Top, bottom or versatile - liberation of limitation

Top Bottom Vers

A black gay man’s journey into the gay lifestyle is marked by certain moments. For me, it was the “down-low man.” From Oprah to hair salons, there was a fascination with men who were overtly masculine but dated men in secret. I start here because, in that same breath, I learned about the three roles black gay men play: top, bottom, vers. I’d even take a shot in the dark and say that the “vers” men seemed few and far between.

“Role” Swap

I also say “roles” separate of the word “sexual” because it felt as if we assumed top meant masculine and bottom meant feminine. Even TV shows picked at the idea of a “pitcher” and a “catcher” with opposite attributes. But, as time moved on, so did our understanding of what being a top, bottom, vers looked like.

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For most of us black gay men, they’re just role indicators. No limitations exist. They are convenient. We lean into one, but often find flexibility for the right guy. Even I have opted to put top on a profile, but with the right picture in my DM, found myself open to spending those dreadful hours (at least for me) preparing for the times to come (ha!). And then, this conversation on the left happened…

And it didn’t stop here. Twitter-handles became “Soft Top” or “Fem Trade” and all of a sudden; it felt like an age-old conversation adapted a new dimension for our consideration. As we look at this list of beyond, top, bottom, vers; is it time we accept the evolution of sexual terminology or stick with the big five (top, vers/top, verse, vers/bottom, bottom)?

Does It Matter [Your Preference]?

Top bottom vers
A Conversation on Twitter

In short; yes. It’s good to know how you identify because it’s sex. It’s supposed to be fulfilling. I find the list unnecessary. I, along with friends, have looked at the big five with a floating perspective. If a guy said, hey I’m a top, I could assume, he’s vers/top. For the right guy, he’d bottom. If he’s vers, he’s probably vers/bottom. Experience taught me the flexibility in choosing to identify as a top, bottom, vers.

But, if I’m ever presented with an, I’m a “Top with range,” what am I to do with that? Who determines what range is? Why isn’t the traditional “top” valid anymore? Is that not a mood kill to have to go into teacher mode for your nightly sexual adventures?

I’d argue it is. In a day and age where we get to release people from the idea that gender is one dimensional, we’re also learning the beauty in sexual expression. If I rely on Google, a “Top with range” will give me samples of various stoves for sale. If I rely on my imagination, I’m getting a “Top” who enjoys a multitude of sexual adventurousness commonly linked to a bottom (oral, grinding, baiting, finger action, and so on), but who just does not like penetration.  And also, duh! A top or bottom’s sexual experience should not be limited to just penetration.

Is Sex With a “Traditional Top” So Dull That We Need This List?

If so, that’s more about you than a community thing. I’ve found that a good sexual partner is a team player. They do what they do, and they do it well. They share their desired sexual position and allow for the “vibe” to flow. You’re both liberated in the ease of the moment. You know if the top is flexible after talking. If he prefers to simply top, then you respect it. If he’s open to verse activity, you adjust. So yes, top, bottom, vers – the big three matter, still.

What Does Matter? The add-ons…

The in-between captures a lot of what this list aims to reference. We have the “vers” add-ons because, well, we know the beauty in being gay is we get to use our front and back. Vers/Top and Vers/Bottom is a fair trade-off between the big three. What matters to me is that we have five, clear, and solid options where we can start.

Even cis-gendered women and their cis-gendered male counterparts have begun to discuss rimming and pegging openly. There are boundless ways to explore sex, and it doesn’t ever really start with this list. If anything, the list limits you.

It’s Not Broken so…

Look, if this list strikes your fancy, kudos to you. You have one more accessory on your queer journey. But, if I’m honest, these extensions of top, bottom, and vers, have no place. While they hope to allow for more, they seem limiting. I don’t even ask a man’s sexual preference anymore because I know better. If you like me, and I like you, we will figure it out. Always!

Maybe there’s a generational divide. Perhaps, younger men feel as if there are not enough labels to capture the many ways in which they show up sexually. Fine. Add-on as you think fit. But for those “elder gays,” you mentioned above, we are just fine with understanding the unspoken journey of black gay sex “In the life.”

Sex is fantastic between two consenting adults who have invested enough time in exploring each other’s bodies, and who only mention a sexual position to have sex, not to limit its physical expression. Use top, bottom, vers, as a guide, but not as an end all be all.


  1. I love this synopsis of the “label” problem! It also led me to consider the role apps play in cementing these sexual categories for us, which can make a person feel oddly marginalized. Thank you!


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