Against the top/bottom dichotomy

cn: it’s about sex positions, but it is not graphic

I hate the top vs bottom dichotomy as it is used by gay/bi/queer (GBQ) men. If this is something that you like to use for yourself and to understand others, that’s well and good, and I will not deny it to you. But there’s a lot of stereotyping and politics that goes into it, and it’s obnoxious from the perspective of a person who prefers to opt out.

First, at the risk of overexplanation, I should make sure everyone is on the same page. “Top” and “bottom” refer to sex positions, with top being the penetrative position, and bottom being the penetrated position. They can also be used as verbs, or to people. A top is someone who prefers the top position or takes the top position, and a bottom is someone who prefers the bottom position or takes the bottom position. If someone swaps positions, or doesn’t have a preference, that’s called “versatile”, or “vers” for short.

The top/bottom dichotomy is primarily used in the context of men who have sex with men. However, it is occasionally used in other contexts, and the fandom context is of particular note. I mention this because I’ve found that some readers were only familiar with the fan context, and did not realize that I was talking about a real world concept. So, for the fandom folks, at the end I’ll include a discussion of the top/bottom dichotomy in a fan context.

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Review scores: a philosophical investigation

Normally, in the introduction to an article, I would provide a “hook”, explaining my interest in the topic, and why you should be too. But my usual approach felt wrong here, since I cannot justify my own interest, and arguably if you’re reading this rather than scrolling past the title, you should be less interested than you currently are.

So, review scores. WTF are they? I don’t have the answers, but I sure have some questions. Why is 0/10 bad, 10/10 good, and 5/10… also bad? What goals do people have in assigning a score, and do they align with the goals of people reading the same score? What does it mean to take the average of many review scores? And why do we expect review scores to be normally distributed?

Mathematical structure

Review scores are intuitively understood as a measure of the quality of a work (such as a video game, movie, book, or LP)–or perhaps a measure of our enjoyment of the work? Already we have this question: is it quality, or is it enjoyment, or are those two concepts the same? But we must leave that question hanging, because there are more existentially pressing questions to come. Review scores do more than just express quality/enjoyment, they assign a number. And numbers are quite the loaded concept.

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Two theses on queer readings

This was crossposted to my other blog, The Asexual Agenda, under the title “The essentiality of ace readings“.

As part of my usual youtube browsing, I was checking out a games criticism channel, Transparency, and I watched a video titled “Queering Animal Crossing | A Helpful Guide to Queer Readings” (29 minutes). I don’t think it says anything truly unusual, it’s just an entertaining and accessible introduction to the topic.

Videos like this are useful for me to reflect on my own views, and crystallize disagreements. So here I present two theses about queer readings. First, I assert that queer readings are not always political, but also form an ordinary part of how queer people consume media. Second, I argue that asexual readings are an essential concept that should be introduced as part of basic education about queer readings.

Queer readings as ordinary

The Transparency video does a good job of establishing the point that queer readings are not “alternative” interpretations of texts. Rather, they show how queerness–which exists all over the place in the real world–has also slipped into our fiction, as much as heteronormativity may try to stop it or ignore it. Queer readings do not require any “proof” of queerness, after all this is fiction and there is no underlying truth of the matter. Nor do queer readings require any knowledge or theorizing about the intentions of the creators. Queer readings are just about recognizing hints and potentialities that exist in our fiction. Straight audiences regularly interpret knowing glances between m/f pairs as a code for romance, we can very well do the same for queer pairings.

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Reflections on my family

In queer culture and media, there is a lot of emphasis on one’s “found family” or “chosen family”–families composed of people who are not related by blood. This is because a lot of LGBTQ people face rejection from their family of origin, and so if they want a supportive family they need to build their own from the ground up. Found families are not an LGBTQ-exclusive idea, but sources say that it originated in LGBTQ communities, and the associations continue to be very strong. In fictional media, found families are everywhere–we like our ensemble casts!–but queer media tends to go a step further, and hold it as a central theme.

I am fortunate enough that I have never been in want of a chosen family. I mean, I did, in the literal sense, choose my husband to be part of my family, but that doesn’t really fit the theme of a “chosen family”, which is more commonly understood as a group of close friends. So for me, found families are not real. They are a trope that I see in fiction that does not correspond to anything in my life. It’s kind of like living Los Angeles, where it never snows, and being surrounded by cultural depictions of winter as a snowy season.  I’m not complaining, I’m just remarking on how it puts my own experiences in context.

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Review of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This is my (semi-)monthly repost.  This review was originally published in 2015.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR) is one of the best-known pieces of fanfiction ever written, meaning it was even read by people like me, who otherwise despise fanfic.  This is my (spoiler-free) review.

I should begin with the caveat that I hardly remember most of HPMOR.  Like much of internet fiction, it has updated very slowly over a long period of time.  I started reading HPMOR over three years ago, and I know because there’s something in my blog archives about it.  Frankly it would have been better suited to reading over a short period of time rather than a period of years.  But this is hardly relevant now, because the fanfic has now been completed and you can read it at your leisure.

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Heaven’s Vault, Disco Elysium

My blog has hit a bit of a slump–the coronavirus has taken the wind out of everything that isn’t itself. But if I were to examine the more direct causes for the slump, I’d have to look at video games. Yes, I’m playing video games instead of blogging. Well why don’t I blog about video games?

In the past month, I played two narrative video games: Heaven’s Vault and Disco Elysium.  These are my brief reviews.

Heaven’s Vault is a game about an archaeologist trying to understand the collapse of an ancient civilization. It takes place in a low-tech sci-fi environment where people sail between the “moons” of a nebula, but only really through the use of ancient tech. This game features four main gameplay loops: sailing between moons, exploring sites, dialogue trees, and translating ancient text.

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Against the liberation/assimilation lens

Liberationism vs assimilationism is a historically important dichotomy, which dates back to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s.  It put a name to certain political disagreements among LGBT/queer people that persist to the present day.  That said, in the present day, liberationism/assimilationism is less relevant, just one lens of many that we may apply whenever it seems particularly apt (e.g.).  And often, when we do talk about the dichotomy, we feel the need to re-explain what the dichotomy even is.

Ahem…  In a contemporary context, assimiliationism refers to the desire to blend in with mainstream culture, to emphasize “we’re the same”; while liberationism refers to a desire for more radical change.  A somewhat longer explanation is available here.

A recent video by Rowan Ellis revives the liberation/assimilation dichotomy for the purpose of understanding different forms of queer representation.  I hate it, and it illustrates how the liberation/assimilation lens can go so wrong.

The primary problem, is that “liberation vs assimilation” has largely been collapsed into “good vs bad”, while explicitly denying it.  Rowan Ellis says,

It’s not necessarily that assimilation films are bad and liberation films are good.  […] In the way in which it deals with LGBT stories and identities, for me, the liberation stuff comes up top. (14:23)

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