Clarisse Thorn On BDSM Roles

Clarisse Thorn has a long post up about BDSM roles and role policing. I’ve never had much time for people who seem unduly concerned about who is doing BDSM correctly (by their lights) and who is not:

There are two common BDSM community phrases that are often deployed in tones of disgust and irritation. One of those phrases is “topping from the bottom”. The other phrase is “service top”.

“Topping from the bottom” indicates a person who exercises power in the relationship, despite being in the “bottom” position. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, as long as both partners consent. But some people talk about “topping from the bottom” like it’s bad — as if power ought to belong to one side or the other; as if the bottom should never express preferences or make decisions about what’s going on. Which is ridiculous.

I’ll grant that it can be annoying if I’m trying to be a top, and my partner isn’t listening or isn’t doing what I want. But in those cases, it’s important to pay attention to what is actually going on. Is my partner resisting because he actually doesn’t want to do what we’re doing? In that case, I should respect his preferences. Or maybe my partner is resisting because he wants me to punish him. Or maybe we just have bad chemistry! Whatever. The point is, “topping from the bottom” isn’t inherently a bad thing. “Topping from the bottom” doesn’t make the bottom into a “bad submissive” or whatever. It just means that either the person is trying to communicate, or the person is looking for a certain kind of push-pull dynamic.

(I am hardly the first person to notice that “topping from the bottom” is a badly-used phrase; here’s a rant from another BDSMer on the topic.)

Simultaneously, there’s the phrase “service top”. It’s basically the same thing in reverse. A “service top” is a top who enjoys topping in line with his partner’s desires. And once again, some people act like this is a bad thing — as if service tops “aren’t dominant enough”. But it’s not inherently a bad thing! If a service top is doing things just because her partner likes them … then good for her!

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