Bottom shaming is real and no matter where I travel, I always seem to get the same feedback from local gays. “This place is full of bottoms,” they’ll say, often pairing the remark with a dramatic eye roll. This response irks me because (1) it’s a form of bottom-shaming, a heteronormative influenced form of discrimination in an already oppressed community, and (2) it assumes that I am also a bottom, without inquiring or getting to know me better.
The data that exists doesn’t even support the community-based assumption. Research published in Archives of Sexual Behavior surveyed over 400 men from Craigslist personal ads and found that half of the men identify as versatile while the other half were equally tops and bottoms. Interestingly, after following up with the versatile men from the survey, they found that only half actually switched positions, with 48 percent being bottoms and 52 percent being tops.
Do bottoms outnumber tops?
When I recently published a poll on positional preference to Twitter, the numbers were the opposite, with 59 percent identifying as bottoms and 41 percent as tops. (I intentionally left versatile men out of the poll as a response to the previous study.) With loose research consistently contradicting itself, I wanted to know if bottoms actually do outnumber tops, or is there some form of disappointing stigmatization toward bottoms that influences the perception of overabundance.
As I quickly found, much of the time a more feminine appearance gives many the (false) impression that individuals are bottoms. “Personally, I always think twinks are naturally bottoms,” Stephan shares with me over Instagram. “Same goes for my friends. But the amount I’ve heard ‘Yeah, and that twink ended up being a top,’ has, over time, shifted my views of what a bottom looks like.” This theme of “femininity equals bottom” consistently presented itself online and was arguably one of the strongest influences to this baseless perception.
Top privilege and misogyny
“Gay men are not exempt from misogyny which is the root of labelling men as bottoms,” Twitter user @TheLePereira adds. “If a man is vers or femme he is automatically labeled a bottom and not seen as desirable by most gay men.” He continues, “The notion a vers or femme man can top or top well is seen as practically laughable by the greater community. But even that misogyny can be linked to our communities need of hyper masculine behavior due to shared generational trauma of the HIV epidemic and social constructs.”
Psychotherapist Daniel Olavarria narrows this perception down to internalized homophobia, ”which places a premium on heteronormative concepts of masculinity,” he says. And he does have a point. In a study published by Psychology & Sexuality, researchers wrote that gay men use the word “bottom” to criticize men with feminine traits—in so doing, bullying them into conforming with heteronormative gender expectations.
“Oftentimes, the use of the word ‘bottom’ is less about someone’s preferred sexual position and, instead, becomes coded language for any type of ‘undesirable’ qualities among gay men,” Olavarria shares. “Suddenly someone who is considered feminine, shallow, or ‘messy’ becomes indicative of this overabundance of ‘bottoms.’ It also highlights the demand for a certain type of top – one who fulfills a range of hyper-masculine qualities. Tops that don’t fit the bill are labeled undesirable and dismissed as ‘bottoms.’”
Others have a more positive approach to the presumption, insisting bottoms have taken the power back and are more loud and proud than tops. “I think bottoms are just louder and hungrier about wanting sex,” Nick tells me on Instagram. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease as they say so people ‘see’ more bottoms.”
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Too many bottoms, not enough tops?
Jason Orne, queer sociologist and author of Boystown, insists “the world is not full of bottoms” citing “network segregation” as a possible explanation. He resolves bottoms are often friends with other bottoms because gay men tend to befriend online users who are not compatible. So in a group full of bottoms, conversations around a lack of tops is inevitable. He argues, in his experience, tops also complain they don’t know any bottoms and many men also shared the same sentiment with me. As Twitter user, @taint_behavin puts it: “There’s never enough of what you’re looking for.”
Orne also cites bottom-shaming, saying, despite research that states the opposite, vers guys are often labelled bottoms. “However, we also have to think about search pool probability: say if a top only cums once, then he’s out of the hook up pool,” Orne adds. “But a bottom might try to keep hooking up, thereby keeping more bottoms in the pool of hookup partners.”
Busting the myths, top to bottom
Obviously, there are a number of – mostly social and non-factual – factors that influence the belief that bottoms far outnumber tops. But just as I was wrapping up this piece, Scruff wrote back to me with factual information (far more accurate than any research has found) regarding the positional preference of their user base. Considering the app hosts over 15 million users around the world, it’s a fairly significant sample. In their most recent data dive, Scruff found the figures were evenly distributed among users that identified as top, bottom and vers – about 33 percent for each. So there you have it. That’s the answer: there are no more bottoms than tops, at least not enough to warrant a community-wide complaint. It’s all lies. Falsities. Fabrications.
The next time you want to complain about the overabundance of bottoms, consider the above and perhaps re-assess why you feel that way.
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