Steven Oates scrutinises the prevalence of heteronormative labels in homosexual relationships and askes the question: Why are bottoms considered more feminine than tops?

I once heard a straight guy say “you’re only queer if you take it.” Of course what he was really saying was that as long as you give it, then you’ll retain your masculinity and supposed heterosexual identity. This is by no means a new line of thought. Many cultures have this down to a fine art. As long as you’re the active/insertive participant in the sex act, and your partner is passive/receptive (and hopefully younger), then your virile manhood can remain firmly intact. The Ancient Greeks were masters of this.

Having sex with a man, and saying you’re straight because you’re a top, might be a stretch by any definition – but it did get me thinking…


There seems to be a theme within GLBT culture that bottoms are perceived as more feminine than tops. Does it all come back to a millennia-old heteronormative myth that masculinity is superior to femininity? The man is the boss and the woman exists to serve. So, applied to same sex relationships, the bottoms are there to serve the tops?

Inset photo: Mr Gay New Zealand 2011 Aaron Comis by Kurt Langer

Social commentator and writer Michael Stevens doesn’t think bottoms are more feminine, but says that that there is certainly a stigma. “Are bottoms more feminine than tops? No, they’re not. But society, including other gay men, attach stigmas to men who take on a bottom role when it comes to f**king. [Sexiest historical hang-ups mean] that it is sometimes still seen as demeaning for a man to behave in a way that compares him to a woman.”

I’ve often heard bottoms be the subject of sniggers and bitchiness. “Oh girl, see how that one walks? Must be a bottom!” or “that one must be the wife” are
frequently used phrases.  From this the question arises, why do gay male relationships have to fit into some heteronormative mould? Ex-Mr Gay New Zealand, Aaron Comis thinks this perception is mistaken.

“To a degree I think there is a perception if you are a bottom you are the wife in the relationship and less masculine than the top, but in reality it’s very different.”

Not everyone thinks the comments have malicious intent. Falcons rugby player Edward Lang thinks its usually light hearted fun. “There’s certainly jokes about people being bottoms, but coming from other gay guys who know what gay sex is like, I don’t think it’s anything other than good fun.”

As if the masc4masc profiles on lifestyle apps weren’t bad enough already, I came across a new concept while doing background research  called “Top Privilege.”

The theory behind the concept of Top Privilege is that tops have it easier than bottoms (as an aside, I actually think that tops do have it easier than bottoms. Bottoms have much more work to do in preparing for an intimate encounter. Well… good bottoms do, anyway.) Sex can be very unpleasant for an inexperienced or ill-prepared bottom, and now it seems there is this stigma in the community to deal with. Comis agrees that being a bottom is not easy; “I’m pretty sure it takes a real man to get a 9.5 inch cock in him without running away. We are gay and if you think that it’s too much of a sissy thing to take a cock in the arse then you really are missing out.”

So are bottoms really more feminine than tops? A sample of gay pornography presents a resounding no to which Stevens agrees with.

“Loads of big hairy butch muscle boys enjoy being bottoms. If you have a prostate, you’ll probably enjoy being a bottom at some time in your life. So no, bottoms aren’t more feminine than tops. Bottoms are gay men who know what they enjoy sexually and are happy to seek it out.”

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, or even if you sit in the middle, bottom-shaming should never be done with the intention of emasculating our fellow brothers. As Comis says, “…the moral of the story is do what you like and don’t care what others think because they are the ones that will be missing out.”