Topping, bottoming, flip-flopping. With boyfriends, dates and guys I’d met on one night stands. I had anal sex because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, what I’d been told to do, because being gay is synonymous with anal sex, right? And then one day I came across the term ‘side’ – a term used by gay men who don’t enjoy anal sex, and suddenly I felt seen.
That was almost ten years ago. I started having the sex I wanted to have instead, and started talking about my new identity to anyone who would listen. The surprising thing was, that the more people I spoke to, the more I started to realise how many other people felt exactly the same as me. I completely lost count of the times I’d hear – ‘Wait, that’s a thing? I feel that way too!’ – it seemed that there was a staggering number of gay men who also weren’t in to topping or bottoming, and yet hadn’t found the language to express how they felt.
A guy I used to date even reached out to say that he too now identified as a side – the irony being that for the duration of the time we dated each other, the two of us had been having anal sex that neither of us wanted to have.
And it’s not always just a preference either – there are gay guys with medical conditions that mean they physically aren’t able to have anal sex. Men with phimosis (a tight foreskin) may not be able to top, and for gay men with stomas, bottoming could quite literally be life-threatening. So why then, after all of these years, is identifying as a ‘side’ still something we hear about so seldomly? The term was coined in 2013, and yet there still seems to be so little awareness. We still very much live in a top/bottom/vers culture, and I still have to find myself explaining what it means to be a ‘side’ on a near daily basis.