Bottoming as a Step on the Way to Topping

LilyLloyd wrote this amazing post about how “The whole born dominant bullshit is… well, bullshit”. It’s fantastic and you should read it right now. And it gets better! A Feminist Sub left this brilliant comment:

Really interesting post! I do have to say that I have a problem with the old Leather idea of bottoming as a step on the way to topping, because I think it conveys an idea that topping/domming is more valuable than bottoming/submitting. Like subs are simply people who couldn’t cut it as doms.

I don’t *think* that was the intended message with that tradition, but I do think that it’s contributed to domism in contemporary BDSM culture – I think the “standards” for calling oneself a dom are much higher than for calling oneself a sub. To be a sub, you just need submissive desires – to be a dom, you need credentials. Hence all the ranting about how there are no “real doms.” And I think that’s another reason that it seems like there are so many more doms than subs.

That blew my mind. It makes so much sense, but somehow I just never saw it before. Of course we don’t see submission as valuable in its own right if we treat it like it’s just a stage you go through before you reach the real goal of becoming dominant.

Why don’t we ever suggest that submissive/bottom type people try topping? We tell tops all the time that you should bottom before you top. It’s certainly true that there are lots of things you can learn by bottoming, but there are also plenty of things you can learn from topping. I can tell someone I really do want to hear about what my bottom wants until I’m blue in the face, but if they try topping it might click for them that’s it really is helpful to get some feedback.

Then again, it would totally destroy the dominant mystique if any lowly submissive could pick up a flogger and try it out for themselves. Anyone can bottom after all, it’s only the chosen few who can top. And if you actually believe that, there’s a Nigerian Prince who would like to speak with you, you poor stupid fuck.

Assuming that just anyone can bottom but topping is special is pretty much the dictionary definition of domism. With how passionately I hate the idea that I’m somehow more worthy because I decided to call myself dominant, I’m amazed and kind of disturbed that I never saw it before. I should know better, but I just didn’t see until A Feminist Sub pointed it out. This is how ingrained domism is in BDSM culture, and this is why I rail so hard against it when I see it.

4 thoughts on “Bottoming as a Step on the Way to Topping

  1. I absolutely see what you, Feminist Sub, and others point out–that treating bottoming/submission as a stage before topping/dominating might (and often does) indicate devaluing of bottoms/submissive.

    But in a lot of cases, I imagine (or I hope) potential tops might want to bottom or feel they should bottom to see what it’s like, to understand more about the responsibilities that accompany both positions, and to better understand the implications of their actions as tops and the consequences for bottoms.

    And, as you suggested, why not ask bottoms to try topping for those same reasons?

    Asking people to try both/different roles might lead to more understanding, more compassion, and more empathy for all parties… and that certainly could be a good thing.

    (Of course, I think demanding that tops bottom or bottoms top is a different story–that might devalue roles and the people in them and force people to do what they really don’t want to do.)

    • I absolutely agree that tops should at the very least whap themselves on the hand with their own toys to get a basic idea of how they compare to each other. It wasn’t until I bottomed to a friend during the practice portion of a flogging workshop that I understood how vulnerable you feel when someone’s standing behind you about to hit you with something.

      But it blows me away that it never occurred to me that saying tops need to try bottoming but never the other way around makes it sound like bottoming isn’t special, that anyone can do it.

  2. I’ve been identifying as dominant for a long time, but only started lurking in relevant internet communities a couple of years ago – so this whole “you have to bottom before you can top” thing is a fairly new sentiment to me. And I have to say…when I came across that advice, I snort-laughed.

    I dunno…it just seems like the assumption there is that I’ve been inflicting pain on people – deliberately, because I like inflicting pain – without having any idea that the stuff I’m doing hurts. Like if someone whapped me with my own paddle I’d go “Holy shit, is that what I’ve been doing to people? That stings!!!” Duuuuuuuuuh…

    Everyone perceives pain differently – what’s mild for one person is extreme for another – and everyone reacts to bondage differently, too. Therefore, I think asking your specific partner what they like, getting to know what their body language means, and always respecting their limits will make a person a better top than any amount of “walking in their shoes” would. This is probably not a popular opinion in “the scene” but it’s how I feel.

    BUT ANYWAY, it’s true, the very language of “you have to start as a bottom and work your way up” implies promotion. I didn’t specifically notice this before because I was too stuck on the “how the fuck is receiving pain that I don’t like or want going to help me administer pain to someone who does like it” thing.

    Submissives are my counterpart…without a sub, I’m just some chick sitting here wishing I were spanking someone. So the roles themselves are equal, even if the roleplay pretends otherwise. 🙂

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