Part of the View from the Top miniseries.
I started to tell people I was a top and dominant. And by people, I mean sexy hot femmes I flirted with at bars and at queer events and online. I knew enough about topping to start claiming it as an identity. It started fitting more like a worn-in pair of jeans and less like borrowing my best friend’s button-down and tie.
The more I played the part of a top, the more I wanted to be an even better top, even more often. I craved it and longed for it and daydreamed about it, and wanted to do increasingly dirty, painful things in negotiated scenes with others.
My desire to be a top felt like a bottomless well. When I played, it was such relief, such bliss: the precise swing of a flogger, the way I could throw my weight around to slam into their body, the way I could use gravity to pull on nipple clamps or a whip or whatever tools I was using. The physics of it was beautiful to me, like poetry, like staring up at a starry night in the middle of an open desert and realizing how small we all are. Why does a body enjoy this movement? How can I twist from the hips better and use the torque of my entire body, channeled out into my arm and then into the flogger?
I liked it so much that I started to worry. I worried that someone was simply enduring play on my behalf, that they didn’t really want this thing but were allowing me to do it because I wanted it. I worried they only wanted it because they were socialized as women to please, to be accommodating, to say yes to others’ desires. I worried they were just humoring me, and that they were getting nothing out of our interactions.
Because when I bottomed, I didn’t get that much out of it. It was fine, sometimes cathartic, not a big deal — but mostly just meh. So it was hard for me to believe that bottoms got the kind of relief that I did when I topped.
It took a lot of talking to bottoms and submissives to get clear about this. Somewhere along the way — through many dates, and many conversations with women who were interested in bottoming — I started to get it: they get a whole fuck of a lot out of it. Giving over and surrendering was as blissful as my giving over to taking. That letting go was an exercise in trust, just as topping was an exercise in trust.
Sometimes, I heard submissives talk about the same, but opposite, things as me: that they worried that how much they needed to surrender was too much. That how demanding they were for attention and affection was too much. That they didn’t want to top, not ever, so they weren’t sure they’d find someone who didn’t want to bottom.
That’s how I learned Newton’s Third Law of Motion: that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I probably learned it in high school, and I got it in some hypothetical science experiment kind of way, but topping is what really taught me that lesson in my bones. It’s what helped me see that my desires weren’t out of line or wrong or bad or even dangerous, so long as I wielded them with skill and consciousness. I needed to be straightforward about what I wanted, and talk about it, and use the many skills I’d learned in kink classes on negotiation and boundaries and consent and aftercare.
Topping is what taught me that there are those out there with the same but opposite wants, the same but opposite scars, the same but opposite baggage.
In order to stop worrying, I also needed to level up my feminism. I was so hung up on treating women with respect and dignity that I sometimes failed to see their agency. When someone tells me precisely what she wants, and is articulate and strong and experienced and self-aware, and I still don’t trust her and second guess her and think, well, but you probably don’t really want that, that’s just what society is telling you to want, I am not honoring that woman’s agency. I’m not trusting that she gets to consent to what happens to her own body. And that’s bullshit, and goes against my understanding of my own feminism politics.
So I had to change my tune on that pretty fast, and start trusting the bottoms I was dating to know — better that I did — what was right for their bodies.
It helped to date people who knew how to use a safeword. Each time they told me to stop was a relief, and I felt I could trust them even deeper, because I knew that they were in touch with what they did and did not want. And I could trust myself deeper, too, knowing that I was capable of stopping — and actually, it was quite easy to pause and check in and see what needed to shift.
I also had to get over the idea that hitting someone, giving them an intense physical sensation, role playing with someone, or having rough sex with someone was somehow not respecting them or something undignified. That was a weird “moral” piece I picked up somewhere along the way that I eagerly set down. Trusting physics, trusting agency, trusting desire, and trusting the people I played with changed everything.