View From The Top: How Topping Taught Me Physics And Feminism

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.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

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. I wanted to quote favourite lines but that ended up as about 80% of the piece, so, just, great writing, I can relate.

  2. As a masochist and bottom, at one point has was difficult. Do I want too much? Is my intensity too big? “….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.” Thank you.

  3. bdsm, that is what high school physics classes need to better understand the curriculum.

    Can you imagine a female teacher teaching a physics class with a male or female tied up and hanging from a rope in front of the students. All in an attempt to teach them about newton’s laws of motion.

  4. It’s as if you were leafing through the pages of my brain and decided to plagiarize my thoughts. I relate so much to this article, the longing to top, to dominate a partner and the concerns over whether that partner truly enjoyed it or was just being accommodating, whether it is really possible for someone to love being dominated as much as I love to dominate. I’ve been there. Reading this was like a breath of fresh air, so well articulated.

  5. As a sub I can relate to what you wrote about other subs, “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.” As someone who has absolutely no desire to ever top, I truly enjoyed reading this perspective from the opposite side.

  6. Did anyone else read “my desire to top felt like a bottomless well” as a pun at first?

  7. So many things to think about, but mostly, as a bottom, relating to the feeling of thinking I want to _____ too much. Struggling to accept that I can be masculine-of-centre, strong, confident, queer AND be a bottom, with a lot of desires, that seem so contrary to all the aforementioned. Thanks for the great read.

  8. Currently wondering if I should incorporate kinky sex into my study routine… Can’t hurt to find out!

  9. LGBT sex is not a “part” no wonder straights hypersexualize us so much with this kind of head start for them. We have a long way to with this infantalizing of our relationships. Good thing they deemed doma unconstitutional of we are going to label our sex as roles. AS do better sheesh.

  10. This article really spoke to me as a pansexual trans man top and Dominant. I never second guessed my desire to top and dominate trans and cis men, but I did worry about doing so with trans and cis women as well as non binary folks, due to the transmisogynist violence that trans women and NB AMAB people face. Then there’s the often self-debasing grooming that cis women and NB ARABs can often be subject to throughout childhood and adolescence that teaches them that their only value is as sexualized toys who seek to give their partner pleasure even if it’s at their expense.

    Bodily autonomy should be every person’s birthright. Safe, sane, and consensual play must take this into account, and I need to respect and not second guess my partners’desires, no matter their gender.

  11. Both View From The Top and Bottoms Up make my brain go go go and I can’t articulate any of it in way that I think could be understood.

    But this time I’m going to try because I think it follows a coherent thread and it’s important to me.

    I can know that something is not disrespectful or undignified to the person, but there are somethings, specific things, I cannot do to people because they open my own wounds and I cannot maintain…distance. I’ll end up being the person needing some kind of after care or trying to shoulder it alone. Poorly.

    The reason I’m compositionally limping along with this is to say there can be hard limits from either side and those should be respected and treated as valid.
    Just because you’re dominant or even top doesn’t mean you have be tough and suck it up to do what ever someone else wants of you if you cannot handle it in healthy way.
    You too have the right to say no, to not consent.

    I’m trying very hard not add in an anecdote of someone trying to goad me into doing one of the specific things I don’t. Trying very hard to make me mad, poke at any insecurities an insecure dom might have in hopes making it happen.
    Emotional abuse IS abuse.

  12. Thank you for this, especially the bits about the worry. The worry that these kinds of desires might be a result of socialization and misogyny, maybe pathology, and how you personally – and thus many of us also – can work towards accepting them as more than healthy and as authentically our own. A process for a lot of us.

Comments are closed.