503. Discussion Topic Write-Up: Top/Dominant, Bottom/Submissive

These are my thoughts on a potential discussion topic for a local Femdom group that I attend as I wrote about here: 501. Discussion Topics

The topic of what is a top, dominant, bottom, and submissive is not a topic that I would have suggested, but it was brought up when the question was asked for potential topics.  While it is a potential discussion topic, I did want to explore my thoughts on it, as I know that my perspective has changed quite a bit since I last wrote about it in Post 278.

The first thing I wanted to look at is that when this topic was mentioned, I had a very strong negative recoil happen inside.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I actually dug deeply into why that happened and a couple of different feeling sets swirled around:

  • I believe that this is a topic that everyone who has spent at least 10 minutes researching BDSM will know the answer to.  Does this make it a better topic because everyone will be able to contribute, even though there will be a consensus found in under 10 minutes?  Or is it better to explore topics that will be on topics that are more likely to introduce new ideas to people?
  • If there is someone who didn’t do their 10 minutes of BDSM research, are we enabling them by spoon-feeding them information they should be encouraged to research on their own?
  • There is some depth to this topic, but the interesting aspects are not the focus of the topic, but cultural byproducts of the topic.

This post will mostly focus upon the latter point and the cultural shifts that have created them.

If I go back to the original definitions of these terms that I was exposed to 15-20 years ago, they were something like this:

  • Top (in a BDSM context) – someone that takes the “top” role in a BDSM activity.
  • Bottom (in a BDSM context) – someone that takes the “bottom” role in a BDSM activity.
  • Dominant – A top that engages in power exchange.
  • Submissive – A bottom that engages in power exchange.

Under these definitions, all dominants are tops, but not all tops are dominants.  Similarly, all submissives are bottoms, but not all bottoms are submissives.  I feel like these words are no longer treated this way.

The vibe I get from the community as a whole has changed these definitions to something like this:

  • Dominant – someone that takes the “top” role in a BDSM activity.
  • Submissive – someone that takes the “bottom” role in a BDSM activity.
  • Top (in a BDSM context) – someone that takes the “bottom” role in a BDSM activity, but is not a dominant.
  • Bottom (in a BDSM context) – someone that takes the “bottom” role in a BDSM activity, but is not a submissive.

Basically, the term dominant and submissive seem to have taken over as the “umbrella terms” at the top of the taxonomy hierarchy. Tops and dominants are perceived as different things.  Bottoms and submissives are perceived as different things.  Finally, there are a limited number of people that willingly associate with the terms top and bottom and they generally fall into the minority within BDSM communities.

To the best of my knowledge, here are the people who would describe themselves with the term top:

  • People who take particular interest in a singular top activity of the BDSM realm and have no interest in any type of power exchange or control. e.g. A rope top.
  • Submissives or switches that lean submissive that very occasionally engage in a kinky act where they are in the top role.  e.g. A service top.
  • People who are somewhat kinky but do not NEED kink, they simply enjoy occasionally engaging in some kinky act where they are in the top role.

To the best of my knowledge, here are the people who would describe themselves with the term bottom:

  • People who take particular interest in a singular bottom activity of the BDSM realm and have no interest in any type of power exchange or control. e.g. A rope bunny.
  • Dominants or switches that lean dominant that very occasionally like to engage in some kinky act where they are in the bottom role.
  • People who are somewhat kinky but do not NEED kink, they simply enjoy occasionally engaging in some kinky act where they are in the bottom role.

I consider this a pretty big shift in the functional definitions of top and bottom to go from being the highest level umbrella label that encompasses everyone within that role to a handful of special cases.

The natural question becomes, how did this happen?

While I am writing this post with a Femdom community in mind, a lot of this shift comes from the M/f realm.  While the male sub + female dominant population is not drastically out of proportion from the male dominant + female sub population, the number of “practicing relationships” is limited by the smallest demographic.  As female dominants are by far the smallest group, the end result is that F/m has a much smaller number of practicing relationships than M/f.

A result of this is that the majority of active BDSM presences on the internet are M/f.  Most guides, resources, and communities focus upon the M/f perspective and the overall sentiments shared by that community as a whole.

Something I have found within the M/f realm is that there is a noticeable amount of chest-thumping, peacocking, and exclusionary attitudes in play.  While not everyone partakes in this, it is visible enough to where if you spend enough time in a community, you will probably be exposed to it.  This includes both the people who go out of their way to present a philosophy and those who go out of their way to negate that presented philosophy (this latter group is indicative of people noticing it is a problem).

The primary indicator of this attitude is when people begin using the terms real, true, and natural.  On one side there are statements like: “A real man…”  “A real dominant…”  “A true dominant…”  “A natural dominant…”  All of these phrases carry the implication that there are men that are not real men, there are dominants that aren’t real dominants, and so on.  By extension, they carry the vibe that those who are not real, true, or natural, are inferior to those who are.

On the other side there are statements like: “A true submissive…” “A natural submissive…” “A real submissive…”  Again, these carry the same implications about those who are not real, true, or natural.  The submissive side even has another layer of competitiveness when it comes to other labels, e.g. slave > sub > bottom.

I believe that these phenomena are a major reason for people fleeing the labels of top and bottom.  The terms now carry some negative connotations as if being a top or bottom makes someone lesser, fake, part-time/temporary, or inferior to someone who goes by dominant or submissive.

As things tend to bleed over into the F/m realm, it is understandable that people would rather go by submissive or dominant than top or bottom.

Another aspect that has diluted the terminology is that as the Old Guard has receded in influence and the post-FSoG era is upon us, the BDSM community at large has become primarily focused upon safe, consensual impact play.  The consent principles that govern most communities protect subs by creating an atmosphere where they never have to endanger themselves by truly giving up control.  These consent principles have become the umbrella that covers the entire scene, but as they are, they do not directly apply as well to power exchange.

While power exchange does still occur, it is mostly in communities that have separated themselves from the BDSM community as a whole and created new movements that insulate them within a closed group.  Labels like FLR, domestic discipline, taken in hand, head of household, and the like, are the communities in which people engage in consensual power exchange and have created their own rules and standards for consent as as it applies to them.

As a result, power exchange practiced within the BDSM community is more limited, and a large percentage of those involved with it engage in BDSM acts without power exchange.  Many newer resources are written from this perspective.   As power exchange used to be the dividing line that defined dominant vs. top and submissive vs. bottom, the removal of it makes that line no longer exist and the terms have become relatively interchangeable by the community as a whole.

The larger result is that the use of dominant, top, submissive, and bottom as terms have become simply what people decide to call themselves.  Someone is a dominant because they label themselves a dominant and someone is a top because they label themselves a top.  Someone is a submissive because they label themselves a submissive and someone is a bottom because they label themselves a bottom.

Their choice of term does not tell you what they actually are, it just tells you what they want to be called.  It’s just my opinion, but that seems sort of broken, doesn’t it?

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