Part two of this post can be found here.
Just to be sure my title is clear, I’ll say it again: Topping from the bottom is not actually a bad thing.
There are many in the BDSM world who would tell you that it is, or insist on ways a submissive identified person can be too pushy, or ways that a dominant identified person always does ‘x’. It’s bullshit all the way down, folks. Sub and dom and top and bottom exist as labels to be useful and help us meet our desires, not police the way people are functioning. Folks love to say “don’t top from the bottom”, but why exactly shouldn’t you? Whose job is it to decide what a ‘good’ bottom needs to be?
I was reminded of how irksome I find this phenomena—especially the notion of “no topping from the bottom” when I snapped the photo below at Folsom last month. Society of Janus was holding a fundraiser for TASHRA by selling public spankings. The entire thing was clean, safe and incredibly well organized, save the inclusion of one tragic phrase which really annoyed me, so a few days later I tweeted:
Loved the @societyofjanus fundraiser for @KinkHealth at #Folsom, but not the language for rule 3. pic.twitter.com/4HewCsvSNA
— Snarksy (@Snarksy) October 2, 2013
Even if meant in jest, chastising folks in public for “topping from the bottom” can intimidate them out of feeling comfy with negotiation.
— Snarksy (@Snarksy) October 2, 2013
No one replied to these tweets. Sometimes my rants get decent feedback, but not this one. I tagged TASHRA (@kinkhealth) and the Society with no effect; I don’t know if they saw them, but have to assume they might have.
Perhaps my followers didn’t see them either—perhaps they did, and didn’t feel moved to respond. It’s easy for a tweet to get lost (and my account is really quite small.) It’s also easy to ignore how big an issue phrases like “no topping from the bottom” can really be.
It doesn’t actually matter if people read the tweets, and I am not trying to lash out against the SoJ—I’ve never had a reason to dislike them in the past. But this issue is important and I don’t think everyone truly understands that. Part of what made that sign so upsetting to me was that the SoJ was soliciting ‘noobs’ off the street, trying to persuade passersby that if they were new and curious, the spanking booth was a safe way to explore. I understand their point—in a highly public space, with skilled practitioners, you very well might be able to safely explore an impact play you are curious about and don’t currently have access too.
But I had to wonder about the impact of their sign. It made me feel anxious just reading it—and I have experience in the community, and understood the supposed context for the humor. What about someone who is new? While the guy with the bullhorn outside the booth kept giving props to the importance of consent, the sign right next to him was suggesting something else. Even in jest, that sign was suggesting that you might be less cool if you speak up and articulate your desires.
There is a pressure, represented by the SoJ sign, but found throughout the BDSM community, to not really articulate your desires fully. This pressure is not necessary. In a culture that makes honest sexual communication hard, only those who are seeking to abuse benefit by making this communication even harder. I think the SoJ should have known better when they put up that sign, but I also think they lost out as much as we did. I really believe they wanted to have a safe and consensual environment; they got swept up by an unhealthy rhetoric that is so pervasive, it is hard for most of us to even see it for what it is.
No topping from the bottom is often a way of telling subs “don’t negotiate too hard, don’t risk not being sexy enough.” I don’t think the Society of Janus wanted that anymore than I do. Yet, the punchline of the “your domme is always right” joke is steeped in a seriously fucked up reality about abuse and communication in the BDSM community.
In a few days I’ll be posting a part exploring this dynamic more, but for now, I just want to leave it at this: Topping from the bottom is not actually a bad thing, and you’re not doing the kink scene any favors if you try to say it is.