Let’s talk about topping from the bottom.
Recently I did tentative discussions about stuff with someone about kinky fun times- the usual things about what happens to whom, and how. and, over the course of very gentle exploration, we discussed that there were things he liked, yes, but he didn’t want me to think he was topping from the bottom.
A bunch of people are weighing in on this particular dispute topic right now- the danger on emphasizing the negatives of that term. Snarksy blogged about it, where as over on Twitter @MsCrosswords from Beyond the Valley of the Femdoms was talking about the challenge of a partner who thought he wasn’t allowed to ask for stuff. At all. I’m old enough, in terms of participating in the online kink stuff, to remember when the term was not out of favour in the circles I run in. To be precise, “Topping from the bottom”, when I first encountered it, meant the phenomena in which the one who is receiving the topping (the bottom) or the person who is ostensibly submissive, is calling the shots in some format.
Back in the day, it was often a term used for a punishment dynamic gone wrong, where the rigidity of the rules meant that a masochist was getting rewarded for doing stuff the dom really didn’t want. It’s also was expanded to refer to the phenomena of the laundry list, something that seems mostly particular to F/m more than M/f. In that case, it was a series of demands based on the sub’s perception of D/s in exclusion to what the dom wanted, often with poor desire to respect boundaries. It’s good to have a term to talk about this problem, right?
So how can this go wrong?
Unfortunately it also nudges up against another problem, the idea that subs aren’t actually entitled to get what they want and any request or need is bad and wrong. “Topping from the bottom” becomes a useful cudgel for this sort of stupidity, another face of the “True Submission” nonsense that blossoms like mildew in a cheap apartment bathroom. I’m not going to pin this one on jut wicked doms exploiting the naive either, I also see it in the sort of vituperative mutual condemnation of people who ID as subs policing each other when they try to brag about how much better than the competition they are.
This sort of absolutism doesn’t really leave much room for subs and doms to have imperfectly meshing kinks- in fact it creates a challenge because nobody is perfectly lined up like the ladder halves of a DNA helix. And dominance often has a need to feel like you are getting your way, not necessarily in a fashion that thwarts the sub, but certainly expresses priorities in your favour, or at least in the direction of your will being weighted over theirs.
So you’ve got a dialectic going on, between the fact that submission is open to literal and not just fantasy exploitation, but that the need for actual submission of the will in some capacity is usually common to dominants. On the one hand, the sub party’s needs are valid and important, on the other hand it’s not very power-exchange-y if the dom isn’t actually calling the shots. I’d put Ferns, of Domme Chronicles, on the pro-obedience side of the dispute of just how much compliance is negotiable. She calls herself “Curmudgeon“, but her don’t budge attitude is a good counterpoint for trying to define what you want as a dominant without sliding into dom-ism.
Now, my perspective on this is that topping and domination are two different things for me. I tend to think of the former as task and skill oriented, and generally identify as a lousy top on that measure, but dominance is a matter of tugging on the right threads in a person to pull them in the direction you want. I want to see someone opened up to me, wanting me and effected by my activities. For me it’s good to know what my partners like, because figuring out my position as a dominance is enhanced by knowing that does and does not make them happy. On the flip side, the pre-trained self contained submissive is not easy for me to work with- someone complacent and experienced with being put through their paces is like trying to climb a wall of oiled glass. I like having a genuine impact on men. And I would rather seduce someone with my apparent vulnerability than try to master the already mastered. So, let me tell you a story, which long time readers may be familiar with, but those of you who are newer won’t be:
Once upon a time, almost five years ago, there was the Swede. He was sweet and handsome, and here in Montreal on a long, but not permanent business trip. The Ex and I had our first breakup, the one where things had not gone completely off the rails like they did in the three years after we hooked back up. The Swede was sweet, had a nice dom back home (described by him as a blonde with big breasts and a former ballet dancer). He had a leg up in practical experience, and as a then fledgling dom, honestly, he was a very good and patient trainer sub for me to teethe on. But there was the aforementioned oiled-glass-wall problem. Only the thing is, for him he was an as yet un-self identifying switch.
Now as a matter of personal taste I prefer the switchy ones. Strong, the Ex (although the Ex wasn’t really able to bridge the gap from fantasy talk into subbing) and so forth definitely all have vibes in that direction. I like my dynamics ambiguous, and I like shoving boys down. Now in the Swede’s case I quickly learned I could push all sorts of buttons by the way I posed and wriggled. And it was hilarious, because he wanted to be this perfectly buttoned down, arms behind the back sub and instead he was getting these overwhelming urges to take and hurt me and was thrown completely off kilter by them.
Being a happy masochist, I was down for more than just the usual femdom menu one tends to get stereotyped into, and in function I got way more dominant thrills from helping initiate him into later identification as a switch than I did out of just putting him through ordinary paces. It still gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see his escapades play out through fetlife.
If I don’t know what someone wants, I can’t hardly have power over them specifically, because part of power is the ability to choose how to make someone else react. Thus, a lover who completely removes his desires from the equation is taking away a fair share of my control. Heck, if all he wants is to please me with whatever I happen to decide that moment, it feels the same as if he only wanted one particular sex act for selfish reasons, so “I just want to please you Mistress!” is kinda the kiss of death as well as really disempowering.
Reactions, real reactions, are part of the drug that draws me into the elaborate and often silly bedroom games that make up kink. From a real from the chest groan of over strained pleasure to awkward snickering when you miss and fumble your aim, I like it. and you can’t have your full range of reactions unless the other person’s desires are invested into it too. Of course there are limits- I don’t have time or patience with people who can’t yield. And on the flip side I think a 24/7 relationship would feel more responsibility than relaxation- but bring the list of fetishes, and, if I like you, we will find a way to make it work together.