And why top-bottom stereotypes are rooted in misogyny.
Dear Dr. Laura,
I am a gay man who is also transgender. As if relationships weren’t difficult enough to navigate already, I can’t seem to figure out how to navigate the intersection of my identity with potential partners—everything tends to come to a screeching halt when I mention being trans. What do you do when your community only accepts half of who you are?
Dear Multifaceted Marvel,
Thank you for offering such a profound and important question that we certainly don’t talk enough about as a community. You are definitely not alone in your pondering of how to navigate more than one queer identity. Being marginalized in one way is enough, without adding an additional identity that can make a person feel deeply overwhelmed. Let’s discuss why this is—and some possibilities for navigating it successfully.
Let me just say up front that dating sucks (and not in a good way). Some people love the journey of meeting strangers—wondering if they like you and if you really like them, and then endlessly navigating where things are going and if things are still okay. Well, good for those people—most of us hate these emotionally and financially draining ordeals. And that’s just the dating part alone! Now add in our many identities: gender, race, religion, economic status, abilities, disabilities, and sexual orientation further complicate what is inherently a difficult process. Straight, white, cis, able-bodied folks make endless movies, songs, and TV shows about the perils of finding someone who likes them, and they have every privilege going for them. Not fair at all! So take comfort in the fact that you are completely justified in saying that this is no easy task. Too often I see friends, families, and fellow experts say the tired go-to lines of, “There’s somebody out there for everyone,” “Just keep putting yourself out there,” and “Don’t give up, there is still time.” And while there is truth to all of those things, they can also be a form of gas-lighting to the realities of dating as a minority.
The LGBTQ+ community is a complicated place. For most of our history, the “G” faction held most of the power, and even today most queer spaces are for gay cisgender males who are predominantly white and wealthy. Few in the community have taken the time and energy to understand that gender, sex, and sexual orientation are all completely different things. While many LGB people have educated themselves about sexual orientation, far fewer have put as much effort into understanding gender and the trans community. This is not only a shame, but a loss and tragedy for our people. One kind of queer is no less than another kind, and all need an equal platform for being heard and celebrated.
So what can you do? You are finding partners who are okay with you being a gay man. Yay! That’s hard enough, right? But then you mention that you are a trans man, and poof, they disappear. That is awful and unfair. The problem is that you are trying to date people who can only love part of you, not all of you, and all of you is what you 100 percent deserve and can get. So, how do you find these people? My first suggestion is to look beyond outlets for cis men who identify as gay. Look into outlets for other trans men who will not only be comfortable with all of your identities, but who will also genuinely connect to your experiences. Secondly, look past men who identify as gay. There are bi and pansexual men who aren’t attracted to only one gender/sex and can be completely and totally into every part of who you are. You shouldn’t have to feel afraid of disclosing your identity and truth in order to find love/sex/companionship. Be open and upfront with who you are, and ask for nothing less than a partner who adores and admires your whole being.
In Sex Positivity,
Dear Dr. Laura,
I hear people in the queer community talk about being “tops” or “bottoms” and feeling very strongly about which one they are. Why do you think some people only want to top or bottom during sex?
Dear Positional Ponderer,
Tops and bottoms, bottoms and tops. Like dogs or cats (and chocolate or vanilla), people love to pick sides and stick to them like glue. Part of it is evolutionary—we humans like to categorize things to better understand ourselves and the world around us. We find comfort in labeling our experiences and the experiences of others so that we can process where we fit into society. As comforting and confirming as labels can be, they are also limiting and often lead to a hierarchy of “better” and “worse” options.
Top and bottom identities can be found in numerous queer communities, but are most often associated with gay men. Lesbians use them as well, and almost all other queer communities use them at least intermittently. Top and bottom are also different than dominant and submissive identities, but can sometimes be used interchangeably. Tops are most often the giver of sexual penetration or dominance, while bottoms are seen as the receivers and may take a more submissive role (though not always, which is known as topping from the bottom). Then there are versatiles, who feel comfortable in either role/position.
Both roles are normal, healthy, and good. No one should say that one is better or worse than the other, but sadly we too often do. Bottoms are often seen as weak/feminine/passive, when this is not at all true. These beliefs actually stem from misogyny, or the disdain/hatred of women. Since heterosexual women traditionally receive their male partner’s body during sex, bottoms are equated to women and thus seen as “less than” tops due to patriarchal beliefs about gender. This is terrible for women, for bottoms, and for everyone else involved. Whether a person enjoys the physical positioning of being on the bottom or top in a sexual encounter (and whether they separately enjoy a more dominant or submissive role) does not make that person better/worse, more masculine/feminine, or weaker/stronger than the other. As queer people, we are already marginalized and put down for our sexuality and desires by far too many in society. Let’s agree to instead embrace what we like, label it if we choose, and celebrate whatever works best for each individual.
In Sex Positivity,