Detangling some different meanings in top/bottom

{I’ve had like, a completely different form for a post on this topic in my head for literally years. Doesn’t look like that one’s getting written at least any time soon, and I had some stuff that caused different thoughts since, but currently had some thoughts in a new form and want to write something!}

(Additional/general/underlying point: It is really, really common for these to be conflated, tangled, assumed to go together, etc, in ways that do harm, interfere with communication and self-understanding, etc, including domist ways.)

  • Who is physically or otherwise actively doing things (vs having them done to them).

  • If there is a power dynamic, who is the d-side.

    • I had a whole thought-set on how a meaning of topping was a kind of ‘semi-domming’. Then I read the beginning of The New Topping Book, where top/bottom are just used to mean d-side/s-side basically entirely, and ran into more posts and stuff, and – yeah it’s in fact often more than that.
    • One issue that comes up is that there’s not actually enough conscious attention to whether or not a scene in fact has a power dynamic. A lot of unspoken defaults and etc mean that things people will sometimes go talk about as ‘only physical topping’ in fact totally have an unspoken power dynamic going on. This is a problem in a variety of ways.
    • I think the combination of these two can get in fact kind of gaslight-y at people.
  • Who is leading/directing action.

    • Note that this is not actually the same as the active-doing meaning, though they’re often conflated. Example: telling someone how to hit/touch/tie/etc you.
    • Again, neither a ‘one person does one and the other does the other’ nor a binary. ‘Fluid (or for that matter non-fluid but say determined by preset signals) turn taking’ and ‘cooperative construction’ are things that can be done.
    • Also variation in how this can be done – ‘person 1 decides what to do and does it’, ‘person 1 decides what to do and tells person 2 to do that’, ‘person 1 has an idea and says to person 2 ‘how about this”, etc, can be possible and different dynamics.
  • Who is responsible for/doing ‘scene emotional work’.

    • I’ve come more to conceptualizing this as a category, and have struggled for a while with how to refer to it. At the moment here using the above.
    • Credit to Xan West for a lot of these thoughts – see Two Footing and Holding the Scene in the essay One Sadist’s Consent.
    • Scene emotional work is the work that goes into keeping things ok and well, noticing if there’s a problem and doing something about it, etc. One example, going to what Xan talked about, is ‘staying present’ in the ‘real world’ to notice things like ‘it is a bad idea to go farther’, ‘something has gone wrong’, etc. Another example is making sure aftercare needs get met.
    • One of the things Xan points out is that there’s often a very strong implicit idea/expectation that the ‘top’ (in the d-side sense and conflated/tangled with others) does this work, and the bottom does not (and that this idea/expectation is a problem).
    • One additional place I’ve seen this: there’s recently been more recognition and discussion of the fact that ‘tops’ can also need aftercare. (Which is very good and important and should continue and strengthen). However, at least I personally have not actually seen much discussion on how tops getting aftercare is conceptualized. I think this is largely due to this bringing up tension with ‘expectation that ‘bottom’ is not doing scene emotional work’.
      (To be clear, wanting to be free from expectations of this scene work and have someone else take it on is a valid thing to want or to need for scenes to work for you. However, like wants and needs in general, dynamics of this ought to be part of negotiations and compatibility, rather than implicitly assumed in a one-size-for-all.)
    • I was going to put planning the scene here, then it occurred to me it could also go under leading/directing, then it occurred to me that leading/directing could itself be seen as under emotional work. I think the best model for me currently is to continue to separate them out, with the leading/direction (where I do think scene planning/genesis/impetus properly falls) being a type of emotional work in the broader sense but in a different category than this one here.

A Thought on Thinking about My Kinks

Not so long ago, I went to a community event where I met a very interesting person who is also a sex educator. Conversations with her, attending a class she led, and reading her website a bit after I got home reminded me yet again of something I’ve wanted for a while: I want to figure out my kink in an organized fashion. What exactly do I like and in what way, what are the common patterns and trends and connections. This almost immediately led to another reminder: that is something I have a lot of trouble doing.

Now, as I think is pretty well demonstrated by this blog, I’m a person who likes to have things organized. Having an organized conceptualization of ideas is what allows me to understand them, to think about them best, and, of course, to explain them to others. I also like to self examine, and I also like to think about kink. So this, exactly at the intersection of three of my favorite things, seems like an absolutely perfect thing for me to be doing. And yet, I can’t seem to make it work. Which of course leads directly to the question of ‘why?’.

The first analogy I came up with was that it’s as though someone asked me what foods I liked, and I said “well, apples, and rice pilaf, and oatmeal with honey, and fried ice-cream, and raw carrots, and pomegranates, and grilled chicken sandwiches, and crepes…” All of which is absolutely true, but neither organized, nor helpful for figuring out overarching patterns.

Alright, I thought then, If I were giving somebody that kind of list of foods I liked, what would be the way to put it in order? And the answer to that was pretty simple – bringing up categories, and asking more specific questions. “What kinds of vegetables do you like?” “What do you eat for breakfast?” “What is special occasion food for you?”

And this led me straight to the root of the thinking-about-kink issue – when it comes to my kink, I know neither the categories, nor the questions.

Categories and questions are usually community matters. I know what a vegetable is because I learned this, not because I came up with it myself. Someone can ask me what I eat for breakfast because we both know what breakfast is, and share the conceptualization of dining that includes this meaning.

And the problem is that when it comes to my kink, I don’t have this kind of community. Instead, it’s like I’ve spent my whole life in a variety of buffets, most of which did not label their dishes, and none of which coordinated any labels they did use (chicken with cashew nuts is very similar to chicken with mixed vegetables, but the categories ‘vegetables’ and ‘cashew nuts’ are not actually parallel). I know I’ve eaten foods I liked, and foods I didn’t like, and foods I was mostly neutral towards, and foods I was allergic too, and foods where upon trying them I wanted to eat nothing but that for the next week. But trying to figure out a structure to view it all in – I don’t even know where to start.

I’m not exactly sure what this conclusion leaves me with.

I know I want to find other people with kinks similar to mine (very often it’s the differences along with the commonalities that that demonstrate the categories, and it’s very rarely possible to make a graph with just one point).

I know I want to read or listen to more people talking about their kinks, and how they conceptualize them, also (Spiral, for instance, has a very interesting writing here, which also relates to my point about communities and thought organization).

I know I want to discuss my kinks with people who enjoy that kind of thing (often, an outside mind can come up with questions and connections that I never would have).

I know I’m going to keep trying, keep seeing if there are links and categories I can come up with, any patterns that I can see.

And I know that regardless of how close I can get to the destination, I do thoroughly enjoy the journey.

And this thought on thinking has been a step on that journey, and that is also good.