Recently I’ve read some interesting posts about how topping from the bottom isn’t necessarily a bad thing and how the idea that it is can go horribly wrong. Those posts reminded me of another post I read ages ago about how the phrase “topping from the bottom” doesn’t really mean anything.
So that we’re all on the same page, “topping from the bottom” can be used to mean anything from “my submissive deliberately breaks rules to manipulate me into punishing him” to “my submissive asked me to hit him somewhere else because that spot was getting sore”. It generally implies that the bottom is somehow overstepping his bounds and trying to make the top behave a certain way.
I’ve been pretty attached to that term because I thought (wrongly, as it turns out), that people were generally using it in the “submissive trying to manipulate the dominant” sense, not the “how dare a lowly submissive request anything” sense. In the manipulative or pushy sense, it describes a problem I’ve run into myself and that I think a lot of straight dominant women have run into thanks to the way male entitlement can screw up otherwise fun power dynamics.
However, as important as I believe it is to talk about how power dynamics outside of your relationships affect the power dynamics inside of your relationships, I don’t think “topping from the bottom” is the way to do that. Just like the terms “submissive” or “slave” are so subjective that it’s useless to say you’re looking for a “submissive” without defining what exactly you man, saying someone is “topping from the bottom” hardly tells me anything about what’s actually going wrong.
Even in the most narrowly defined “we have a punishment dynamic and my sub deliberately misbehaves so I’ll feel obligated to punish him” sense of topping from the bottom, there are still so many different things that could actually be wrong. Maybe the sub thought that misbehaving a little was a playful way to ask for a scene and didn’t know the top disliked it. Maybe the sub felt neglected and thought that misbehaving was the only way to get their top’s attention. Maybe the sub was afraid that their top would be bored by perfect obedience and leave them. Like Ferns says in her post, labeling a problem “topping from the bottom” doesn’t help you solve it. To do that, you need to talk about why you’re unhappy with a specific behavior and figure out why the sub is doing it.
Aside from the issue of whatever behavior you call “topping from the bottom” being a symptom, not a root cause, it’s become so broadly defined that it’s kind of useless. The idea that it’s topping from the bottom for a submissive to make a request is just ridiculous. I want to know what my submissive wants! Maybe I’ll give it to him and maybe I won’t, but I can’t make that decision if he withholds information because he’s afraid that I’ll get mad and say he’s topping from the bottom.
By calling anything and everything “topping from the bottom”, we’re setting submissives up to be unhappy and unfulfilled, if not outright harmed. Dominant types are not mind-readers, we can’t fulfill our submissives’ needs unless they tell us what those needs are. Even in the best case scenario, telling submissive people that they can’t express preferences or make requests means that their doms have to flail around hoping they’ll stumble over what their submissives need to be happy. In the worst case, it sets submissive people up to tolerate abuse because they’re afraid that standing up for their own needs in any way means they’re bad subs.
As much as I’d like the phrase “topping from the bottom” to mean something, it just doesn’t. It’s time to let it die.