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Stop Shaming Me for Not Being “Top or Bottom”

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It can be a hard-knock gay life for a man who prefers butts to be incidental to sex. Well, maybe not completely incidental: I love getting rimmed (and with the right guy and the right ass, rimming, too), but unfortunately, most of the gay men I meet are more interested in another kind of anal penetration.

Personally, I’m not a fan, and that’s dealt some crushing blows over the course of my sex life. Some guys are disappointed to get me under the covers and realize that I’d rather not go there. Then I’m disappointed because I pretty much know I’ll never hear from them again.

Occasionally, if passion persists and insists, I give in and slide in, but not with any regularity. I call myself a “top by default” because I top less for enjoyment than for a lack of alternatives. After bottoming during my second sexual experience with a man, at 22, I was in so much pain for such a long time that I swore I’d never do it again — and nearly 27 years later, I still haven’t.

“Just relax,” my second (whose name was Ken) kept saying that Friday night after we met at Tunnel Bar on the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street in New York City as I twisted and turned and tried to stifle my shrieks. He also said, “I can’t believe how tight you are,” as he stuffed himself inside of me (with a condom).

An acquired taste? Really?

Since then, I’ve been told by friends and strangers that it gets better over time and eventually starts to hurt so good. But I’ve now been having sex for enough years — decades — to know there are so many amazing things to do under the covers that aren’t acquired tastes. I’d rather just focus on them.

Is that a sex crime? Does that make me weird? Apparently, yes — to a lot of guys.

“So what do you do in bed then?” many ask, apparently suffering from temporary amnesia and forgetting all of the things other than penetration that one can do — that one should do — during great sex.

I’ve had many guys come and go before we even make it to the date stage because they can’t confirm that it will culminate in anal sex. Most bow out quietly, but some treat me like a freak for not wanting to do something they see as being conventional and perfunctory.

“Do you just hug then?”

“You must be positive.”

“Are you a lesbian?”

“Are you even gay?”

Then there are the ones who don’t ask beforehand because they assume that a gay black guy with muscles must be an aggressive top. For many of them, foreplay, if they bother with that at all, is merely an appetizer to rush through before skipping the main course and going straight to dessert.

I’ve seen disappointment wash over their faces when they find out I don’t eat that way. I’ve had guys who couldn’t get enough of me moments earlier suddenly lose interest. After years of awkward refusals and occasional concessions (sometimes reluctant, sometimes not, but never particularly enthusiastic), I decided to lay it out in my Grindr profile.

“Hey, I’m good. You?… Not into anal, so don’t bother with butt pics. I prefer to meet and let what happens happen without endless messages and pic exchanges. Great conversation is the best foreplay, and there’s nothing sexier than a good kisser.”

I’ve never received so many butt pics as I have since making that my profile message two weeks ago in Varna, Bulgaria.

I’m currently in Bucharest, Romania, and guys are still asking “Top or bottom?” and “Want to f — k me?” and “What are you looking for?” all the time — even those who claim they’ve read my profile. Maybe they think I’m lying. Maybe they think the can sway me to swing it their way. Maybe they think I’m just nuts.

When one 20-year-old who calls himself “Adorable guy” (judging from the pics he included in his first messages to me, the moniker is accurate) asked What are you looking for?, I answered with a question.

Me: That’s not clear from my profile?

Him: Well, not really :p


I know that you don’t like anal sex and you like a good kisser

But it could be: I like to meet for coffee or I like to meet for a blowjob lol

Me: I think a reasonable person who is NOT looking for quick sex would read it and see that I’m not either.

Lessons in lust

If my years of using Grindr have taught me anything, it’s that “What are you looking for?” is borderline-tantamount to “Top or bottom?” Most of the guys who approach me on Grindr are looking to get topped, and they don’t ask “What are you looking for?” to see if I’d be into a coffee date.

Guys who go with the flow during those early moments on Grindr also tend to go with the flow during sex. (More of them, please.) The ones who ask those cliché Grindr questions (“Top or bottom?”… “Looking for?”… “Hung?”… “Into?”) will almost invariably expect talking to lead to kissing to lead to sucking to lead to f — …, well, you get the idea.

I was impressed by the way “Adorable guy” commanded English (Romanians do very well with it, in general) and his perfect use of the colon, but I decided to move on. I’m wary of 20-year-olds to begin with, but this one definitely lacked the power of deductive reasoning, which isn’t much of a turn-on.

Last week in Bulgaria, another Grindr suitor, skipped the suitor-ing and went right to the shaming.

What are you looking for?

Who do you think you are?

So you don’t do anal?

Then what the fuck do you do?

Dumb ass.

I couldn’t believe that a complete stranger’s lack of interest in anal sex had offended him to the point that he delivered so many low blows. I didn’t bother to respond, because I knew the N-word probably would be next. So I just blocked him. But his message stayed with me.

Anal sex doesn’t equal gay sex

When did anal sex become an obligation, a prerequisite for gay cred? When did so many guys forget about all the other things that constitute sex? Contrary to popular belief, anal sex is not even synonymous with gay sex.

Some straight men and women enjoy anal penetration. Like pop divas, show tunes, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, it’s not something that exists solely for gay men. And as with pop divas, show tunes, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, they’re not obligatory loves for gay men. (Confession: I’ve never seen one second of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I never ever intend to.)

I’ve gotten enough messages from guys who feel as I do to support my theory that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing in sex. And while my general distaste for anal sex might limit my circle of sexual prospects and prospective boyfriends, I’ve made great connections with guys in the nude. I’ve even enjoyed anal on occasion, but only when it’s part of a natural progression and not an expectation or demand.

There have been fleeting moments when I’ve thought about giving in to the pressure that I do receive and be the big black top that so many seem to automatically expect me to be. Maybe I also should learn how to bottom and love it. I rarely find myself body to body with a self-described “top” (my last one was a guy named Lucas in Sydney nearly two years ago who, after rimming me, echoed Ken from 27 years ago when he commented on how “tight” I was), but a capacity for bottoming could come in handy, too.

Lucas and I probably would be married now if, to borrow from ’70s rock & roll sex god Robert Plant (on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”), I had let him be my backdoor man.

I didn’t, but I am completely open to meeting a guy with whom I’m so in sync and so in love that I want to explore every aspect of sex with him. I might even learn to love and crave topping, and acquire a taste for bottoming, too.

But that will be by my choice. I’ll never be shamed into being anything other than who I am — and at this point, that’s not even a “top by default.” I’m a gay man, and if that’s not a good enough label, there are plenty of other products on the shelf.

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Sunday Surgery



Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Are we living in a post-HIV world?
In recent years we’ve seen a seismic shift in the effectiveness of treatment for HIV, as well as the emergence of PrEP — medication that prevents you from acquiring HIV.

This combination of factors has contributed towards a dramatic change in the attitude of gay men towards HIV, health, and sex.

It’s been difficult for public health policy to keep up, but it’s also difficult for older gay men like me to get our heads around the changing landscape of sex.

Official reports indicate that AIDS has killed over 35 million people worldwide. It’s estimated that around the world there are currently over 37 million people living with HIV.

In June of 1981, when the beginnings of the HIV pandemic were first being identified, I was approaching my ninth birthday. Lucky I guess, too young to be impacted by the first devastating waves of the virus that killed so many young gay men.

As I was beginning to discover sex, the public health messages very strongly articulated that sex without a condom equalled death.

It’s a bit hard to describe how that constant fear of infection and death shapes your view and experience of sex. I guess I’ve got no way of knowing what things would have been like without that — I like to think that it might have been something like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

I survived. I was careful. I was lucky.

It wasn’t until I saw the 2003 documentary The Gift that I became aware of the fetishisation of HIV, and a growing movement of men who embraced the risk and health consequences of fucking without condoms, of letting guys cum in you, the thrill of raw, or ‘bareback’ sex between men. It was an uninhibited hedonism best captured by the porn of Paul Morris and Treasure Island Media.

It’s easy to judge and disapprove of risk-taking behaviour, but there was something incredibly compelling about this type of no-holds-barred sex — no fear, no care for consequences.

The improvements in medication and the emergence of PrEP have now made bareback sex the norm. Not only in porn — where it’s now highly unusual to see anyone using a condom — but also in everyday life.

Health professionals sensibly remind us that condoms are still worth wearing as they protect us from a whole range of sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV, but the reality is that for many men sex is better when you don’t have to wear a condom.

For me, it’s a bit of a mind-trip that testing positive for HIV is no longer a death-sentence, that you can have sex without a condom and not worry if one of you might have the virus. That you can have no-holds-barred sex, with no fear, and no care for consequences.

It’s fantastic that today’s young gay guys, who are just beginning to discover and explore sex, don’t have to worry about HIV. Obviously they need to learn about it, they need to have access to PrEP, and they need to understand the full gamut of sexual health, but it’s just part of life.

Let’s not forget our history, let’s not forget the people we’ve lost, but let’s be thankful that young guys today are growing up in a world that’s something a bit like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

We may now be living in a post-HIV world.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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