So as a gay guy, I spend more time than I should on grindr (especially because I’m definitely too young for online dating). For those who don’t know, grindr is a mobile app that allows men who want to shag or date men to view similar men in their area, so they can chat awkwardly and set up dates and “meets” (one off fucks) – all from the comfort of their smartphone. So once I have navigated through the pictures of dogs, cars and scenic views (don’t really want to date or shag any of them) and ignored the barrage of messages from “daddy for teen” 50 year olds (who are almost always married), I can actually quite enjoy browsing through it. It’s like ASOS but with less models and more grainy pictures of bare chests.
It’s all a bit of laugh and can be useful if you want sex and it’s not a Friday night but it highlights some of the problems with gay men. One part of the unofficial grindr etiquette is particularly shitty:
Like theatre, nights out and Instagram. Top
Sporty, easy going professional looking for similar. Top. Can accomm
Rock climbing and outdoorsy guy. Love pints, but don’t let the outdoorsy stuff fool you, I’m a bottom
NSA fun! Top, masculine and laid back guy
So I don’t like this “top/bottom” pish for several reasons: It reduces us to body parts from the get go, it limits the idea of sex to anal penetrative sex and most importantly, it ascribes gender roles and enforces unequal power relations. This “top/bottom” binary demonises effeminate men, fetishises “straight acting” men, makes “gayness” something to be avoided if you are to be attractive and it has clear misogynist overtones.
Before I get to the main argument, it is worth pointing out that a lot of gay men don’t like anal sex. The “top/bottom” binary serves to enforce anal sex as the only legitimate type of sex, and in many cases, the sex that gay men are expected to participate in. Not only is this boring as fuck and stinking of hetero, on a one night stand, especially when drunk or inexperienced, anal sex can be and often is awful. We need to be honest about what we like in bed and that includes being able to say no to anal sex, which a “top/bottom” binary makes very difficult.
If you do like anal sex fine, and if you just prefer being on top, or on bottom all the time, that’s fine too; I am not demanding that you change your sex life. All I am saying is that the power relations created by this binary and the misogynist principles at its core can’t be ignored. The “top” is expected to be big, hairy, macho guy; like the guy on the front of a box of Scott’s porridge oats, who likes pints, football and shagging men….oh wait. And conversely, the bottom is expected to be an effeminate, petite man with a high voice and bright clothes. The kind of guy you see grinding their mate to Britney spears, a flamboyant caricature like Louis Spence or Perez Hilton.
Now, not only do people’s manner or dress have fuck all to do with what they like to do in bed, when people apply this “top/bottom” label it has a pretty damaging effect. There is an undeniable power dynamic, which has roots in the misogynist treatment of women by straight men. Men that are seen as effeminate and as such viewed as “bottoms” are ridiculed, scrutinised and often treated like sex objects. While “tops” are desired, respected and in some cases adorned. This binary makes it acceptable to say stuff like “no fairies”, “I fancy men-be one” and “masc 4 masc”. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say this homophobic shite needs to GTFO. As a good friend of mine said, “no fucker got their head kicked in at Stonewall for me to be Masc4Masc”.
This also results in a really unhealthy culture of gay men trying to act “straighter” than their friends by drinking pints, sitting with their legs open or dancing badly. It forces people to act like someone else and is enforced through the casual use of homophobic insults. It alienates a group of men who already often suffer a higher amount of bullshit harassment and homophobia from straight people. The dirty looks, the comments and general hostility online and in LGBT+ clubs towards any man who dares to have a high voice, wear sparkly clothes, or dance to Britney or Gaga, is pretty fucking bullshit and it’s about time we start challenging this.
Obviously this is not the only instance of homophobia within the LGBT+ community but along with the fetishisation of actual straight men, the ridicule and harassment of trans* people and the attempts to hide or assimilate into “straight” life, it makes for a pretty difficult place for anyone who isn’t a “straight acting” white gay man to feel comfortable. And isn’t the value of the LGBT+ movement our ability to challenge traditional perceptions of sexuality and gender? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones smashing homophobic bullshit, not enforcing it?
So next time you are on grindr, please don’t ask anyone if they are a “top” or a “bottom”. Ask them what they like to do in bed, if that’s appropriate for the conversation, but don’t label either of you the “top” or the “bottom”, it comes with a whole load of shit that is fucking up our movement.
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