Earlier this year I went on a date with a guy I met on OkCupid.
We had exchanged messages in the summer of 2011, but after several emails the communication died. I put it down to one of the unwritten rules of online conversation: Get bored? Get offline.
Six months later, I received an email from him saying he had been busy and was interested in meeting for coffee. I checked out his profile and he seemed attractive enough so I agreed – although when I say I checked out his profile, I mean I just looked at his photos. The challenge with online dating is after a (short) while you get to a stage where you simply can’t read another profile where someone writes, ‘Here are the 6 things I can’t live without!’ which always include an iPhone and sex.
Coffee at Chelsea Market was delightful – not least for the fact that he looked even better in person. The conversation was interesting and we arranged a future dinner. As we left Chelsea Market he grabbed me by the waist and leaned in to give me some soft kisses in front of all the tourists, which, frankly, caught me off guard. I’m not against public displays of affection, you understand, but it was just so… intimate for a first time meeting.
Impromptu drinks at my local turned into a late night supper of red wine with shared meatballs, breads and beet salad. When I asked him where we’d be going for the dinner he had suggested for the following week he revealed sheepishly that he had not put any thought into it and we could just go wherever I suggested.
Naturally this prompted me to ask him the following question:
‘So is there a particular role you like to play in bed?’
‘I’m pretty versatile. I mean, slightly more bottom I suppose. Why? What does that make you think?’
‘Nothing in particular,’ I smiled.
‘What does it really make you think?’
‘That this wouldn’t work as a long term thing.’
While I may have terrible gaydar, I have great intuition about motivations, agendas, causes of issues and the unsaid. He may have stated he was versatile but my instinct bellowed, ‘Girlfrien’, he lyin’!’
When it comes to sex, I’m pretty versatile. I’ll try (almost) anything once, and I like to mix it up. So when I – once upon a time – ended up in a relationship with someone who, sexually, was completely passive, I found this to be rather limiting and unsatisfying. After all, you may not be desperate to get married or have kids but you’d like to know you have the option.
But back to the date. For a moment I thought I was wrong to be dismissive of this nice-looking and interesting man. ‘Throw instinct to the side, not this man,’ the counter-intuitive devil on my shoulder cried. ‘Empiricism before extinction!’
My statement received a hardened, ‘We should go’. He asked for the check and I had to bite my tongue because I hadn’t even tried the beet salad. I opened my mouth to explain but he cut me off with, ‘You know, this is heartbreaking; you should read people’s profiles. I mention in my profile four times that I am a bottom.’
‘I thought you said “slightly more”-‘
‘I mean, didn’t you read it?’ he demanded angrily.
I bit my lip and said sheepishly, ‘Well, attention to detail isn’t really my strong suit.’
‘I suggest you read people’s profiles thoroughly from now on,’ he quipped.
‘Look, maybe we are being a bit hasty here?’ I suggested. After all he was attractive, and the beet salad was still within reach.
‘Up to you,’ he said. ‘But I have been clear: I am a complete and total bottom.’
And just like that the devil laughed over the fact that I’d, once again, kicked my instinct to the kerb for him.
When chatting with a friend about this he said, ‘In NYC, being versatile means you are a bottom, and you may top occasionally but it’s unlikely.’
Someone else told me, ‘The versatility question only comes into play when penetration is involved. If you do everything before that act it means you’re versatile.’
My definition of versatile means your enjoyment of topping and bottoming is pretty equally weighted. This constant needling of who you are in bed, in turn begs the question of whether – in the gay community – we’ve developed our bedroom personas to such an extreme that sex roles have effectively become fetishes. We have Tops, Bottoms, Total Tops, Total Bottoms, Power Tops, Power Bottoms, Total Power Tops, Total Power Bottoms, Vers/Tops, and Vers/Bottoms. (Does ‘Versatile’, in fact, have any place in the gay sex role lexicon anymore?)
I’m not sure when sex roles got so strictly defined, but I seem to remember back in the day in London – while everyone may have had a leaning towards one act over another – everyone pretty much did everything. In NYC on the other hand, it’s not uncommon to meet those who either want to ‘pound someone like a bitch’ or who ‘want to be pounded like a bitch.’ I have had several guys profess their desire for the latter in my bed and I have obliged, all the while wondering whether that phrase has any proper grammatical meaning when taken out of its colloquial context.
I know people who describe themselves in accordance to one of the sex roles above and are very adamant about how that extends to the rest of their lives. Self-confessed power tops are strong, protective, successful, alpha types. Bottoms adopt a high maintenance, but deferential, attitude when banging with boys or brunching with friends.
There’s no doubt that the world looks to define someone any way they can in an effort to understand and accept them. Everyone in the mainstream loves and accepts The Gays because we can sing, we can act, we can dress and we can dance. We’re way handsome and we’re just sooo funny.
But how do you make sense of the ones who don’t have any of those abilities or qualities? Is this where sex roles come into play? After all, who among us hasn’t been asked by a straight person something along the lines of, ‘So when two guys are together which one of you plays the female role’?
How much of this need for definition has been driven by others trying to understand and accept us and we ourselves trying to do the same, who knows? What does seem true is that we are increasingly using sexual activities to stereotype ourselves in yet another way to better peg ourselves and our community members as a particular ‘type’ of gay.
It’s unclear whether this prevalence for an additional categorization speaks to an evolution of the gay world or to its devolution. What such sexually explicit openness doesn’t feel like, however, is revolution.