1) Someone who prefers to take a more submissive role in sexual situations. This definition pertains to the B/D/S/M (Bondage and Domination, Domimation and Submission, Sado-Masochism) scene.
2) A homosexual male who either a) enjoys receiving anal penetration or b) is actively involved in being anally penetrated.
1) You can tell she’s a bottom because she’s wearing a collar.
2) Oh, Jeff is such a bottom. As soon as any cute guy walks past he’s on his back with his knees by his ears!Source: Urban Dictionary
At 19, I came out as gay. No, I did not come out – I simply started living my life as a gay man. There was no dramatic uncovering of my identity, no nerve-wrecking talks with family or friends, no profound worries about how this change will affect my current non-existing relationships.
At 19, I moved to the US and pressed a reset button. Voila. I was gay. Plain and simple. Like magic.
My fiancé pointed out to me the other day that I skipped one of the most traumatic yet essential part of the gay experience – the coming out journey – and fell straight down into bottomhood. He was not wrong. I have always been much less occupied with the very fact that I am gay, than with the questions of what kind of gay I am, how I can navigate through this novel world, where I fit in within this queer narrative.
A lot of it boiled down to sex for me in the beginning – I was obsessed with sex, with all the funs and games involved, the know-hows, the techniques, the intensities, the messes, the consequences. Sex defined me. It became an arena where I fought for my identity, and very importantly where I learnt how to relate with others.
Being in relations. From the bottom. It matters.
Q: Let’s get right at the point. When did you know you were a bottom?
A: I think I didn’t know for sure until about a year ago, after being more aware of the recurrence of my role, my pattern, my position and my submission during (sexual) activity. However, as much as I hate this essentialist narrative, I think I have always known somehow. I remember at the age of 17, more than two years before I engaged in sex myself (a.k.a. lost my virginity), I pirated the book How To Bottom Like A Porn Star from the Internet, secretly devouring all the ins and outs – the techniques – of bottoming. The prospect of putting anything in my anus at the time was so daunting and unimaginable, yet so real and alluring, and even imminent, that I felt the need to educate myself on how to “free your mind, your butt will follow”, or how to “handle the ick factor”. It seemed vaguely inevitable that I would (be a) bottom in the future, thus I should prepare for what lies ahead.
Q: It is quite fascinating that a constructivist enthusiast like you would resort to an answer of “I have always known”!
A: It is!! It is a paradox for me, and I don’t think I can fully articulate what I mean yet. Because I think my “I-have-always-known” is quite a constructivist statement, in the sense that I have always known that this zone of bottomhood is carved out to be both imposed onto me, and for me to identify-disidentify with.
Q: I am not too sure if I get you there… Don’t you bottom because you enjoy the intensity of having something penetrating your anus and rubbing against your prostate?
A: Yes and no. The pleasure is definitely part of the equation, but the sedimentation of the sexual act into the (sexual) identity goes beyond that carnality for me. A lot of it comes down to what bottomhood signifies – submission, effeminacy, “womanhood” – and how I can personally relate to these significations. It is also the question of who embodies these stigmatized traits and gets pushed down to this zone of bottomhood in our culture.
Q: I can see the parallel between what you are saying on bottomhood and what you have written at length on blackness – on how identity lies somewhere in-between, or even embraces both ends of the imposition-exploration dichotomy. But with blackness, I can see this imposition being much more apparent and violent, as there are no ways out of the signification of the black surface – skin color, hair, facial features. In other words, when you are black, there is no choice but to be black, and there is of course this pressure to be everything that blackness signifies. On the the hand, with bottomhood, you don’t walk around with people pointing at you saying that you are a bottom – quite the contrary, you can choose to be a top at will if you wish. How then do you see this zone of bottomhood imposed onto you?
A: …(pause)… I agree with you on the part that this forcing of bottomhood is less violent than the imposition of blackness and the historical trauma that is carried with it. However, I don’t think being a bottom is purely a choice/ sexual position preference, but bottomhood is extremely racialized and feminized, which is to say that it is tightly connected to the signification of the physical surface – people do assume whether you look like a bottom or a top to a certain extent. If only I could count the number of men on Grindr messaging me looking for a submissive (East) Asian bottom!! Or if you look at gay pornography in the West, you would not be able to find a lot of East Asians topping, because we as a race is often fetishized as an all-obeying object, which can only receive and not give. Moreover, East Asian is the feminine race by default, which explains why in the straight world Asian women tend to be at the top of the dating hierarchy, while Asian men are at the bottom (and quite literally for East Asian gay men). So there is not so much choice for me then, but to bottom, especially when I have a small (feminine) body frame and a humble-sized penis – I internalize from early on that I don’t have what it takes to be/ to look like a good top, and to embody what top-hood signifies. I do learn to enjoy what is imposed on me, though, and to further explore what bottomhood means for myself, to refract it somehow and find the agency within it.
Q: Yet, as an East Asian man yourself, by actively embracing this zone of bottomhood, aren’t you at the same time perpetuating this stereotype?
A: Perhaps, but what are my other choices? If I decide to flip to the top, I am just further reinforcing the presence of the phallus and the dominance of masculinity in our (gay) culture. This binary is already set up for me, and I am fucked going either way. I’d rather be fucked again as a bottom than to engage in a process of remasculization that assimilate myself within the existing patriarchy, even if that means I am perpetuating the bottoming “stigma” for my race.
Q: Why do you feel like you have to fit yourself within this rather reductive top-bottom binary? What about versatility? What about something else altogether?
A: I wish I did not have to fit myself within this binary, but it is here, it is a reality that I have to deal with, a remain of history that especially crystalized after the AIDS crisis, where the act of bottomming was associated with higher risk of contracting HIV virus. I definitely don’t see versatility as a way out, because versatility simply means switching and assuming roles without getting to the potential, the political that transcends sexual positions. If anything, bottomhood is my proposition of a something else, an active reimagining of the binary, a poetic gesture towards the disempowered – the bottoms in the society in every sense of the word “bottom”.
Q: In a way, you are not claiming bottomhood as a literal identity that is defined by and limited to the act of receiving penetration. Shall I say your proclamation is a performative “doing”, an intervention on your part, a proposition of an alternative politics perhaps?
A: Yes, it is a performative “doing” but it is also very literal for me. It is important to stick to the very poetic process of receiving something in your anus, and to keep thinking of “bottom” in terms of its spatiality that holds potential for another way of being in the world. But yes, it is also very performative because there is this sense of absurdity in the public proclamation of bottomhood as an identity. It is uncanny. It doesn’t quite make sense. And I love to play with that. There is something very utopic in claiming that you are something without knowing what that something is, yet. And I will never know – the yet will always be there.