(For Part 1, click here.)
The notion that tops and bottoms are socially and morally unequal creatures has been the overriding assumption about male fucking throughout history. That version of homosexuality was accepted in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. It was condemned, but still prevalent in Europe through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Age of Enlightenment. Even as late as early twentieth-century New York, gay men operated underground as either the limp-wristed fairies or the masculine “trade” that the fairies pursued.
Today, in a predominately Islamic but westernized country such as Turkey, men who are “active” in homosexual encounters are often not considered homosexual at all. Instead, their domination of passive men is considered evidence of their hyper-masculinity. In El Salvador . . . being fucked is considered a “kind of degeneration,” while the top is “just being a man.” Bottoms are still stigmatized all over the world, including isolated pockets in the West (such as prisons), while tops are viewed as exercising their male prerogative.
The Western view about role separation in male fucking began to shift in the middle of the last century, in the 1960s and 1970s. The seeds of that change were planted several decades earlier, by a few turn-of-the-century authors – Karl Ulrichs, John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, and Havelock Ellis – who were the first to launch a movement toward the “normalization” of homosexuality. These writers portrayed gay men as ordinary, normal citizens (not prisoners or inmates in an asylum), no different from everyone else except for their attraction to their own sex. Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion began the first heated discussion over sexuality in a society that was just emerging from the morally oppressive Victorian era.
This effort was thwarted by the followers of Freud who, by emphasizing early childhood traumas as its explanation, categorized homosexuality as a clinical abnormality. Normalization was brought to the forefront once again in 1948 by Alfred Kinsey and his Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Kinsey’s assertion that homosexuality was common and that it should not be considered a crime against nature was met with great resistance in the scientific community. Thirty more years would pass before the American Psychiatric Association would finally remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
By this time a gay liberation movement was under way and the existence of homosexuals was taken for granted. Gay men began to regard the separation of top and bottom roles as a mimicry of heterosexual functions and a form of self-oppression. In his essay, published in 1970, “Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto,” Carl Wittman listed four statements he considers anti-gay perversions:
- I like to make it with straight guys.
- I’m not gay but I like to be “done.”
- I like to fuck but I don’t want to be fucked.
- I don’t like to be touched above the neck.
“This,” wrote Wittman, “is role playing at its worst; we must transcend these roles. We strive for democratic, mutual, reciprocal sex.” In a radical reinvention of their own image, large numbers of gay men abandoned the stereotype of the limp-wristed fairy as a relic of an oppressive past. They began to have sex with each other instead of trade. They effectively transformed themselves to become the masculine men they’d always desired to have sex with.
More than three decades after Wittman’s declaration, the effort to understand the meaning of “democratic, mutual, reciprocal sex” continues.
– Excerpted from Gay Men and Anal Eroticism: Tops, Bottoms, and Versatiles by Steven G. Underwood ( Routledge, 2003).
Opening image: “Relationship” by Raphael Perez.