The reciprocal scenario [or set of meanings that gay men assign to fucking], where both men take turns fucking each other, is often exercised as a celebration of equality. What sets this scenario apart from others [such as the purely physical scenario, the intimate scenario, and the power scenario] is the versatility of the men involved. Versatility is a unique and important feature of male anal sex. Some men consider it liberating; they enjoy the freedom the male body offers to alternatively fuck and get fucked. Versatility to them is akin to speaking two different languages. It requires a special kind of playfulness, creativity, curiosity, and coordination.
. . . History tells us that versatility in male fucking has always been, at least until recently, a rare, if at all, notable phenomenon. Starting with the ancient Greeks, from whom we get our first accounts of male anal sex, men fucked men according to status and age stratification.
The Greeks thought that the love between an older man and a younger one was honorable and pure as long as the older man was the top. In fact, such a relationship was considered essential to a young man’s growth and education. It was also acceptable for a guy from a higher class to fuck a slave or a man with lower status, but if a wealthy and powerful adult male was found out to have been fucked, he’d be the subject of scandal and be in danger of losing his social position. What made a sexual act acceptable for the Greeks was not the sex of the partners involved, but rather whether they performed the roles determined by the power balance between them.
The Greeks were intolerant of effeminacy and passivity in men. Boys who behaved effeminately or who continued to get fucked as they aged were suspected and shunned. “Most discussion of appropriate sexual conduct in ancient texts,” writes Byrne Fone, “had as its subtext the seemingly unbridgeable distance between masculinity and effeminacy, between being sexually active and sexually passive, not the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality.”
– Excerpted from Gay Men and Anal Eroticism: Tops, Bottoms, and Versatiles by Steven G. Underwood ( Routledge, 2003).
NEXT: Part 2
Image 1: Peter Foss.
Image 2: Fred Goudon.