It is a universally acknowledged truth that a bottom boy with a bubble butt must be in need of a hung top. That particular problem of the gay world was as pertinent in Jane Austen's time as it is now. The woman may have known everything about matchmaking but is of little help when it comes to choosing the proper bunk bed.
In the good old times (i.e., before the Internet and mobile networks), those who did not state their preferences in personals or by ingenious use of handkerchiefs were doomed to laborious guesswork. Minutes if not hours had to be wasted on flirting and getting to know the other guy before finding out that you both played the same position. Perhaps men were more flexible before the age of menu-style consumerism, but we can also be sure that many relationships formed under false pretenses and that countless guys ended up in the wrong role for a lifetime.
Those troubled times of smart innuendo over candlelight dinners are now behind us! Thanks to online profiles, we now know everything about the other guy's preferences and measurements before we have to buy him a drink or drive over to his place. (Do people still buy each other drinks?)
In most European countries the words to look for are the atrociously unimaginative "active" and "passive" and their local translations or abbreviations, atrocious because a bottom is hardly always passive, and many a top has been observed lying passively on his backs and letting the bottom do all the work.
Whereas in Central and Northern Europe these expressions invariably mean what they indicate, it's not that easy in the Arab, Latin and Asian gay world. Macho cultures, shame and stigma attached to passivity have led to secret codes that aren't always easy to crack. You won't find many "passive" guys in Lebanon, for example, yet there are plenty of bottoms. In some Latin American countries "passive" often refers to petite, effeminate men. A tall, hairy hunk would never put "pasivo" on the profile, even if he's a first-rate catcher.
The dissimulation does not stop there. The further you dig, the more confusing it becomes. For example, there is the "usually top, but will bottom for the right guy" and its synonyms. That means he's looking for the right guy, period. Then you need to decipher the vexing "versatile" (called "flexi" or "both" in some countries). That's like saying "both" to the flight attendant's question of beef or chicken. "Yes, but what do you want tonight, sir?"
To end the confusion, we use qualifiers -- and make things worse. There are now "pure tops" and "pure bottoms" to make sure you get the message. I prefer to add "100-percent" before "versatile" to underline my willingness to switch sides. Others are less sure but equally numerically inclined: You will find the 90-percent top or the 70-percent bottom, hitting arithmetically on the 20-percent passive, whatever those numbers really mean. You will also encounter the 50-50 guy, for a good flip-flop. Some websites allow you to be "more top" or "more bottom," which is woefully unscientific by comparison.
Taiwan, as befits the heart of the IT hardware industry, uses binary code: One is either "0" or "1," unless one doesn't get the beauty of binary and is stubbornly "1/2" or "0.5." Yet human sexuality can't be coded in two digits. For this reason, in the character-starved world of social apps, you will find the mysterious "vers-0" and "vers-1." He is saying, "Yes, I eat both, but today I prefer the chicken," or, rather, "Yes, I'm a top, but you are cute, so I'll make an exception," or, if you are mean, "I pretend to like both, but really, look at the number, mate."
However, it's hard to beat the simplicity of Japanese (and, increasingly, Chinese, which is adopting the usage), where the characters "?" and "?" need no explanation. As an author, I find florid expressions more endearing. There's my perennial favorite, the very American "pitcher and catcher," the practical "I prefer to the bunk" or the simply brilliant "I will be the train, and you can be the tunnel."
The puzzling thing is that whatever the label, what happens once we meet is often a very different story. Guys with macho top profiles may turn out to be sweet and kind bottoms. The last "power sub" I hooked up with ended up doing me. We are misled by pictures and our own imaginations.
Internet and mobile apps are directing us to make statements about our preferences so that others can choose. As consumers, we are used to choosing, but do we really know what we want? The image we project is often more wishful thinking than a reflection of actual likes and dislikes set in stone. I've had wonderful sex with tops who bottomed for me for the first time. In fact, my partner and I have had so many surprises dating other guys that we have started to ignore all the online labels altogether.
In truth, I believe, most men are versatile, because, after all, we can be both. And when the chemistry is right, those roles we so proudly proclaim become secondary, and the labels unnecessary.
About Marten Weber:
Marten Weber is of mixed parentage (a man and a woman) and has lived in more countries than he can count on hands and feet together. He speaks several languages and believes in multiculturalism, tolerance, and free champagne also in economy class.
He dislikes bigots and fanatics of all denominations. He is hugely uncomfortable with labels, even seemingly benign ones such as "gay," "straight," or "sugar-free," and prefers instead to judge people by their sense of humor and shoe size. He believes that everybody, regardless of race or gender, should be gay for a year.
Marten Weber is the author of the acclaimed 2010 novel Shayno, the biography of Casanova’s gay brother Benedetto, and several other books about the lives and lust of men.