Not too long ago, I was approached by a big, bad, burly dyke dominant. She explained her situation to me and asked for some help. In short, she’s relatively new to the BDSM scene and she had been given the clear message by a number of people (and books, and so forth) that if she’s gonna top someone, she’d better bottom first so she knows what it’s like.
This presents her with a bit of a dilemma. She’s one of those fine specimens we call dominants. As in, not a switch and not a submissive. And she’s the responsible sort, so she heeded all this advice and tried a couple of times to arrange to bottom to people so that she could dutifully experience some of the physical sensations (or her own version thereof, at least) that would be inflicting on her various and sundry current and future play partners. Problem is (and perhaps you can see this one coming – I certainly did) that she wound up having a few terrible experiences in which a fellow dominant was more than happy to oblige by whacking her with this or that implement, and was a complete fucking asshole about it. You know the type – “Aha! Finally you have seen the light, and admitted that what you really crave is to submit! On your knees, boy!” Never mind that’s very explicitly not what she was after. She was after an experiment in sensation so as to have a physical reference point from which to approach her own topping. C’est tout. Or, alternately, “Sure, I can top you!” (Insert immediate, forceful blow to tender un-warmed-up ass cheek resulting in a loud “ow!”) “Hahahaha! You’re such a wimp! Hey, everyone, I topped so-and-so and she’s a total wuss!”
I totally get it. This sort of story makes me absolutely seethe, because I’ve experienced it myself. As a dominant who really likes to bottom, I gotta tell ya, finding people who can top me in a way that doesn’t turn into an exercise in pure frustration (and not that good kind) on my part is such a chore that I’ve all but given up. Other dominants often seem to see an invitation to top as a cloaked invitation to dominate – no matter how carefully explained. My anticipation of a good time, and my relaxation into the deliciousness of someone else doing the work so I can ride a wave of pure intense-sensation bliss, has frequently crashed and burned due to poor attitude management on the part of my play date. And if my fellow dominant’s egos are so wrapped up in displaying their own Extreme Glorious Dominance that they’re unable to listen to and respect a clearly stated hard limit about the kind of emotional energies I’m interested in engaging with, then what the heck does that say about the way they must deal with submissives? What does it mean about someone when they are unable – sometimes even though explicitly stating they totally are – to make the distinction between dominance, which is an energetic or emotional approach to a scene (or just about any other interaction), and topping, which is a physical arrangement that’s generally about the application of sensation? How safe is a player, if all they’re really after is a variation on the thing that turns them on, regardless of their negotiations with the other parties involved, and they fail to listen to both pre-stated and in-the-moment statements and signals that they are on the wrong track?
You might think the ideal solution would be to find a submissive or switch who has good topping skills, on the other hand, and recruit them to perform the service of topping. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work out. That’s not to say it never does – I do have a couple of very satisfying scenes in my past that started with me handing over a flogger and saying, “Now, work me until I say stop, and put your back into it.” But many submissive folks seem to just have a very hard time holding their own when asked to beat the hell out of a dominant, especially one whom they are accustomed to treating like a cross between all-powerful untouchable royalty and a delicate flower that needs the gentlest of care. I’ve had too many teeth-gritting experiences in which no matter how many times I barked “Crank it up already!” the submissives in question simply couldn’t bring themselves to give the kind of sustained intense stimulation I require to float off into that happy place. And I must say, hovering just under the edge of flying kinda makes me want to tear my hair out. Not to mention I’ve also had the experience of getting happily beaten by someone who can hold up their end of the bargain, only to see such a scene’s extremely negative effects on submissives with whom I regularly play, such that I needed to provide aftercare to them after it’s all over with. One of them almost assaulted the top in question; another had to leave the room and pace because she couldn’t stand watching someone be “violent” with me.
Now let’s layer on top of that the community response to seeing a Big Domly Dominant get the beats. That alone is enough to discourage many dominants from attempting such an experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with dominants who say they really like to bottom in private, but never in public, because they fear being treated differently once people in their community have been given the opportunity to potentially perceive them as not 110% dominant. In other words, the community as a whole still stubbornly believes that to bottom is necessarily to submit – and if that’s not the message you want to send, then no matter what meaning you personally assign to being on the business end of a whip, be wary of following your desires where anyone else can see you. In other words, if you’re a dominant and you do something other than embody everyone else’s fantasy ideal, potentially to your own detriment, gawd help you.
I’m a bit too stubborn to follow that particular piece of reasoning when it comes to my own play, but it’s not been without its consequences. I remember being in a Montreal club once and asking a large, muscular male friend of mine (a self-identified slave, it’s worth mentioning) to have at me with his heavy flogger for a bit. I was just getting into the rhythm of the delicious thuds against my woefully tense back when another guy, who’d spent a fair bit of time sucking my toes at various fetish parties over the few years prior, walked by. He did a double take and his jaw dropped and he burst out – two feet away from me as the flogger tails kept flying – “but I thought you were a dominant!” I stared at him unsmiling, raised one eyebrow, and said in a deadly serious voice, “Do I look submissive to you?” At which he gulped and said, “Ah, no, I guess not. Sorry.” And went about his business. But the mood of my scene was broken. Thanks a bunch.
But what exactly does that say about a community, if we aren’t able to respect one another’s kinks enough to actually allow them to play out, free of supposition and judgment, in the spaces we create expressly for the purpose of congregating to explore them? What does it say about us that dominants actually do have legitimate reason to fear being treated with disrespect if they display anything other than the full expected package deal of prescribed domly behaviours? What does it say about how we treat submissives in our midst, if, as soon as one is seen as submissive, one is automatically treated with less respect? What does it mean when indulging in our kinks makes us the target for aghast disapproval, mockery, misunderstanding, and unwelcome or inappropriate come-ons? And what does it mean that despite all this, we tell our dominants that in order to be “real” they in fact must go through exactly this kind of alienating experience, otherwise they are necessarily incompetent tops?
So when my friend approached me, it was no surprise that she said to me, “I know you’re going to understand this.” It was no surprise that she took me aside in private to mumble a request for a scene sometime, making quite sure we were out of anyone else’s earshot. I wish it weren’t necessary, but there it is.
Which leads me to the next part of this post: the question of how to top a top and not be an asshole about it. My first suggestion: figure out what they’re after. Really listen. Then figure out if you can do it and if you’re interested in doing it. Not, I might add, whether you think they’re hot and really can’t wait to get at their cute little butt with that nasty cane. I mean, can you, as a fellow dominant, put your skills to use in a way that will hold the appropriate kind of energy for this sort of scene? Can you top without imposing your dominance on an unwilling subject? Can you apply your abilities for some purpose other than enforcing, or actively experiencing, your preferred power balance? If the answer is no, then don’t do it. Don’t engage with someone in the hopes that they don’t actually mean what they say when they tell you what they want from you – that after five minutes of your expert ministrations they’ll magically transform into your ideal submissive, which clearly they’ve been all along (having of course been in deep denial until now). That’s about you and your ego, not about the potentially wonderful, and very mutual, experience you could have with this person.
And what does that experience look like, if it’s not about power exchange?
Well, vulnerability and trust, for starters. It takes a lot for a dominant to both ask for and take a beating, especially if it’s not their generally preferred kink. If you’re asked to assist in the endeavour, be honoured, and approach it without presumption. In no way am I trying to say that topping a dominant is somehow more valuable than topping a submissive – far from it – but there is a certain specific kind of rare and precious fragility that a dominant brings to the experience of bottoming, because the risk of being misunderstood at their most vulnerable is high. So for me, the experience of topping a top is one in which I get to enjoy the trust someone’s placing in me, and the fruits of that trust: bonding, mutual respect, the chance to practice or improve my own technical skills, and possibly even the erotic or otherwise pleasurable charge of getting physical with someone in a way that has zilch to do with power dynamics and everything to do with the way they feel and smell and breathe and move. Sure, you could call that vanilla, but in my mind when you take two kinky freaks with a bag of toys and neutralize the power dynamic, you’re still left with two kinky freaks and a bag of toys. As long as you’re not trapped by your own preconceived notions of what all that means, the possibilities are endless.