that holy-shit-oh-my-god-i’m-not-even-religious-but-oh-my-god feeling that I kept hearing about.
And then I met her. For the sake of confidentiality, let’s call her Ash.
She was a piano player who sat next to me in biology class, kept her nails short but always painted metallic blue, and was the first person to ever tell me why it was in my best interest to convince my parents to buy an adjustable shower head.
The first time Ash and I had sex was on the dingy basement couch where her brother would crash every time he dropped out of a new trade school and needed a place to stay. The whole room was illuminated by cheap neon signs purchased from Spencer’s gifts, and I distinctly remember this hilarious poster from the late 80s/early 90s of three women wearing sunglasses and Budweiser bathing suits laying on a Budweiser towel tacked onto the ceiling.
We started to kiss and my hands instinctively started traveling. She was very, very into it but the second my hand reached the button of her metallic threaded Candies’ shorts, she grabbed my hand and said the words that would change my life forever: “Aren’t you tired of always having to be the leader?”
I never even knew it was possible to bottom as a queer woman (again, public school sex ed in the Midwest) but once I had experienced it, I knew there was no way in hell I was ever going back to topping. When you’re a hard Type A personality like me, bottoming or serving in a submissive role can feel like an out of body experience. For a brief moment in time, when all of my hormones are going berserk and my nerve endings are vibrating on the verge of exploding, I’m also allowed to shut my brain off and not have to think about all of my responsibilities, deadlines, or five year plans. The only thing I have to do is exist, and maybe follow an order or two, but they’re orders delivered by someone that isn’t me. There’s no intrinsic motivation at play. I’m doing as I’m told, a luxury that doesn’t exist for me outside of this experience.
I also recognize that as a cis white woman, there is a privilege in even having the opportunity to be in a position of power and therefore, my ability to give myself over as a bottom is also a privilege. For the next thirteen years, when it came to women, I lived my life proudly as a pillow-biting, “Yes Ma’am,” begging, people-pleasing, power bottom. This title is something I wear proudly, and whenever I joked about saying someone should “step on my throat,” I actually meant it.
And then I met the one. Right when I least expected it, I met the woman who is soon going to be my wife. She’s a remarkable non-op trans woman with feisty blue hair, the warmest embrace I’ve ever felt, has the ability to make me laugh harder than anyone else I’ve ever met, and there was no chance I wasn’t going to fall madly in love with her.
Oh, and she’s also a bottom.
We didn’t know that we were both bottoms when we met because unlike a lot of other queer folx on dating apps, we didn’t include our preferred positioning in in our profile. If I’m being completely honest, I think half the reason she and I work as well as we do and fell in love with one another as deeply as we have is because we’re both really, really bad at following the stereotypical “queer girl” conventions. We don’t own a cat, we waited over a year before we moved in with one another, and we both think astrology is a crock of shit. Much like how everyone told us “omg you’re both Geminis? This will never work,” we were also told “omg you’re both bottoms? This will never work.”
Joke’s on everyone else; the healthiest relationship and the best sex of my life has been with another bottom.
There’s an old adage that many lesbians have clung to over the years that’s something like “no one can make a woman cum the way another woman can.” Aside from the gross generalization of what makes a lesbian or the assumption that all women are born with the same parts, it’s also strange that the same people who cling to this sort of belief don’t also understand why sometimes partners of the same position preference are the best for the job.
As a lifelong bottom, I know exactly how I want my top to treat me. I know how I want to be held, I know how I want to be talked to, I know exactly what needs to be done or said that allows me to shut my brain off and bottom out. The truth is: I’m a terrible top. I am a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, top. I have spent so many years allowing sex to be my release from the rest of my continually stressful existence, it’s almost like my brain and body don’t know how to continue being “Type-A” with my clothes off. But I gotta admit, learning how to top with someone that I am truly, madly, deeply in love with has been the adventure of a lifetime.
If my girlfriend and I hadn’t established a safe space sexually to figure out how to make this work, we wouldn’t have been able to laugh until we cried when we discovered how unnatural “Yeah, you like that?” sounds coming out of my mouth while I’m riding her. If we hadn’t established this safe space for exploration, we’d never have discovered that our 12-inch height difference means I have to make serious adjustments on my bed frame restraints unless I want to snap my girlfriend’s limbs in half. The first time I slapped my girlfriend’s ass after going down on her, I was so afraid that I’d hurt her that you’d have thought I was pressing a buzzer on Family Feud. I went full hand and no sting — an embarrassingly sad attempt at a slap, really.
Our friends have told us on countless occasions that we can’t call ourselves bottoms anymore, because the reality is that we’re “switches.” Neither my girlfriend or I subscribe to this kind of erasure (just because a bi person dates someone of a different gender doesn’t immediately make them straight, either) because if anything, we’re performing the ultimate bottoming by topping.
The major component of bottoming is centered on trust and giving yourself over to the other person. If anything, topping for my trans girlfriend is an act of me offering my services in a way that are completely out of my expertise, and I do it for her because I love her and there is no one else in the world that I would rather please than her. If that means I have to figure out what the fuck it means to top, by god, I’m gonna figure it the fuck out. When it’s “my turn,” being asked to top feels like the ultimate people-pleasing bottom challenge, and I’ve spent hours of my life watching femdom porn videos and taking notes. (No, really, I’ve got a little notebook like I’m Harriet the fucking Spy). I’ve found that my style of topping is closest to Penny Barber, a “mommy-dom” who uses nurturing attributes as a form of power, which is an easy transition for a lifelong bottom to make when trying to top.
If anything, bottoming by topping my girlfriend (and vice versa) has really opened my eyes to the dangers of boxing ourselves in. We as queer people take a lot of pride in the labels and identifying language we’ve come up with as a community, but as empowering as these labels can be, they can also be really restricting. Many of us hold a lot of stock in identifiers like our star signs or our butch/masc, top/bottom ways of thinking, and it’s shrinking an already small pool of people for us to seek out for companionship. Like everything else under the sexuality umbrella, the ideas behind topping and bottoming are a spectrum. We all have different ideas of what it means to top and bottom, and because our own definitions are going to differ from the person next to us, it’s impossible for us to know if we’re on the same page as someone else just because we slap that label onto ourselves. If I had identified myself as a “power bottom seeking top,” my trans girlfriend would have likely never pursued me, and we never would have found each other.
All of the identifying labels that we had previously held true to us changed once we got together. She identified as aromantic before me but realized after we had met that the label no longer fit her. I was non-monogamous when we met and I’m now very, very monogamous with her. We as people have the ability to evolve and change and the identifying words and phrases to describe us can evolve and change with us. Sure, some of us know very early on exactly who we are and what we like, but that isn’t true for everyone, and there’s no rush in trying to figure it out and stamp a flag on it right away.
Yes! As a bottom now married to another bottom, this piece spoke to me very deeply, thank you! I have also discovered that our desires/motivations/practices as bottoms are so different, that it has made it easier for me to “top” and opened up new explorations for both of us. I definitely identify with the always-in-control in the streets, please-take-control in the sheets feelings you describe so well here, while my partner is much more drawn to bottoming as a kind of emotional processing. In the end, this allows us to complement each other’s needs and desires in powerful ways.
Hurrah for ”astrology is a crock of shit”! I swear believing that makes me feel like a ”bad lesbian” more than not having a cat/ NEVER lived with a gf :D
Just wanna second your Hurrah about astrology with another cheer.
Started at the bottom, now we’re topping from the bottom
i am fully obsessed with this thank you so much for writing it!
Thank you for this!!! I relate to so much of it. I think I am truly a switch, but due to various kinds of trauma have struggled to feel fully comfortable in the role of top. I was just saying the other day that I wish someone would write an article or run a workshop on Trauma Topping ’cause I’d be all over that. But it’s so helpful to read someone else’s similar experiences, and you have some great suggestions / perspectives!
This is a beautiful article, thank you
Now we finally know who that weird voyeur character on CrashPad is–Harriet the Fucking Spy!
Also, this is a really interesting and thoughtful article; thank you for sharing your bottoming trajectory with us.
“(No, really, I’ve got a little notebook like I’m Harriet the fucking Spy). I’ve found that my style of topping is closest to Penny Barber, a “mommy-dom” who uses nurturing attributes as a form of power, which is an easy transition for a lifelong bottom to make when trying to top.”
GOODNESS what I would do for a peek in this notebook. I relate so much to this type of topping.
This made me think of the concept of rolequeer — it stems originally from challenging BDSM approaches to power structures, but one of the applications of this concept is that you can still play with power without needing tops. Two bottoms can create a beautiful, rewarding experience together through mutual vulnerability, rejecting the fetishization of a person taking a role with more power in the dynamic. It is, like the article describes, not quite the same as switching — it stems from a place of almost deeper bottoming, instead. Thanks for the insights!
What do you (/people) mean, when they say “bottoming/topping” here (ie apart from kink context)? Do you refer to being the “active/giving pleasure/doing s.th.” vs. “receiving” part in a given sexual encounter? Like exclusively?
For me all I have ever known is taking turns?!
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s as much about a certain type of energy / initiative / assertiveness as it is about specific acts or who’s receiving what. There was a really good article posted here once that explored all the nuances but I can’t remember the title
Found it, and the reason I couldn’t remember the title is because it was actually a whole series of posts: https://www.autostraddle.com/tag/tops-and-bottoms-sex-survey/
@bjcolangelo what do you (/people) mean, when they say “bottoming/topping” here (ie apart from kink context)? Do you refer to being the “active/giving pleasure/doing s.th.” vs. “receiving” part in a given sexual encounter? Like exclusively?
For me all I have ever known is taking turns?!
I have no idea how to top and my partner would like me to do so. I guess that is why I am on here, to learn something.