View From The Top: Where I’ve Been

Kinky. Before any of my other sexuality identities, I was kinky. My mind was open to and desirous of whatever dirty sex play I could think of. Light spankings and bondage, different positions, role play, anal and oral and anything else. My sexuality started with this kind of sex — I never had the process of coming to something more “alternative” with sex toys or positions or erotica books. Those were built in for me, right at the beginning — they were how I learned about sex, about my body and others. I told people I was bisexual and wanted to explore with women, which was initially a real turn-on for the cis men I was dating, but easily became a threat.

Queer. With my launch out of the closet, queer kinky sex became the object of my pursuit. I collected every edition of Best Lesbian Erotica (then, three) and pored over every page, every story, for hints of what I might like. I studied in Seattle’s feminist queer sex toy store Babeland like it was a personal history of my people. And it was. Vibrators, butt plugs, dildos — and the dildos needed harnesses, which didn’t come underwear-style yet, and those were over in the leather section. Oh. The leather section. Cuffs and floggers and blindfolds, riding crops and canes. Just a quick few steps over from the naughty dice at the front of the store were the impact toys and tools for rough sex. I saved what little cash I had during college and bought one dildo. I wanted one of everything.

Butch. Coming to a masculine identity came on the heels of coming out queer. But did I just want to cut my hair short and stop conforming to conventional feminine beauty standards because I think that’s what gay people do? I asked myself. No, asked is too light a word: I ruminated day and night. Finally, enough queer theory and women’s studies classes and queer friends of all genders later, I landed comfortably in a butch masculinity. With a nod to all the butches before me, and shoulder to shoulder with the trans men and transmasculine and genderqueer and non-binary and butch trans women and masculine of center folks next to me, I settled comfortably into tighty whities and size 9 shoes. I finally found clothes that fit my body. I finally found my body.

Top. Hot on the heels of queer and butch came “top.” Again, the rumination: Was I taking on this identity because of compulsory heterosexuality? Because the more masculine person is expected to be the top? Or is this legitimately what I want to pursue? I switched for a while, I tried everything I could from all angles, but it always felt like I was just waiting to be on top. Coming to accept my particular alignment of butch and top wasn’t an overnight process; there wasn’t some intellectual way to study up on it and then reach a resolution. It was experiential, over years, over multiple partners and play parties, over dates and discussions and discourse. It was a feminist coming out when I finally internalized how much consent and agency changed every act we did.

Daddy. Nurturance runs deep in me. Though the doing-naughty-things-to-people top play was always fun, I started spending a lot of time holding my partners while they cried, helping them open up, moving some deep unresolved feelings. I channeled parental dominance to hold and support their experience, listening to how they guided me to help them. I didn’t name myself daddy at first. That came much later, after she was “my girl” and we already rocked sweet together. The word took a long time. But, like “baby,” terms of endearment can have multiple meanings. We embodied a new definition, and I embodied a new part of myself.

Leather. I wasn’t much in the community. I would go to the toy stores or kink clubs, but I would go to learn a particular skill, then bring that skill back to my bedroom. I wasn’t there for pickup play or variety — those have never been my kinks. I want to connect, and go deep. My fetish is intimacy. My fetish is trust. I want to see how far in we can go. When I finally craved more friends who could talk deeply with me about my experiences as a daddy and a dominant, taking the sex play out of the bedroom and into day-to-day life, I started to stick around in the kink spaces, going to events, conventions, conferences and week-long summer camps where we played anywhere we pleased. I joined the Lesbian Sex Mafia in New York City, and eventually served on their board helping to produce education sessions. I started to understand the differences between the kinky communities and the leather communities — and I started to get a taste for leather, an inclination toward the hierarchical structures, the power dynamics and the values that are at the core. I dove in.

Dominant. At the same time, my dominance began to extend past the bedroom and into day-to-day life. I would make rules — we would make them together — about how my partner would dress, act, behave. I would take out the trash; she would cook; I would do the dishes because the hot, soapy water would mess up her manicures; she would get a manicure every two weeks. I would hold the container of “being in charge” outside of just the sex we had. We were both inexperienced with that kind of exchange, and we made it up as we went along. It was dangerous. It was fraught. We talked all the talks about it, we walked all the walks. We had agreements and understandings. I trusted her word.

Master. Sometimes it sounds like my identities are based on my relationships, but they aren’t, not entirely. Along the way, I have sharpened myself against those who were strong, against those who offered. I learned and soaked up all I could. Putting my new self next to a new someone else was a surefire way to step into it, step out of my old shadow. But when the people changed my new self was still there, and not reliant upon a particular person, a particular connection. Still, sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever have another slave, if for some reason things don’t work with rife. I have never been this deep with someone, never been this sure, never been tested so hard and never been able to stay to resolve what I thought was unresolvable. Until rife declared himself a slave, I wasn’t a Master. But when one owns a slave, that’s exactly what that is called. I’d always been searching, searching, searching, up to the next level of control, the next level of domination, the next level or ownership, always fearful that it was too much, that I wanted too much, that it was wrong of me to crave such desires. But much like I learned coming into kink at 14, or coming to queerness at 19, or coming to topping at 21 — there are people who crave, just as deep as I do, the other end of the polarity. It’s not a binary, but two opposites of a sphere, the north and south poles, where there is an entire belly of an equator to play around, and I want to be all the way at the very top. And while I perhaps wasn’t ready for it yet, or perhaps didn’t know that’s what I was looking for, all along that is precisely what I’d been building toward.

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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. Very thoughtful delineations, do you expect to ever go looking or to ever find additional identities?

  2. Thank you for sharing your journey. Do you consider any of this journey a logical progression or more of a natural evolution?

  3. “I switched for a while, I tried everything I could from all angles, but it always felt like I was just waiting to be on top.”

    I love this line. It caused me to think about my own experiences in a new way, thank you.

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