View From The Top: Theory Is Foreplay, Right?

After being single and looking in New York City for more years than I wanted to be, after dating and one-night stands and too many Craigslist dates to mention, after building a posse of strong friends who wanted the best for me and whose opinions I trusted, after writing writing writing about what it was I wanted in a girlfriend and a partner and an amazing femme bottom, I met Sarah.

(Sarah isn’t her real name. Sarah isn’t technically a real person, but amalgamation of a few different people in order to better protect the privacy of those involved. I’m also fudging the details for the same reason.)

Sarah was everything I wanted — a mouthy, opinionated femme bottom who obsessively read sci-fi and loved restaurants — and our chemistry was off the charts. My hands were made to trace the ample curves of her body. I loved taking handfuls of her long hair and dragging her around my bedroom. She knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid to tell me precisely what it was. She had many ideas about what kind of butch top she wanted, and what kind of butch top she wanted me to be.

We courted the way lovers do in New York City: fucking in alleys and bathrooms, making out in dark bars. We moved in together. She loved wine and we started to frequent a place that served flights near our apartment. She asked me to give her rules. She asked me to take more control, not only of the way we fucked and of her body when we played, but also of her time, of her day-to-day actions. And so our relationship progressed into more serious dominance and submission.

I spent hours and hours talking with her about what kind of ethics we wanted to have around dominance. “How do we do this in a way that embodies our feminist ideals, and doesn’t just recreate some sort of fucked up power dynamic?” I would ask. “Is it wrong to do this in a relationship where the top is the more masculine one, and the bottom is more feminine? Isn’t there a power dynamic already present there? How do we do this right?”

I had a thousand questions. And I wanted her. I dreamed about her, daydreamed about her, wrote love notes to her all day long, wrote erotica about our sex life. We weren’t together all that long, in the end, but she taught me so much about being a dominant.

“When you want me,” she would say. “When you want me so much that it overpowers you and you get that growl and that urge to just take me, that’s what I like most.”

“But what about all the politics?” I couldn’t quite let it go and just be in it with her, which both frustrated her and made her think I was cute, which of course frustrated me. I was a serious feminist, dammit.

“You don’t think all feminine folks are submissive, do you?” she asked.

“Of course not!”

“And you don’t think that all dominant folks are masculine. You think people should explore, and find what works for them. Well, this is what works for me. I love being submissive. I’ve played with being a top and being more dominant, and it’s fun I guess, but it’s not what I want most of the time. I’m domineering enough in my day-to-day life, it’s such a relief when I can turn off that part of my brain and just… receive.” Sarah crawled into my lap as she said this, the backs of her knees over my thighs. I caressed her smooth skin and comforted myself in the feeling of the hem of her skirt. Just enough to feel like I was breaking a rule.

“And I really feel like you see me, you see all of me,” Sarah said, her arm around my neck, nuzzling into my shoulder. “You don’t just think of me as this submissive person who will do whatever you say, no questions asked. You know I make decisions and can hold my own, too. You know I will tell you if I think something you ask of me is messed up.”

I nodded, inhaling the floral scent of her shampoo. “Absolutely. I’d want you to.”

“Do you feel worse after one of our scenes? After you play the football player who is taking advantage of the cheerleader who has been hopelessly teasing him all season long? After you play the single oh-so-lonely dad and I’m the babysitter, and you come home late to find me practically asleep on the couch?”

My internal butch dick twitched. “No, I don’t feel worse. I like it.”

“We’re turning the power structure on it’s head, mister.” Sarah always called me mister, and it made me feel butch and strong. “Our scenes aren’t retraumatizing. Though of course, something could always go wrong, and probably eventually will — BDSM is not foolproof, and it’s always possible that we could stumble into some territory that feels bad after. But I think what’s important isn’t that we don’t ever fuck up, but how we deal with it when we do.”

Sarah started stroking my dick through my jeans, kissing my neck. This kind of conversation was practically foreplay for us.

“I want to make sure I don’t…” I trailed off as she nipped at my ear.

“I know. You want to be so responsible, so ethical.”

“I don’t want to fuck it up. Push too hard. Do something that makes me seem like a sexist jerk.” I wrapped my arm around her waist and palmed a handful of her body, squeezing, urging her closer to me.

“You are too worried about that. Someone will always think you are, just because you like to hurt pretty girls.” She rested her head on my shoulder and started fingering the buttons on my shirt, undoing them one at a time. “There are power differences here, of course there are. Also, I make more money than you do. I have more of that beauty-privilege thing than you do, just by being feminine. In some places, you are in more danger because your gender stands out as different. In others, I get stereotyped and read as straight. I’m first generation American, and my racial dynamics are kind of invisible, because I’m light skinned. You’re white, but you grew up in the counterculture. We both have places where we hold more privilege or margins. It’s not just the gender, and it’s not just the sexual power dynamic.”

I nodded. “That’s true. And we’re starting from zero, from as much equality as we can figure out. If you said you didn’t want to bottom, I would respect that. I don’t expect all femmes to bottom, obviously. I just… tend to want to play with the ones who want to.”

“Uh huh. I can’t tell you how many butches I’ve taken home, before you, trying to pick up a top. They let me pick them up, but they end up wanting me to fuck them. Not that I mind, I mean — I’ll do whatever they tell me. But it’s a lot different when they’re not getting off on the power.”

I laugh. “Yeah, I bet it is.”

Sarah continued to reassure me that wanting this one specific thing — this power dynamic between a butch and a femme — wasn’t some horrible cliche or asking too much or telling the universe that I deserved some demure pretty girl who would just fulfill my fantasies. I wanted a partner, someone to meet me and see the whole of me, not just fit into a mold. But the sex I craved always came back to the femininity and the submissiveness. I wanted to make rules and figure out how to enforce them, to co-create a plan for when the rules weren’t followed. I wanted romance and dirty sex and played-out fantasies. I wanted meals together and cuddling in front of films on the couch; I wanted to be called on my bullshit; I wanted someone to see things about me that I did not.

It was refreshing to be so honest with Sarah, and reassuring to know that someone was out there on the flip side, looking for someone like me, too.

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Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


  1. This article is good as always. But, I can’t help but feel like this was more of a response to the unwarranted criticisms from the last article than anything else. Ignore the haters, Sinclair!

  2. “Sarah continued to reassure me that wanting this one specific thing — this power dynamic between a butch and a femme — wasn’t some horrible cliche or asking too much or telling the universe that I deserved some demure pretty girl who would just fulfill my fantasies.”

    Yes Yes YES! Thank you for your butch top perspective!

  3. I wish I could get my partner to try being a more dominate top. She gets too scared about hurting me. I think maybe I should try talking more and figuring out what works for both of us after reading this.

  4. So I know that you’ve been writing for AS for a while now, but I usually browse while I’m at work…so, I’ve not opened any of them until now. I kept thinking “Oh, I have to remember to read that later,” and today I finally remembered.

    I found Sugarbutch Chronicles a couple of years ago. I was desperately seeking something that looked like my relationship, my sex, in the midst of my partner coming out at genderqueer, switching from femme-presenting to butch-presenting, and wanting to strap on more often than not. The sex was hot, but I was self-conscious of it, and there were so many changes happening all at once.

    I had so. many. swirling thoughts of exactly the topic you addressed here – is it fucked up for the masc partner to be the top and the femme partner to be the bottom? How can we do this without recreating all the fucked up gender dynamics we rally against every day? I can’t remember how I found SBC…I honestly may have been linked from AS. But, god, it was like flood gates opening. Hot, kinky, super-fucking-queer erotica that sounded so similar to my (our) sex. And then to have thoughtful columns about all this stuff written beside it?! Heaven.

    I graduated from a top university with a women’s studies degree, but I swear I learned more about all of this from you, and from AS. Anyways, I’m really glad I finally read your articles here, and thank you for writing them.

  5. I think this article was, at once, very good in and of itself, and a measured and thoughtful response to the concerns that some commenters were having last time.

  6. I’ve always focused so much on how hard it can be to reconcile the desire to be submissive with a commitment to feminist values that I never really thought about dominants out there dealing with the same thing. Really thought provoking article.

    • Yeah! For me, I reconciled submission by realizing that my sexuality was used against me so early in my life that I never got to experience my desire as innocent or sweet. And in a sense, I find that it’s my feminist right to take that back for myself in any way I see fit. But I do wonder if I’m “exploiting” the other person as a therapist.

  7. thanks for this wonderful piece, Sinclair. I like the sound of the amalgamated character Sarah. like many of the other commenters, i’ve learned a lot about (and how to deal with) my own desires, D/s politics from your thinky (and also sexy) writing on Sugarbutch.

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