Tops are human, too
Breaking news: tops are human.
Tops have our own needs, desires and limits, both soft and hard. We have our own physical and mental issues, and boundaries. We have our own struggles.
In an apparent response to ‘ultimate dominates’, ‘twoo dom(me)s’, etc., who adopt a pose of uncaring arrogance towards bottoms and submissives - “bottoms and submissives only exist to fulfil my needs and desires” - i've observed an overcorrection in the opposite direction: discussions in which it's either implied, or explicitly stated, that the sole purpose of tops is to fulfil the needs and desires of bottoms, and that a top is not a top unless they have a bottom[a].
- “The sole purpose of tops is just to fulfil the needs and desires of bottoms.”
The needs and desires of a bottom are indeed not only important, but critical. It can be easy to make assumptions that can cause problems for a bottom: a given bottom might be into heavy pain play overall, yet a light spanking specifically might be emotionally loaded, and cause severe emotional distress. So clear communication - both before and during play - is important for the bottom, to give them opportunities to express what they are and aren't into, and to express their soft and hard limits[b]. Additionally, the needs and desires of bottoms in terms of aftercare can be critical as well - a given bottom might need specific types of aftercare, without which they might end up in a bad space[c].
That said, it seems to me that kink scenes are unlikely to go well if the needs and boundaries of the top aren't adequately considered. Tops, too, can not want to engage in various types of play for various reasons - ranging from “I'm just not interested in X”, to “I would have difficulties doing X due to health issues / disability”, to “X is actively triggering”. And just like bottoms, tops can initially find we're okay doing a particular scene, only to find midway through that something has put us in a bad space, and continuing the scene would be actively harmful to our health. Bottoms are not the only ones that might be psychologically harmed by a scene.
Further, _tops can need aftercare too_[d]. i'm not at all suggesting that scene bottoms should be the ones providing it: as much as possible, i prioritise the aftercare needs of the bottom well before my own, because i regard that as part of the responsibility of being a top. At the same time, there have been occasions where a scene has had significant emotional impact on me, and i've keenly felt the absence of aftercare supporting me through it.
- “A top is not a top unless they have a bottom.”
Well, is a woman not a lesbian unless she is actively partnered with another woman? Is a woman not bisexual unless she's actively partnered with both a female-identifying and a male-identifying person simultaneously? Is a woman not polyam unless she has more than one partner at the same time? The idea that one isn't an ‘X’ unless one is demonstrating it via a certain type of person ‘Y’ is something that sexuality and gender communities outside of cishetnormativity have been fighting for many years.
The argument might be made: “But those things are orientations, whereas being a top isn't an orientation.” Isn't it? i only rarely feel the willingness (let alone the desire) to bottom. Just because switches exist, doesn't mean everyone is really a switch, any more than everyone is really bisexual (or pansexual, etc.).
Certainly the reverse of the claim - “A bottom is not a bottom unless they have a top” - is problematic in a number of ways: not least, that it buttresses the notion that a bottom is inherently worthless, and only gains worth from having a top[e].
Maybe what's actually meant is: “You can't express your toppiness without a bottom willing to express their bottomness.” If the claim is indeed about expression, then that seems reasonable on the face of it; but then, so does “You can't express your bottomness with a top willing to express their toppiness”, which again brings us back to the need to consider the needs, desires and boundaries of tops.
So, yes, it's important to counter the attitudes of the ‘twoo dom(me)s’ of the world, and emphasise the need for care and consideration of bottoms. But i'm much less enthusiastic about doing so by reducing tops to being little more than an instrument for the needs and desires of bottoms. For me, kink needs to be founded on care and consideration of all parties involved.☙
[a] This piece was inspired by a kink workshop i attended in which these attitudes were on display.
[b] One “bdsm/fetish/kink checklist” has ratings that run:
“This is something I really do like/want.”
“This is fun, I like this.”
“I'm not sure, let's try it out.”
“I'm not really into this, but if it turns my partner on I don't object.”
“This will turn me off, I don't like this.”
“This is an absolute no go.”
[c] Which can include the top simply giving them space.
[d] Apparently some people claim that ‘top drop’ isn't a thing. My personal experience suggests otherwise.
[e] This is distinct from a bottom who actively kinks on being ‘worthless’. It's about their inherent worth as a person, rather than being ‘worthless’ in the context of a particular dynamic.