As an out gay man since 1999, I’ve been able to observe how traditional models of male hierarchy are not only seeping seeping into our community but becoming widespread. It varies by country, but is mostly based on the traditional view that at the top of the pyramid sits the manly virile man. The more effeminate, the lower one is in the pecking order. In adopting that simplistic view we’ve also simplistically translated it to the sexual sphere. Although most gay men are more versatile in sexuality than the labels “top” and “bottom” let on, those labels are used to accord us value or lack of value.
In that traditional model, we are copying the age-old idea that the male who penetrates is of higher value than the woman who is penetrated. He is the aggressor, he is stronger, he has the control. More importantly, he has something that she wants, the magical penis. This biased model is factually incorrect as most people consciously realize that sex is an exchange where two people are giving each other pleasure, but the myth remains. This construct was of course invented by heterosexual men in an effort to justify the oppression of women. Real human interaction thoroughly disproves the concept just ask any young heterosexual male who has the control, him or the female?
The first time I remember being exposed to this mindset was before I realized I was gay. I was around 12 years old and we were spending vacation in a Latin American country. I overheard a small group of supposedly heterosexual men in their early 20′s having a laughter filled conversation about another young man they knew, let’s call him John. One of the men said that John was gay, he liked to get fucked. The men in the group asked each other if they would fuck John. One said no, the other said that he would, because if he’s the one doing the fucking, that didn’t make him gay.
Years go by and I’m watching Nip/Tuck. A drug addicted character is going to do gay porn to support his habit. Another character says he has to enter the profession in its lowest rungs, he is going to be the “hungry bottom”, if I remember correctly he is even going to get paid less than everyone else in the production because of the low status of the role. I can personally correct that myth from my own short-lived experience in the world of porn, the people who get paid the most are the people who do the most. Versatile actors get paid more than those who just “top” or just “bottom” (the former and the latter get paid the same fee, at least with the couple of companies I worked with in Europe.)
Now in the 21st century we are ill advised to adopt an absurd social construct that designates a person’s value according to their sexual role. It’s a shame that a community that’s attracted to sameness (homo) is finding the need to divide and hierarchize ourselves in such simplistic terms. In doing so we are internalising heteronormative reality and its need to define and label people. I imagine most gay men, as myself, have experimented with different roles and we shouldn’t confuse something that’s mutable and flexible with our identities. That fixation is an outdated heterosexual one.
Here’s an interesting Davey Wavey video and his take on the topic