Opinion | Why should being top or bottom define who I am?


I’ve noticed an increasingly prevalent concept in gay culture in South Africa; the idea that being a top or bottom is about more than what you do in bed.

A well-known member of the LGBTQ community consistently talks about tops and bottoms on social media. It’s a regular theme of many of his posts, offering authoritative advice and direction as to how those who are top and those who are bottom should act and behave.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all have our preferences in the bedroom, and there’s nothing wrong with talking openly and being positive about what makes you tick under the sheets.

Some like being on the receiving end of the action (bottom), others prefer being the more physically “giving” partner (top) and some can happily alternate between those binary roles (versatile).

While there are studies that suggest that some of us are biologically predisposed to being a top or bottom, for many couples penetration doesn’t even come into play in their love life (yes, you can be happily gay without it).

Where my issue lies is outside of the bedroom; with perpetuating the idea that gay couples need to ape the socially and culturally imposed and outdated male / female roles in life. (These roles are why straight people often ask us, “So who’s the man and who’s the woman?”)

For example, for some in our community it seems that being top is all about taking on the traditional “male” role in a relationship. That means being the primary breadwinner and controlling and dominating the behaviour of his partner, often through financial power. The top is strong, masculine and the one in charge – the partner who provides for the bottom; almost a biblical father figure.

The bottom, however, is generally seen to be submissive and dependent on his partner, financially and otherwise. He is depicted as more feminine, soft, emotionally unstable and must be reigned-in to make sure he does not stray. His role is to make sure that the top is happy and fulfilled in the bedroom and elsewhere.

In fact, in some of the posts I’ve read, tops and bottoms are depicted as almost two entirely different species. There is a kind of “us” and “them” mentality and all sorts of assumptions about what kind of people they are and what drives them.

Our relationships don’t need instruction manuals

I don’t find role-playing and submissive and dominant relationships problematic per se, as long as both parties are happy and consenting in their roles. And of course, partners in all relationships are not the same; one may earn more than the other, one may take on most of the cooking and the other may wash the car. One may also be more feminine or masculine-appearing than the other. But must we be defined by this and never deviate from our “roles”?

The issue for me is when the dynamic of strictly defined gender-style roles are presented as the must-have standard template for same-sex relationship, especially for young LGBT people who are desperately looking for role models. Why should a flamboyant guy not be the primary breadwinner and be into cars, while the butch partner loves to cook?

Surely, one of the benefits of being in a same-sex relationship is that it should be much easier to break the “rules” of traditional gender roles. Why do we feel the need to act like a caricature of how heterosexual relationships have traditionally been defined? By doing so, does it mean that our relationships are more valid or more real?

As for me, I may be a top in the bedroom, but that doesn’t mean I rule the household. My partner and I are just that – partners. There is no expectation of either of us taking on specific “gender roles”, only in doing actions that make our relationship work and thrive. And we certainly don’t have instruction manuals as to how we are expected to behave.

What I do in passion and love doesn’t define who I am – it’s just what turns me on. I didn’t fall in love with a top or bottom. I fell in love with another man.

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  1. kaizer mabuyela
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