Queer Sexual Economics: Top + Bottom= Vers?

We might not like to admit it, but sexual positions within the Gay community, whether declared or perceived, can act as a currency used to navigate the Gay world. Whether it be sharp quips about tops being toxic thanks to their alleged take-no-prisoners sexual attitude, or barbs at the gworls, or the bottoms who stand accused of being messy and in constant need of drama, sexual position stereotypes are as prevalent as they are numerous. But what makes us be one or the other, or neither or all at the same time? Why do some of us feel naturally inclined to be one thing and stick there, while others buck the trend and explore? In this series, Queer Sexual Economics, we seek to answer some of these age-old questions. 

A few months ago, I came across a blog offering advice to Gay expats traveling to the Philippines on what to expect, and conversely, was offering pointers to Gay locals on where to meet foreign men. It gave a comprehensive list of dating sites and even gave a rundown of Gay Filipino dating etiquette. One thing that stood out, however, was the mention of sexual positions and expectations therein. It essentially warned foreign travelers against falling for the old “small, submissive, and passive” stereotype that’s haunted Asian men in global dating circles, whether Straight or Gay. I recently tried to find the site again with no luck. Instead, in its place was a spam account offering me sex with beautiful women in my area. Talk about the wrong demographic!

Having lived in China for the past 5 years, I am also quite familiar with the prevalence of such stereotypes. I have had numerous conversations with both locals and foreigners about the Gay dating landscape in China and have heard the common refrain of there being a surplus of bottoms and a deficit of tops. And in increased frustration fueled by the marked change in overall aesthetic to a more “Eurocentric” hyper-masculine aesthetic, the good old ways of sorting the tops from the bottoms can no longer be relied upon. Long gone is the stereotypical slender and effeminate Gay bottom archetype, and in his place, are buff, toned Adonises who make it a point to tell the world of their “0” or bottom status.

“Of the 2,639,857 faggots in the New York City area, 2,639,857 think primarily with their cocks.
You didn’t know that the cock was a thinking organ?
Well, by this time, you should know that it is.”
― Larry Kramer, Faggots

Positions in the bedroom are certainly an important part of dating in this country and indeed around the world, and while you are far more likely to hear foreign daters say they prefer a more versatile or vers experience, locals appear far more forthright and uncompromising in their preferences.

Grooming or Gravity? 

Take friend to the Piquing Duck blog and podcast, Allen Bradshaw, and a recent experience that best illustrates this intransigence. True to form when it comes to his dating life, Bradshaw, who has come to terms with the peculiarities of dating as a Black man of a certain physical appearance in China, was treated to a screenshot in which an acquaintance was hoping to pawn him off to a friend who was in search of a “big 1” and for those unaware of the lingo, it means they were looking for a well-endowed Black top.

Bradshaw’s acquaintance rather generously sells him as a gifted 0.5 or Versatile guy, to which the man he is to be pawned off to still insists on needing a Black, well-endowed top! Eventually, Bradshaw’s WeChat contact information is shared, and the transaction is concluded. Bradshaw’s experience is hardly unique for Black men living and working in China, for whom the collective decision has been made by the Gay community. They are expected to be Black, Top, and hung like a horse. Any deviation from this stereotype is anathema and has no place in the community, much like the alleged unicorn that is the Chinese top who can compete with the Mandingos of this world, and be the preference rather than an afterthought.

“And then he thought, profoundly, how there was something grand about living in hope, but also something terribly unreal and incomplete about it, because when you were hoping, you were not doing or living or experiencing the Now,”
― Larry Kramer, Faggots

Race seems to play a role in what society expects of us in terms of our sexual preferences. While it would appear Asian men are overwhelmingly expected to be bottoms, White men aren’t rigidly held to one or the other, and their outward expression of masculinity or lack thereof isn’t considered an automatic sign of their identifying as either top or bottom. Those who fall within the “exotic” category, mainly Latinx men and Pacific Islanders, your place on the preferred sexual role queue is determined by skin color – the darker you are the more you are expected to be top, while the lighter you look, the more freedom you have to choose your preferred position. Black men have often been hypersexualized and cast in the macho role in modern-day society, and in the Gay world, that involves being the mandatory top. And in this equation, size does matter, as anyone that is considered smaller or weaker, or feminine or effeminate, is immediately cast in the role of the mandatory bottom, with exceptions as to whether submission is part of the deal or not.

Read More:

Race vs. Thought 

Ryan, a Black American Gay man based in Beijing is one such example. “Think that when I began having sex, I was ‘groomed’ into being a bottom, perhaps because of my physical size and my lack of experience,” Ryan said adding that with age and experience, he was increasingly allowed to exercise his sexual agency, but it was still an invitation to be the Top, and now he is rarely asked to be the Bottom. Paul, a White Irishman also had similar experiences, though in his case, it was more a case of supply and ultimate demand. “I think I was pressured into bottoming initially when I started having sex although I didn’t feel naturally inclined to one position over the other. It felt like most men I met had decided they were tops and I had to just get with that, “Paul said, even though he predominantly considers himself to be versatile.

“Straights don’t compare themselves to us!”
― Larry Kramer, Faggots

Outside of race and physical appearance, however, is the intellectual realm. As the saying goes, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” thought and belief might go some way to explaining why we prefer or choose to identify with one position over the other. Some of these thoughts might be traced back to the larger, heteronormative binary which has perpetuated certain stereotypes in the Gay world, including the assumption that bottoms are like women while tops are like men in the larger society. This was certainly the case for Beijing local Ivan, who said of his formative experience, “I used to think there should be a very specific separation from top to bottom. I used to be super strict about it and thought Gay men should be categorized into only top and bottom, and that vers(atile) was just a big lie that one bottom tells to another bottom.”

Vers denial remains a challenge for many who also share this belief that Gay men should identify fully as either top or bottom, and a parallel can be drawn between vers and Bisexual denial when Bisexual men are accused of just being semi-open Gay men. Ivan also explained that for generations of Gay men coming of age in China, there was no cultural reference for what a Gay man should or could be, and instead followed the pre-existing heteronormative binary provided by mature figures in one’s life such as parents. “Naturally I used to feel that I belonged to the bottom category because when I first realized I was gay and then immediately categorized myself within it, I likened it to women and girls. Culturally, in the existing social structures, the female gender represents gentleness and kindness, sensitivity,” Ivan further explains.

“We have the ultimate in freedom – we have absolutely no responsibilities! – and we’re abusing it.”
― Larry Kramer, Faggots

Is this a feature of Gay culture in more conservative countries? It was certainly my own experience growing up in an African country, where those who identified as tops were seen as the men within the community while bottoms were automatically seen and treated as women. Ivan on the other hand, through exploration, considers his perception changed. “When I grew up I started to see lots of things, then I started to realize, sexual positions are nothing but a choice people made,” Ivan says, an assertion for which he might receive pushback from some, but he continues. “I might naturally feel more like a bottom, but with my knowledge gained more and more, I think I don’t care about sexual positions anymore. The only thing I care about right now is when I’m with this person, is there a good vibe or we just don’t work.”

In the next installment in this series, we look at how shame plays a role in cementing or shifting our preferences or choices in terms of positions in the bedroom, and whether there is indeed an answer to the age-old question – What came first, the “strict” or the vers?

Photos: Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Queer Sexual Economics: Top + Bottom= Vers?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: