You know when you’re knee-deep in cocktalk, and hear that little nugget of gossip… “OMG! He’s a TOP?” ‘Cause you just don’t expect it. Well, that’s exactly what ha-happened to Bryan Morlan – writer for Vice – or more precisely, one of his girlfriends, who was shocked to hear that a mutual friend of theirs was a “total top”, (which means he’ll only bottom if he’s high or vulnerable).
It doesn’t take Einstein to tell you that we might make a snap perception as to what someone’s role is (often without even realising), based on stereotypes of masculinity. But is it justified? Or are we still stuck in a closed mindset that one man adopts the “male” role, and the other the “female”? The one that can’t fathom Tyler the twink, whipping out his schlong and throwing someone’s head in the pillow, just because she’s mincing around wearing fifteen layers of Miss Sporty foundation. A study from 2013, from the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, reaffirms this: “people rely on perceptions of characteristics relevant to stereotypical male–female gender roles and heterosexual relationships to accurately infer sexual roles in same-sex relationships.”
In the experiment, 23 participants were shown photos of 200 men (100 tops, 100 bottoms), in black and white, with no adornments (beards, glasses) and asked to identify which men were which role. Based solely on their facial features, participants were able to correctly identify the tops 64.5% of the time, compared with just 38.8% of bottoms. Dr. Nicholas O. Rule said the results had everything to do with biological indicators of masculinity (such as hairiness or a square jaw), not behavioral indicators. Well, duh – it was a photo, how can it be behavioral indicators? And so, while a top might look like a top, he may not behave in the stereotypical ‘masculine’ sense. Everyone knows a big muscle Mary that opens her mouth and sounds like
But looking at a paper from 2011, there is some evidence between our levels of campness and our roles in bed – or at least there is for Chinese men. “Sexual self-labels appear not only to distinguish sexual behavior patterns but may also suggest gender role differences among Chinese gay men,” which translates to mean that the tops also self-identified as having more masculine traits, while the bottoms self-identified as more expressive or of leaning towards more feminine gender roles.
A separate study by the same researchers found that bottoms were more interested in faces considered to be traditionally masculine, while tops showed more interest in traditionally feminine faces. We’re gonna take that one with a pinch of salt…
But when asked about relationship between our looks/behaviour and our sexual roles, Hart, the Canadian researcher, has a few theories. “One hypothesis is there are biological differences between tops and bottoms, and that’s a possibility, but we don’t have any evidence to support it,” he says. “Guys who are feminine are being pushed into feminine roles, and we construct roles in heterosexist ways. That’s as likely as an answer, and I think there is more evidence [for it].” So bottoms bottom because society implies that should be their role because they act feminine?
Well, a lot of men are apparently aware of the stereotypes associated with their sexual role, and intentionally attempt to juxtapose this. In a 2011 paper, researchers state: “Gay men with a higher degree of internalized homophobia and who identify as bottoms are more likely to work out to get muscular, so that would negate the idea of being a bottom,” Reilly said. “Once you have your muscles, you’re viewed as straight, even though they have created this other stereotype: the muscular power bottom.” How’s that for irony?
But after all is said and done, what Vice has concluded is that there is no surefire way to tell he’s top or bottom; basically what we already knew. There will of course be some general similarities, but there are always exceptions to the rule. By keeping things as cut and dry as labels among other things, only limits the number of decent men you’re going to meet.