I went to get my quarterly STD exam the other day, and the nurse who was giving me the questionnaire asked me whether I was a top or a bottom. Even though I knew the question was coming, it annoyed me. Somehow it hadn’t bothered me when they asked how many sex partners I’d had in the last 6 months, or whether I’d ever had an STD before, or whether I used condoms or not. But I stalled when they asked whether I was a fucker or a fuckee, a pitcher or a catcher, Batman or Robin. I’m not uncomfortable talking about my sexual activities with health professionals; it was that they used the word or.

I understand that from a medical perspective, they needed to know whether a urethral or a rectal gonorrhea culture was appropriate. I understand that there are differences in risk factors for one behavior over the other. I understand that there are people who only engage in or prefer one activity or the other. There’s really nothing wrong with the nurse asking if I do top or bottom (as a verb); my distaste was with the fact that she asked if I was a top or bottom. As if that was the defining characteristic of my sexuality! I have nothing against “tops” or “bottoms” insofar as that preference is purely based on sexual desire, and doesn’t become a constrictive sexual identity.

The top/bottom dichotomy has always been one of my pet peeves: it is, at its core, an espousal of the very gender dichotomy that this blog tries to deconstruct. The notion that there is always one dominant (top) and one submissive (bottom) partner in a gay male pair is just a modulation of the masculine/feminine or male/female dyad that has been the root of the mistreatment of women for millennia. Not only is the notion false (yay for versatility!), it’s detrimental to the queer identity and community.

Even if we acknowledge – as we must – that there is no strict correlation between being a bottom and being “femme” (because I know plenty of burly butch bottoms!), there is a stigma associated with being a bottom, even in the gay community. There is a social hierarchy within the gay male world, and bottoms are quite literally at the bottom. The association between femininity and bottoming has served to marginalize a group of people (specifically, guys who take it up the butt) that aren’t even women. Cultural misogyny truly is pervasive; it has spread even to a realm that is almost as womanless as the Freemasons or the Orthodox rabbinate: gay men’s bedrooms.

Not only does the top/bottom dichotomy cause the marginalization of men who like to get fucked, it reinforces the notion of gender inequality in the gay community: wherever the “feminine” is disrespected or devalued, the idea that “women – and anything like them – are inferior” is reinforced. Among a group of people who are by their very nature pushing the traditional boundaries of gender, who are so frequently associated with feminism and women’s rights, and who are the victims of discrimination, it appalls me that such a blatant espousal of misogyny is so commonplace.

I’m not advocating a change in anybody’s sexual behavior; we should all be free to do whatever we want in the bedroom, whether that’s bottoming, topping, or anything else. I AM advocating, though, a disavowal of the identity labels “top” and “bottom” – they’re artifacts of an unequal binary gender system, and their adoption only serves to reinforce that unhealthy cultural construct.

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