In 2007 maymay wrote a post called On Kinky Competence, which I am sure I must have read at the time, but I reread it a few weeks ago along with the accompanying epilogue in which one reader, Dev, mentions being intimidated by the idea of playing with May. This struck me as incredibly surprising. I have known May since 2005 or 2006, and while I couldn’t tell you what kind of partner he was in 2007 as I was on the opposite side of the world, I have found him to be one of the most inviting bottoms I have ever played with. Ever. Really. In fact, now that I think about it, that should read “inviting, accommodating, and communicative.” But this is not a yelp review, so back to competence…
I mentioned my confusion to May who said something along the lines of “oh, yeah, that’s competence as a bottom.” Oh.
If you haven’t already read On Kinky Competence, you should. Here’s the link again, I’ll wait…ok, fine the cliff notes version is that competence in kink is important, intentions are just not good enough, and competence in a bottom is just as sexy and necessary as in a top. The important point here is that competence is as important a quality in bottoms as it is in tops, this is sometimes not obvious but “…perhaps this is because of the unfortunate misconception that bottoming is inherently a passive act and that the entirety of a valid kinky encounter involves a purely active top and a purely receptive bottom.”
Or for the cliff note skimmer: the idea that bottoming is passive is a lie, just like the cake is a lie, but worse.
So what this whole conversation and blog post is getting at is that maymay isn’t just made of magic, he has actually developed a skill set specific to bottoming. This should totally not be surprising, and yet it totally is. The fact that I feel invited to top May, that he responds to my cues, but also offers reassurance and prompts when I need that is actually by design. Which brings me back to my recent frustration with the fact that the only classes I see offered for bottoms are “Pain Processing 101” and maybe the occasional service/protocol class.
I started writing “hell, I’m frustrated that most of the classes for tops are about specific skill-sets (rope, knife play, needle safety etc.) when so much of what makes a scene work is the subtle detail, the communication (verbal, tactile, whatever)…” and realized that I don’t actually know how to teach the important things. Tools you can learn to use with enough practice, but when I think about what makes good scenes good, the best I can come up with is “being grounded enough to maintain safety and boundaries within the scene and in flow enough to let yourself go with it.” Not exactly teachable skills.
What does a competent bottom look like? I think competent bottoms are self-reliant, emotionally hardy individuals who have a discerning eye, and have the presence of mind to act responsibly—to be willing to get things wrong and make things right again—and to act with empathy and generosity towards their partners. In other words, the same exact qualities that competent tops share. Try that on for size.
I’d add the ability to empower their partners to do their thing (and yes that goes for bottoms and tops equally). Playing with maymay isn’t intimidating because he holds space for me, and he invites me into that space. He’s awesome at that and I don’t know why I didn’t realize that this was actually a skill and not a happy accident before, but there you have it.
What skills do you bring to your scenes as a top or a bottom? Are they teachable or instinct-based?