We’re so used to talking about bottoms trusting tops. It seems so obvious: if you’re going to let somebody beat you up, stab you with needles, shove a fist up your ass, whip you, dangle you by ropes, etc. etc. etc., you want to believe that they know what they’re doing, that they’ll respect you as a person, that they won’t seriously injure you accidentally, that they won’t seriously injure you intentionally, and that they’ll honor your safewords. I find these concerns so compelling that I just flat-out don’t do pick-up play as a bottom, and I’m regularly astounded when other people do (unless it’s with someone with a seriously good reputation for whatever it is that they’re doing).
But something we don’t hear nearly as much about is the trust tops place in bottoms. What do tops trust their bottoms to do? It’s pretty simple: communicate with them honestly and forgive them if they (the tops) the fuck up.
I started thinking about this issue quite some time ago, when I first read SherynB’s powerful piece called “Assent Matters”. It’s a piece which I find compelling and thought-provoking, although I still feel slightly ambivalent about whether or not I agree with it. You see, I trained as a top on my husband, and he’s the second-worst kind of bottom to learn on. The worst kind doesn’t communicate; the second-worst kind flat-out tells you, “When I’m in subspace, I completely lose the ability to determine what is safe for me, and I have to completely trust you to make that determination.” Ugh! What a fucking responsibility! That crazy fucker will literally beg and plead in subspace for things that will injure him, and it’s all up to me as the top to tell him “no.” Obviously, it means that he has to be forgiving if I go too far, but it has bred a cynical caution into my topping that means I just never really trust bottoms.
My lack of trust is especially tricky because I’m a “rape” fetishist. (And let’s be clear here, by “rape” I mean consensual play in which someone roleplays refusing sexual activities, not actual rape). For some reason, since I’m a femme-y girl, people tend to carelessly assume this means I’m a rape bottom … and it’s certainly true; but I’m also a rape top. What I really am is a rape switch, and regardless of which side I’m on, I tend to fantasize about the other one at any given time. But it’s a fantasy I almost never actually indulge because it’s just so goddamned easy to fuck it up. Last weekend was the first time I’ve ever “raped” anyone other than my husband, and we tried so very, very hard to negotiate the scene carefully. Fortunately, it went beautifully—better than I could have dreamed, really, but part of the reason I felt so comfortable was because I was just working as my husband’s accomplice, and I didn’t have to take as much responsibility for dominant decisions. And yet the hottest moment for me occurred when he told me to put my knife to her nipples, and instead of doing that, I looked straight into her eyes and said, “I’d rather put it in her pussy,” held it against her clit, and watched her pupils almost completely dilate as she came in terror. The thing is: pushing boundaries is HOT.
Initially, we (me, my husband, and his girlfriend) talked about doing the scene in public—which I’m much more comfortable with. As either a top or bottom, when playing hard, I like for there to be witnesses and people to help out if something goes wrong. But my husband, who’s not an exhibitionist, said that for him, “rape scenes are private.” His girlfriend laughed, saying, “It makes it sound like for you, rape scenes are really romantic.” He thought about it for a moment and said seriously, “They are.” When you consider the amount of trust that a bottom places into the hands of a top, and the amount of trust the top places in the bottom, to make a rape scene work, his point is entirely valid—not to mention the aftercare needs.
I think the hardest thing for me to cope with as a top is the fine line between “one of the hottest scenes I’ve ever done” and “consent violation.” While there may be some people out there who think that spontaneity has no place in BDSM, I’m going to have to smile and nod and say that we do kink on different planets. All of the hottest scenes I’ve done have had some fairly substantial elements of spontaneity to them. I negotiated a clothes-cutting-off-with-a-knife scene that climaxed with the knife in my pussy (what can I say? We like knives around here). Did I explicitly consent beforehand to having a knife in my pussy? No. Had it ever happened before in my life? No. Was it one of the sexiest things that I’ve ever done? Yes. Do I feel like my consent was violated? No—because I could have stopped it whenever I wanted. But as a top, I’m petrified of crossing that line where someone feels violated and then stops the scene and gets left feeling shaken and lost. The willingness and desire to feel out where those boundaries are requires a tremendous amount of trust, and a feeling of intimacy that I really do know what this bottom wants.
And I honestly believe it requires more trust as a top than as a bottom. Because I have a lot of faith in my resilience to recover from “having my consent violated” (knock on wood). But I think I’d be a lot harder pressed to recover from having my name plastered over FetLife as an “abuser.”
Maybe it’s safer to be a bottom.