View From The Top: I Started As A Bottom

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I started as a bottom.

When I was in high school and starting to discover sex, and kinky sex, and the internet (it was 1993) and the newsgroups with 3.3 million users, it didn’t take me long to also discover that boys on those kinds of platforms were very, very eager to talk about sex. With me (or anyone, really). And, because boys have something to penetrate with and I had something to penetrate, I, like the vast majority of us, fell into the assumption that that meant I had to be the bottom. The “submissive.”

It would take me years to uncouple those identity alignment assumptions, and to figure out that my own path was one of topping, dominance and mastery.

I spent six years with my high school boyfriend. I wanted to do everything with him. He was really into the idea that I was into women, so that was a bonus for me. It was just a hot fantasy we would talk about during sex, that occasional whisper: Wouldn’t you like it if another woman was here, what if you were licking her pussy, what if she was licking yours. And that, for a little while, was enough.

Until, you know, it wasn’t.

But meanwhile, we tried everything we could think of — blindfolds, silk scarves as restraints, anal sex, sensation play, wax, ice. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves, and something was missing, but I knew I liked rough sex. I could never quite place why it was that I still wanted… more. Something else.

Meanwhile, I was still writing online, sharing my life through the growing communities of LiveJournal and Diaryland. I made many bisexual feminist friends, other young women also sharing their lives, many of them writing about trying to figure out how to get out of their relationship with their boyfriend so they could go be gay. That was my story, too. We talked every day, sharing our action plans and our fantasies about women.

I left him because I was gay, or at least that was the reason I gave. Though I’ve known since middle school that I was into women, it wasn’t until I left him when I was about 19 that I came out as queer and started focusing on dating women. I’d taken a break from school between high school and college to figure out what life outside of Alaska was like, and shortly after the break up I went back to school and started discovering academic women’s studies, feminist texts and queer theory.

In college, rooted in a lesbian feminism philosophy that I was devouring, I was definitely into the egalitarianism of I-do-you-you-do-me sex. We’d take turns, neither above nor below each other, and each of us would get something we wanted.

Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to work.

But I still craved kinky sex. I still craved the spankings and the sex toys that my ex and I had experimented with. I fell in love with my best friend (as one does) in college, and because she attended sacred sexuality weekend retreats with the Body Electric School, I started to explore that, too, and found some of my most cherished teachers.

That’s about when things got complicated, however, and evolved so that I was much more interested in topping. I’ll never forget a workshop I attended — titled “Power and Surrender” — where I learned how to tie a meditative rope harness covering from shoulders to pussy on another woman, and how to throw a flogger. That workshop changed me, opened up a sense of empowerment, authority and strength that I had previously repressed.

And then there was the little issue of my budding sadism: I knew that sometimes deep release was necessary in order to break through to the next stage of development, and when women would cry — and I mean really sob, really break down and wail — during the workshops, I would get incredibly, incredibly turned on. Hmm, I thought. There’s something going on here.

I went out and bought a three-foot-long leather flogger the next day.

But it wasn’t just that easy, not really. I agonized over the position of topping women, of dominating them. I had eaten up all that feminist theory (much of which, now, seems so incredibly outdated!) about how all forms of penetrative sex are rape, and that kink is inherently demeaning to women, and that violence in any and all forms is wrong, wrong, wrong. But is kinky sex really “violence?” I had to dig deep and figure out how the violence really came in lack of consent, and that with consent, activities become “intense sensation” instead. It took me many dozens of conversations with dozens of lovers who explained things to me (patiently and kindly), and talked about agency, and care, and safe words, and all the smart techniques kinksters use to explore deeply vulnerable play.

If someone had told me then, I never would have believed that I’d end up in the relationship I’m in now, with a 24/7 trans boy who identifies as a slave, and I as his master. I never would have expected to have occasional lovers on the side. I hadn’t guessed I would have let go of monogamy, or of partnering with femmes (though that does remain the gender I am primarily attracted to). It took a long time to figure out how to go from a playful bisexual bottom to the queer genderqueer butch dominant that I am today.

So how’d that happen? How did that transformation take place over the last fifteen years? How did I go from being so hesitant to slap a girl across the face, even when she was asking — begging! — for me to do so, to now being able to use erotic humiliation and extreme sensations in my sex life? How did I reconcile my feminist beliefs, which sometimes seemed completely at odds with my carnal desires for rough sex and crude fantasies?

I’ll tell you.

Welcome to View From The Top.

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 40 articles for us.


  1. Looking forward to more articles. It was one of your articles that made me identify as kinky rather than a bottom or anything I had thought of before. Think as we get older if we’re lucky we can narrow down who we are little by little.

  2. I’m so thrilled about seeing Sinclair’s writing—who has the smartest, passionate writing about my favorite topics!—on Autostraddle, which is obviously also full of smart, passionate writers.

    I’ve eagerly awaited this column for awhile, and it’s so good to see the first View from the Top drop this week! There is a feminist (book club) meetup group here in Seattle that I’m a part of that is vehemently opposed to kink, and they just sent out an invite to discuss BDSM and feminism. I realized that I don’t have the patience to show up to defend my lifestyle again to a group of people who have expressed that the sex I have with my partner is just a result of the patriarchy and that if I was a better feminist then I would stop enjoying the things I’ve desired my whole life.

    It was sad to lose that group as a place where I could participate in thinking critically about kink and feminism—but now it’s come to Autostraddle!

    Also, I’m really glad to see both Sinclair and rife participating here in the comments, it makes me so happy to hear the view from the bottom, too, and I greatly admire you both! :)

    • Ugh, that sounds really hard Lady H! I’ve been in feminist groups that are really against BDSM too, it’s a tricky place to navigate. And eventually I just had to stop trying to argue, we had these fundamental differences about how we saw the world and I realized I probably couldn’t change their minds. Although I have heard from some folks, years later, who said that I helped them open their minds and change them about the how BDSM can possibly be empowering to some folks, so that’s good I guess. But it took so much effort and sadness and emotional labor on my part, I got less willing to do that as I got older, and more picky about my friends and groups. Which was a loss for me, in lots of ways.

      Totally makes sense that you don’t have the patience for this particular feminist group. Also there are some really good kink spaces in Seattle! The Leather Reign event happens in November (?), and the Center for Sex Positive Culture is awesome. Plus of course Babeland, they usually have good resources too. Highly recommended, just in case you don’t know about ’em. (I went to UW and SCCC and came out in Seattle, and I still spend a lot of time there. Love that town.)

      • Yes! Emotional labor has been on my mind so much over the past year — I can relate to being less willing to waste it these days. It’s bittersweet to get that time back and have to grieve the people you lost because they relied on your emotional labor to maintain a relationship.

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