Vers: Breaking Down the Binary
How the heteronormative binary exists sexually, and how vers people are rightfully rejecting it
Personally, I’m a bottom-side. I love to bottom, but also like to have just as pleasurable nonpenetrative sex. Whether something is going in my butt or not, sex is sex, and one expression is not more or less “real” or valid than the other. Many apparently have their whole worlds shattered when they are told the bottom-side existence is not a dichotomy. They say, “Max, you can’t like anal sex, especially as a bottom, and also ‘not like’ anal sex.” to which I say in nicer words, “Maybe you should read a book.”
This wrongful stigmatization and inaccurate interpretations are also experienced by those who are of any variation of vers/versatile, or people who both top and bottom. The LGBTQ+ community is now finally addressing the many years of unjust shadow casting over vers people. Heteronormativity has tried to wedge itself in many forms into our daily lives, but the notorious binary has made itself a prominent method. The concept of the binary has even seeped its way into our sexual preferences. No, Amy Coney Barrett, I said sexual preferences, not to be confused with sexual orientation.
Examples of deeply entrenched ideological systems that exist synonymously, if not born from heteronormativity are sexist power dynamics like the patriarchy and gender roles thereof. These beliefs have been engraved into characteristics/qualities along the masculine and feminine spectrums that are then not only gendered but in a binary manner. This even influencing LGBTQ+ lives and internal community norms (and honestly all, Queer or not) through the pseudo-reality that a sexually active person is either 100% a top or 100% a bottom. The middle ground truth between topping and bottoming actually more prevalent.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong if you are mostly or strictly a top or bottom. It’s the assumed standard that you are solely either-or that needs to be removed. Individual intentions also need to be examined as coming from either a healthy or unhealthy standing. My lack of interest and stimulation from topping is just that. If I was suppressing any desire to top out of the perceived “need” to fit into the cishet-made box of who a bottom is “supposed to be”, that would require some soul-searching if not professional inquiry.
Though as a bottom-side I experience a similar invalidation as vers people, it’s important that I open up the discussion directly to sexually vers LGBTQ+ people to get a sense of what their experience has been like within the Queer community. The responses I received are varying in length and depth, but all give insight into the macro-realities I’ve mentioned above.
Matt (he/him) — Vers
“I am fairly vers and have thoroughly enjoyed topping and bottoming. I have found most people are open to meeting up with guys who are vers, but many still want someone who is strictly a top or strictly a bottom. Why? Some men are just afraid to take it in the rump, so they hide behind the label of ‘strictly top.’
Shania (she/they) — Vers-bottom
“I’ve been in truly vers relationships and [sexually] binary relationships. The vers relationships have always been the most sexually satisfying. However, my current mostly asexual relationship is the most emotionally fulfilling and longest lasting.”
Frank (he/him) — Vers
“I find that gay men often present themselves as versatile when they rarely have/plan to top. I think this is due to internalized shame about getting topped.”
Jonah (they/them) — Vers-bottom
So I am a AMAB person, and in the last year or so I’ve had an astronomical shift as to how I view myself, my gender expression, and my gender identity.
Growing up Mormon, I didn’t have any representation of LGBTQ+ people in my life and [therefore] was really inundated with the concept of the heteronormative family. I was also bullied for being ‘gay’ by the other Mormon kids starting at age six which led to two things; one, being the start of a distinct feeling of being ‘other’ from the Mormon church which led to my eventual disaffiliation, but also associating being gay with the feelings of being bullied.
For the rest of my youth, I never really questioned my [sexual] orientation as when I was six and didn’t know I was Queer. My eventual instinct would just be like ‘no, I’m not gay’ when faced with homophobic toxicity, or if I ever was questioning myself in passing. Well, as puberty hit I knew I could never be chaste until marriage like the Mormon church demands (why are people so obsessed with virginity anyway?) and I started watching porn.
I would go through lots of stuff on the internet, and I guess I subconsciously built up a view on sex through this window out of the anti-sex home I lived in. Mostly, I watched heteronormative porn, starting out with high profile actresses, and over the years being more interested in amateur content. I started to realize I maybe wasn’t straight was when I found out that I REALLY liked porn featuring transwomen and playing with my prostate during masturbation. I spent probably a year or so viewing mostly straight porn with a healthy amount of porn featuring trans actresses in the mix before I ever had an instance in which I had to REALLY question myself about my sexuality.
I knew I was at least bi and openly admitted that I was attracted to all people of all genders after that. I later found myself dating this girl for three years and our sex life was always kind of confusing. She was absolutely BEAUTIFUL… but she was meaner than hell to me and ended up actually physically assaulting me once or twice… I put so much pressure on myself to [sexually] perform well for her that I would get so anxious I would finish fast and she would be mean to me about it afterward. Our sex was very heteronormative, and she was insecure about the fact that I had ‘experimented’ with other guys in the past.
Finally, after putting the relationship to rest and shaving my beard so to speak, I was ready to be out in the world, but I still didn’t have any LGBTQ+ friends. So I ended up on Grindr. Everyone always expected me to want to top, having equipment that other people deem as highly desirable, but I never did. I would strictly keep my topping reserved for women; of course including transwomen being women, and sometimes topping with transmen. I bottomed with cis guys only. I have always had such a clear separation in what my brain thinks sex should look like even though the theory I read and believe in is all about breaking sexual and gender norms.
Now that I’m at this point in my life, my interest in topping has intensely decreased to the point of getting stressed when my partner wants me to top him. I question whether or not I am torturing myself with these sex and gender expectations I was brought up with. I used to enjoy topping so much, now that I identify as femme, am I having a hard time wanting to top because I think women should naturally bottom? Am I trying to catch up on years of depriving myself of the pleasure that I always craved? I don’t want to have to make myself a hypersexualized woman who is complying with cismale expectations in order to enjoy getting my pussy fucked. But in order to let myself give in to my desire to bottom, sometimes I have to do just that.
It’s confusing! I’m still fairly new to this identity of mine, but it truly feels like home and I’m positive that I will be able to overcome the obstacles in my way. I’m 22, so I feel like I am really lucky to be doing this now instead of continuing to repress myself until I’m 50 with a mortgage and a wife and two kids. It seems like a lot less work to get this down now and I’m ready for it.
Antoine (he/him) — Vers
I am a French, 22 year-old male, that has been in the closet until very recently. I am a basic Gen Z guy. I am not very manly, but no exterior signs show that I belong to the LGBTQ+ community because I’ve faked being straight for the past 20 years. I am now changing and be more out, but it’s a slow process.
I started to experiment sexually very recently (last summer). I was attracted to everything: bottoming, topping, etc. I think I value more the carnal contact I can get from intercourse than a position. Also, as I said, everything seemed appealing to me. I find it kinky to bottom and ‘lose yourself’ to somebody (maybe because bottoming is forbidden?), but I also sometimes really want to top. I think we can say that [in terms of] the heteronormative domination concept [towards] bottoming and topping, [that] made me bottom first.
I didn’t felt confident enough to start by topping because I felt like it was the position of the ‘leader.’ So for two months I only bottomed (and I enjoyed it don’t get me wrong). But I self-censored myself because of this whole idea that I hadn’t the ‘shoulders’ to top yet. Thinking back this was maybe a mistake taking into account how much there is to learn vis à vis douching, preparing, loosening, etc. with bottoming.
I met my boyfriend around October 2020. That’s when things started to change because he is a strict bottom. This is sometimes annoying because I now top 100% and miss bottoming. I must admit, I don’t really get how someone can be strictly into bottoming. I personally don’t believe in extremes and I think it’s awkward to only enjoy one and only one thing. The heteronormativity in gay relations or relationships is really a shame. Women constantly fight against patriarchical and heteronormative dynamics where they are seen as inferior to their partners. LGBTQ+ people have fought for decades to be able to not follow the ‘rules’ of society in terms of relationships. All [of] this to finally get to a point where our relationships copy straight ones, and especially their flaws.
For example, my boyfriend expected to be asked out (as ‘normally’ the girl). He also said he expects me to kneel if we ever marry (wtf). I have to do all the courting part (‘like the man’), offer him things, prove my love, etc. and I hate it. I felt like a reward after all those years in the closet would be able to be in a relationship where we are equal and love equally, contrary to all the failing straight relationships I witnessed in my life, [but] I ended up in a relationship where I am basically the man courting my princess-like boyfriend.
In a nutshell, I sexually find that extremes of topping and bottoming annoying for those who just want to enjoy the whole ‘buffet.’ But I still respect the right for everyone to have their own preferences in bed. Relationship-wise, I think it is dangerous and very disappointing to be trapped in heteronormativity. As I am kind of stubborn, I don’t think my boyfriend will ever see me kneel.
Nicky (she/her) — Vers
“As a vers person, I truly don’t enjoy being asked if I’m top or bottom. I feel like it reduces a person’s identity to how they like to fuck, and all these ‘tops’ come around expecting me to be an eager bottom, and all the ‘bottoms’ want me to top them when I’m very selective for either option.
I dislike it when a person will ask the top or bottom question before they know anything else about me and it lowers the discourse overall. It does come with a sense of superiority though, get you a girl who can do both!”
Brian (he/him) — Vers
“It seems like true vers men are hard to find. I’m a switch when involved in BDSM, and my experience is similar in that the majority of people pick one role for the most part.”
Raymond (he/him) — Vers-top
“Sometimes I fuck guys. Sometimes they fuck me.”
I believe that both Queer people and society as a whole are progressing with our ideas of sexuality. We are addressing wrongs while also on our own journeys of self-discovery. The misconception that sexual liberation is solely linked to kink exploration is fading away. While kink shouldn’t be shamed by any means, sexual liberation is about freedom from unnecessary social restraints.
There’s a big difference between understanding the mentioned systemic concepts and then actually implementing them in your individual life; within yourself, and with your social interactions. Just like racism, sexism, classism, and likewise oppressions, heteronormativity will not vanish overnight. If heteronormative constructs and their branches like the binary are still being implemented by people belonging to the communities these constructs intend to suppress, then we still have a long road ahead of us.
But here I am, a sexually liberated, democratic socialist, Queer rights activist, mental health advocate writing about these big ideas that, until recently, didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe them. In academic spaces, or casual spaces like a Medium article.
We are definitely making strides in the right direction. Versatile strides. Get it? See what I did there?