The prevailing gay doctrine says we are divided into three sex roles — top, bottom, and versatile. But there are whisperings of a fourth sex role for queer men, or at least some queer writers trying to establish one.
“Sides” are queer men who enjoy sex but for various reasons do not enjoy anal sex. They may be into mutual masturbation, oral sex, and many non-penetrative kinks, but topping and bottoming aren’t on the list.
To the sides of the world, I say welcome. I’m probably guilty of proliferating the idea that anal sex is the default way for men to connect. I’m sorry.
I do focus on anal sex a lot, and I rarely talk about its frustrations, which are numerous. I can’t count how many nights, after unsuccessful douching, I’ve wished that I wanted something else or wished that this whole messy business was easier. I’ve even cried. I bet most bottoms have. There’s nothing more crushing than this feeling, after being horny all day, consuming a careful bottoming diet, planning your wild night, and realizing after an hour-long cleaning attempt that you’ll be spending the night watching Netflix.
Anal sex is hard. And often, after all the work, it’s still unenjoyable. So it’s no surprise to me that some men simply don’t like it at all, and some men may have medical reasons that make anal sex impossible. I’ve known many guys who are total tops not because they love topping, but because they find bottoming too painful and unpleasant. If you don’t like topping or bottoming, you might be a side. You have a name!
Bottoming is a lot of work, preparation, diet managing, and trial and error to find a cleaning routine that works. And while many bottoms may envy the perceived ease of being a top, tops have their troubles too. Thanks to porn, our culture glorifies big dicks and idealizes hypermasculine, aggressive, ultra-confident tops, making average men (most of us) feel inadequate by comparison and leaving feminine and submissive tops out in the cold. Even with all these issues, anal sex is widely considered default sex between men.
If I didn’t love anal sex, I’d likely feel ashamed and shut out from the fun, so I imagine sides often feel overlooked. So much of gay culture, from eggplant emojis to butt shorts, codes anal sex into our lives. If “side” became a widely recognized sexual identity, it would break up this heteronormative top-bottom binary queer men exist in.
Beneath all these words and terms is a truth we’re just scratching at — that human sexuality can’t be reduced to single-word identities. Sexuality is a complex, fluid, ever-evolving thing. But single-word identities are helpful for dating and building communities, so we keep them. We should welcome sides the same way we welcome new words to our ever-expanding LGBT acronym. Queer elders tend to bemoan the expanding acronym (along with the word “queer”) as a snowflake invention, and I’m sure it sometimes looks like we’re composing identities out of thin air. But even if someone doesn’t understand the new terms or see the need for them, it’s not hard to understand the intention behind their creation.
Finding words for who we are and how we feel may be the oldest human struggle. Sexuality and gender are difficult, complex, intensely personal concepts that resist simple labels. Sex is such an important part of my life, and words like “bottom” and “versatile” barely do justice to what I am and what I like in bed, and I can think of many words that describe me better. But these oversimplified terms help us find others. While most of us can admit they fail to capture our complexity, we can also recognize the joy and power in finding others who connect with us thanks to a shared lexicon, a common language.
“Side” might not roll off the tongue as easily as “top” and “bottom,” and talking about being a side might feel awkward. But I think there’s a lot of queer men out there who could benefit from learning they have a name — one that doesn’t glorify anal sex as the baseline form of intimacy.
Above Image: From a photo essay in Masc, published June 11, 2018