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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Bugsnax’s twofold queerness

cn: no spoilers in the OP, but spoilers permitted in comments

Over break, I tried playing Bugsnax, a video game about catching snack-themed bug monsters. I expected a light and colorful game, but I got something more story-oriented, and way more queer. And that’s not just me reading into it–basically anyone who plays through the game will know that there are not one but two same-sex couples in its cast of 13. Fewer players realize this, but there is also a nonbinary character.


bugsnax cover art

Source: Young Horses

My attitude towards queerness in video games is as a nice-to-have. I don’t really expect it, and I expect little out of it. Bugsnax having many queer characters is a pleasant surprise. But I read webcomics whose casts are 100% queer, so for me the novelty is only in the medium, and not in the queerness itself.

What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.

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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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Riots and commemoration

As massive anti-racism protests erupted across the US (and the rest of the world as well) we had yet another public conversation about the value and significance of riotous actions within protests. My own social media environment is very progressive and supportive of the protests, but even there I saw some disagreement, as some folks argued that rioting was valuable and significant, and others argued that it was not a significant part of the mostly peaceful protests.

After about a week, the latter view seemed to win out, especially in light of the much more significant violence perpetrated by the police themselves. “The Police are Rioting. We Need to Talk About It” is an article title that about sums it up. At this point I feel like I’m addressing the topic too late. But there’s one argument that stuck in my head.

This one argument justified recent riots by comparing them to the Stonewall riots. In the US, June is Pride Month, which originated as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots clearly demonstrate the potential value of violent protest. On the other hand, the history of Stonewall is heavily mythologized, and there is a danger of drawing the wrong conclusions based on fiction.

Today I’d like to discuss a scholarly article: “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth” by Elizabeth A Armstrong and Suzanna M Crage (via belowdesire, who has many other informative articles). And I do recommend reading the entire article yourself if you have the time. By examining the history we can better understand the potential–and limitations–of riots.

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Give and take: Preferences in sex

cn: Non-graphic references to oral sex

Many asexuals don’t want sex of any sort. However, if you listen to asexual and ace-adjacent experiences, you find a pretty wide range of stories, from people who don’t like to even think about sex, to people who are basically okay with it. You also have stories of people who like certain aspects of sex and dislike others. For instance, some people only like to “give” oral sex, and other people only like to “receive” it.

This is not just an ace thing. Historically, “stone butch” has been used to describe masculine lesbians who don’t want to receive sexual touch. Of course, this leaves out people who want to receive (sexual) touch but not give (sexual) touch. I know of two terms that have been coined to fill the void: “stone femme“, and “paper“. In this post, I will use “paper” because it doesn’t say anything about the gender, orientation, or gender expression of the person.

In sex-positive feminism, people who don’t like to give oral sex are frequently the object of derision, and moral approbation. Recently, fellow FTBlogger Giliell provided an excellent example of both.

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On subversivism

This has been crossposted to The Asexual Agenda.

“Subversivism”, according to Julia Serano, is

the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms.

Serano criticizes subversivism because it creates a double-standard, where people who are perceived as having less transgressive experiences are excluded or othered.

Subversivism was established in Serano’s book, Whipping Girl, and further discussed in Excluded. Although, I admit that I have not read these books, and have instead gotten the short version from Serano’s blog. I refer to subversivism often enough that it seems useful to write up my own thinking about it, and discuss its applications to my own area of activism.

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