I’m Alexander Cheves, a sex writer, worker, and educator. Friends call me Beastly. My debut book, an erotic memoir titled My Love Is a Beast: Confessions, will publish next month on October 12th.
I’m currently in the middle of a book tour in partnership with The Advocate and Out Magazine. I’m doing readings at spaces that are meaningful to my community — leather bars, queer community centers, and similar spaces. We were just at the Folsom Street Fair.
All events are free, but are ticketed to comply with local occupancy limits. Please join me and get your tickets now.
The tour is my excuse for the fact that this post is a day late. My posts are scheduled in advance, so the unfinished draft was accidentally published yesterday and was live on the site for some hours. My apologies — I’ve been busy!
Thank you for writing about what LGBTQ+ folk go through and for working to undo all the bullshit. After I started the process of working through a lifetime of internalized homophobia (sorry world, I voted for Trump the first time), I started addressing areas of my sexuality that I had glossed over or shamefully ignored. I have woefully under-read my people’s stories from healthy places, and first found fiction, written by straight women – which woke me up – but left me dangerously vulnerable. Last year, I read a Chinese “shounen-ai” novel that broke me. A “top” was raped and became the “bottom” – his life was destroyed and became completely subjugated to his rapist, with the family’s support. The rapist never let him “top” again (oh, once as a treat for being good…). It was more complicated than that, but the rape-victim-protagonist’s (let’s not gloss it over by calling him the “MC” or “shou” – he was raped repeatedly…) situation literally woke me up at night for months.
But this message isn’t really about literature, queer or Chinese, or otherwise. But that was the “trigger”. I always leaned a little more towards effeminate, at least with the use of my hands; I was in choir; I planned weddings (at church); all the stereotypical “effeminate accoutrement” that pop culture, etc. say belong to a bottom. Additionally, after watching so much porn, I thought…I really don’t have the right equipment to claim to be a top (even though 2 decades of sex would beg to differ). After a lifetime of emasculation from my mother (shock) and oppression from my church community (cult-ish vibes on max), I read this character’s story and I was afraid. Afraid that like the rapist, someone would, or everyone would, reject the idea that once I’m in bed I am absolutely, comfortably, with no reservations a dominant top.
I had a lesbian friend look me in the face and say to me and another friend, “Really? You and Devin aren’t really tops are you?” I was shocked. This is the person who recommended to me the brilliant psychologist (the one that helped me unpack all the things). This is also, though, the person whose wedding I planned, and for whom I officiated while wearing pink extensions, in a long pink t-shirt and pink board shorts. My longest recurring gay sex partner and my ex-girlfriend (who came out as a lesbian during that time) can both attest to my preferences in bed. However, I simultaneously don’t find it necessary for random friends or family to hear that testimony. But also get really frustrated that their perception of me as a bottom undermines in some way my masculinity or wholeness as a person. This leaves me wishing I was some hunter/gatherer man’s man. Which… well, no thanks.
I list myself as “V” on the apps… and I’m still trying to determine if that’s more of a “let me find someone that sometimes will top” or…just still fear that I’m unqualified to advertise myself in that way. In the end, I suppose I’m just desperately desiring to have people in my life that don’t think of me as a token gay or use a categorization of my perceived sexual position as a liturgy of my life’s worth. Anyhoo…thought you might understand. Warmest regards ever, Rich ******
There’s a lot to unpack there, so I’m going to try to condense your message into what I am interpreting: You wish people saw you as more of a top, in all the ways that you think our culture stereotypes tops, yet you naturally defy those stereotypes. You suspect that you cannot advertise yourself as a top because you don’t display the typical markers of “top-ness.” You don’t want to be perceived as a bottom because it makes you feel feminized, ashamed, and so on. And you just generally have trouble with the roles themselves and societal perspectives of them. Am I correct so far?
First of all, as someone who prefers to get fucked, I can say that there’s no shame in being a bottom — perceived or actual. Sure, some straight people will see bottom men as “stereotypically gay,” as emasculated men, as lesser, whatever, but those people are ignorant dumb trash and I don’t need to be liked, understood, or accepted by ignorant dumb trash.
It’s really no one’s business what you like in bed — that is, unless you want it to be. Some guys make their sex role a very public-facing part of their identity, and gay culture has always normalized this, from the hanky code in the ‘70s and ‘80s to all the dumb t-shirts made today by modern gay clothing brands (it is somehow still considered edgy to sell T-shirts with “Top,” “Bottom,” “Daddy,” and other overused labels printed across the chest). But no one has to advertise, and many don’t. There are many happy queer men with great and adventurous sex lives who do not need everyone at brunch to know what they prefer in bed.
I can understand the desire to want to adhere to cultural standards of top-ness and bottom-ness, at least from a practical standpoint. At a gay bar, it can be helpful to give off “top vibes” if you’re a top and “bottom vibes” if you’re a bottom. Doing this can, in theory, help you find what you’re looking for more easily and naturally.
Here’s the problem: many gay men, even hardcore bottoms, want to give off “top vibes,” because what we really mean when we say “top vibes” is masculinity, which reveals that this entire business of “top vibes” and “bottom vibes” — of top and bottom perception — is really just classic gender roles, rebranded. To adhere to them and embrace them is to absorb standards set by heterosexuals into our culture. That’s fine, and queer men have done this literally for 40 years, and it’s okay to like masculinity and be attracted to it — but at least be aware of how we have all been culturally conditioned to do so.
I think what you’re mostly saying is that you feel your natural style and presentation are not super masculine and therefore do not meet the criteria for “dominant top” and therefore invalidate your sexual preferences and inhibit your ability to advertise them as such. So, speaking in a solution-oriented way, what do you want to do about it? Do you want to alter your personality and presentation as best you can to meet cultural standards of “top-ness”? Would that make you happy? People can change. People discover new scenes and micro-cultures and modes of presentation all the time that they actively choose to adopt.
So there’s that option, and that might make your friends eventually see you as a stereotypical top. You could spend money and time on personal trainers and steroids, cut your hair and change your clothes, mimic very masculine people you know, and maybe, in time, you will achieve something a few degrees closer to that hyper-masculine top ideal in your head.
The other option is to be as you are naturally, whatever that is, and accept that you like what you like, whatever that is, and recognize that both are true. And by both being true — your natural presentation and your sex preference — they are evidence that not all tops are masculine, and that gender roles are fictions that we contort ourselves to meet, often forfeiting our happiness in the process. You don’t have to look hard in gay culture to find other gay, bi, and queer men who are also such evidence: there are countless feminine dom tops out there, along with countless masculine bottoms and people who switch it up depending on the day. In gay culture — as in all cultures — some of us happen to comfortably fit into the gender standards assigned to us, but I believe far more do not, and those who do not have the choice to change themselves as much as they can to meet punishing ideals or live in defiance of those ideals. You have that choice, too.
It’s hard to kill shame, and shame is the mechanism that makes us try to fit ideals we don’t naturally align with. Shame is what keeps so many gay men trying to appear masculine. Shame is what so many men work to overcome in order to comfortably bottom. Shame is the enemy — it is the tool by which gender roles remain in place, the glue that holds behavioral standards together. Small acts of revolt against shame — like wearing pink hair extensions and spending time with fearless faggots — work and are mightily powerful, but you have to keep doing them every day. You have to live in revolt.
I know guys who paint their toenails gaudy colors just to quietly, discreetly buck gender roles and remind themselves that they are free to be what they want. You’re a top who does not conform to what you see as the way tops should be, and you don’t want to be perceived as a bottom. In my humble opinion, you should analyze the shame you attach to being a bottom, think long and hard about the friendships that do not enforce your positive self-image, and do whatever is necessary to feel sexually validated and powerful. In my own life, that has most often just been having great sex exactly as I want it.
By the by, I’ve been fucked by many feminine total tops, and there’s been no question in my mind as to what they are and what they want. They are completely valid, completely real to me. I usually present masculine, but my wrecked pussy shows who’s in charge.
Keep topping, and ask the men you power-fuck what you are. Their gasps and moans should be your answer.
I have masturbated at work in the relative privacy of a bathroom stall many, many times, so I’d be fairly hypocritical to say you shouldn’t do so. But if you do, do it only in a bathroom stall, or at least somewhere there is 100% zero chance of someone else accidentally walking in. Spaces that are generally not considered private or cannot be made private are off-limits: private offices are fine, but the back room behind the supply shelf is not. I see masturbation like shitting: everyone does it and is free to do it when they need to, but you can’t do it in public or in inappropriate places without facing legal penalties.