Gay culture is littered with many identities ranging from non-sexual experiences to sexual ones that are growing and evolving constantly, and for the better. Our identities as queer people are often expounded upon by our behaviors in the bedroom. I will say from experience, they are also conflated.
The mainstay of men who have sex with men is the identities of tops, bottoms, and the gradations of versatile men. Just for a breakdown of understanding: Tops have anal penetrative sex, bottoms have anal receptive sex, and versatile men can actively do both. I identify as a bottom, and I have primarily been doing so since I started having sex with men. In my experience, there seems to be a queer tax to being a bottom. I also feel that tops get the better end of the stick but are still getting the proverbial stick. The “stick” is that many of them don’t lose social currency (how one is valued in social and romantic spaces) when they express that they are tops. Also, in many cases in hookup culture, they aren’t seen as less equipped to perform sexually because of the lack of versatility, yet when it comes to dating, it becomes a problem. But for bottoms, we lose desirability and currency in both hookup culture and dating.
Outside of that sit versatile men, who say they are living their best lives, while the rest of us are not because of our “limitations” of the sex we have, and how the sex we have may be complicit in gender roles in queer dating. The term versatile in queer culture identifies a person who has anal penetrative and anal receptive sex and can perform both consistently. When you get to the echelons of versatile top and versatile bottom preferences, those translate to a person who can perform both anal acts but prefers one over the other. I have felt pressure over my queer sexual experiences to be versatile, but I have recently accepted that I am not versatile and I don’t have to be. The sex that I have brings me joy and completion. I will say the point being rendered is not to bash men who are versatile, but to bring nuance to a topic in queer culture that we call the “Vers Agenda.”
Queer Dating and the “Vers Agenda”
Jokingly, the “Vers Agenda” is a colloquialism that describes a sinister and dubious plan by versatile men to convert tops and bottoms to versatility. It seems to be a satirical joke of how cisgender heterosexuals speak of the “Gay Agenda.” Truthfully, it’s not really a thing of conversion, but a situation of social currency. These things can be around your appearance and other, intangible, expressions like your education level and sexual position. Social currency also impacts our access and permissions in queer culture. For example, some adult parties will have a stipulation that only fit bodies are permitted to be patrons in their space. This is also a loaded topic, so I will try to keep this as succinct as possible.
When coming up in queer dating, before the world of phone applications like Jack’d and, regrettably, Grindr and smartphone technology, many queer men used dating and hookup sites like Adam4Adam (the last one of its time as a direct hookup website). The site asked very clearly what you preferred sexually. The apps of today don’t ask that, and it seems we are in an era of queer dating that is more patterned after straight experiences, even though we were the ones who mostly pioneered the culture itself.
I remember how many more hits I would get on a dating app if I said I was versatile rather than saying I was a bottom, knowing well that I had no intention of ever topping the person. Also in the melee, I recognized profiles that would exclaim: “VERS GUY HERE. LOOKING FOR VERS GUYS AND TOPS ONLY, NO BOTTOMS.” I remember being so disarmed by this, and I found it befuddling because if you are versatile, wouldn’t you like both? I then learned that some, not all, and not many queer men, were saying they were versatile to align with the idea that they were masculine by default.
Back then, it was perceived that if you were only a bottom, that you were irrefutably feminine without question. Disrespectfully in queer spaces, there is a culture of femmephobia and a disdain for feminine presentation, and it’s also perceived that bottoms are pillow princesses if they don’t immediately attach the label “masculine” preemptively. For a time, it was not a bonus to admit that you were a bottom—and in the realms of social currency, you could lose out dating-wise if you were perceived as such.
Respecting Each Other’s Sexual Experiences
Now let us not forget the people in our community who identify as tops and their pressure to be versatile in their dating practices. No one really complains about tops in hookup spaces, but what happens is this patriarchal desire to deflower men who are exclusively tops in those said spaces. Tops admit in their experience that there is a need for other men to see if they can be turned out and changed. There is an inclination by a subset of gay men to chase—and, well, top tops. It’s almost tantamount to a level of fetishization.
Tops are also perceived as being unable to be great at what they do because they lack the understanding of what it is like to be penetrated. I think shared experiences can be conducive to better sex, but I have slept with enough men to know that this theory is a fallacy. Being great to a partner as a top requires just basic compassion and perspective, and not having the experience of bottoming shouldn’t diminish that. I have sex with versatile and top men and have found both groups to have the same ebb and flow of occasional bad sex.
Similarly, it is suggested that in our dating practices as men who are only tops or bottoms, that we would have better success and happier dealings romantically if we were versatile. I do comprehend that we can’t help who we fall in love with, and there’s a chance that someone who identifies as a top or a bottom will date someone versatile.
It is also suggested that the non-versatile partner will have to submit to versatility to keep the sexual parts of the relationship thriving, but that is not always true. Some versatile men compartmentalize their versatility in the same vein as bisexual people manage their love lives. An instance of this is with a bisexual person, if they are in a monogamous pairing regardless of gender, they will stay faithful. There are versatile men who will only top or only bottom in a relationship because some of those men are a part of that gradation of men who are versatile tops and versatile bottoms. You can assess what this means, exactly what it means. However, I do believe, before getting romantically entangled, it’s advisable that you have an open conversation about sexual needs and desires. I have met men who are versatile and can be a top in a relationship as long as it is stipulated that they have access to play with toys from time to time. It’s completely fair and consensual, and I love that. Sexual compatibility is a valuable and underrated part of dating. It should be considered always.
We all arrive at our sexual identities at some point in our sexual experience, regardless of which side our sexual bread is buttered on. It is essential that we give each other the bandwidth to be who we are sexually and also respect each other’s boundaries simultaneously. The “Vers Agenda” is a watered-down truth, but the only truth that has currency is how you perceive yourself and what makes you happy and safe in sexual situations.