Do you know what it’s like for a dominant top to get a crush, for someone like me, whose mouth waters for submission from my lovers? I still swallow hard and hope the person I like will text me back. I just don’t blush.
He is walking me home down Gerrard Street after the Big Gay Party, being gentlemanly because he knows I had a rough night. I’ve known him since he was a sulky butch teenager in red flannel—now he’s a six-foot tall mountain of feminist tattoos and piercings. My long-time crush just ignored me at the party so I appreciate the warmth of his company as we walk past Allan Gardens, empty except for a few dog walkers and homeless folks about to bed down for the night. The conversation turns to his last disastrous experiences with a kinky relationship. I want to ward off any ideas this twenty-year-old not-quite-boy-not-quite-man might have gotten about flirting with me so I talk about sex like I’m talking about waffles.
But then he says, “I just have this feeling that bottoming would be so healing for me,” and I look away toward the construction billboards, try to focus on the peeling concert posters while my body floods with lust. I hope the traffic covers the sounds of my breathing, now quicker. “Oh don’t say that to me,” I think. Trying to keep an even voice, I ask him what he means. He talks about what went wrong, where it hurts now. I nod and we walk. I let him drop me off at my house and close the door behind me before pressing my forehead to the door. Little sparks spin around inside me like fireflies. My chest feels light and my arms heavy, like I was about to throw something. I occasionally love to switch—but I don’t have words for what I want to do to boys like him, why just saying “bottoming” and “healing” in the same sentence flips the lever of my desire, leaves me with sparks, a buzzing chest, a beating heart.
Years later when he’s a bit more grown, we discuss that night. “Tops get shy?” he teases me.
What it’s like to be a dominant top in lust is to want—and to feel that want in my fist, my teeth, my tongue, my cunt, my gut, and my laugh. To want with the ferocity of a double hurricane, of a thousand tons of steel hurtling down a mountainside. To want to crush the beautiful thing and then dab the tears while I put it back together again.
A few months later, I walk into a queer art party and spot a cute girl I’d met three times before I finally remember her face. “Don’t worry about it, I know I look like every other white queer girl with glasses,” she laughs. But I notice her that night, her crooked teeth and her glee, we scream-talk on the dance floor about being failed queer girls because we both like giving blow jobs. “I like how you can totally be in control doing them!” I scream over the Beyoncé. “And when I choke a little,” she screams back. A girl after my own heart. I give her my number at the end of the night and say, “I think you’re really cute.” She says, “Yeah I got that.” It’s not encouraging but I still hope she’ll call. She does call to make a date—which she then cancels a week later. Then she cancels the next one. I cry and wait. When we finally have our first date, she keeps to herself and I wonder if I got it all wrong. Sitting in the burger joint at 10 p.m., I ask: “So, what are we doing? Is this a date?”
“I don’t know, is it?” she demurs.
On our fourth date, I hold her in front of me in my warm apartment. The light is golden, there is snow on the fir trees outside, our wine glasses are barely touched. I look at her, both of us drunk with some kind of affection for the other. She rolls her head around, smiles, and slowly slides down to her knees, looks up at me, lips slightly parted. I take her face in my hand, look down into her soft liquid brown eyes, and fall hopelessly into a swoon of love.
My bloody heart
A thousand exploding suns
Her shy eyes, kneeling
She tells me it’s “cute.” Not quite what I was going for.
The winter turns to spring and my heart pumps and skips, wishing and willing her to be that girl for me always. To be the soft girl I saw in that moment. But a few months later I’m texting her things like “WTF heartbreaker?” after she barely speaks to me at a party then leaves without saying goodbye.
Because now I am a dominant top in love with a bossy masochist and I don’t know how to tell her that I need her. Or not her, not really—I need the girl I keep trying to make her be. I invite her to a show I’m producing—no, that’s not true. I don’t invite her; with a laugh I inform her that she is coming. She never says no to me. She just doesn’t show up.
What it’s like to be a dominant top in love.
The two of us sit at the Bloor Street restaurant, packed with hipsters and a chalkboard menu on the wall. We’re hungry and happy to see each other. Ten months ago we started out as a spring fling; I was fucking their ass on our second date and topping them and a hot femme at the same time on our third. But after the tenth or twentieth date, it was still so fun and easy it became our ritual. They make me coconut crusted shrimp or duck or Hungarian sausage, I fuck the shit out of them and we stay up late giggling and gossiping. We hold hands while walking down the train tracks and text each other selfies when one of us has a bad day. I like how they know that hard femmes need our hands held too.
And now here we are in the noisy restaurant and I put down my glass, clear my throat and bring up marks. As in, the kinds you make on the body, the kinds that sometimes stay. I bring up how in bed the other night, when I lay hunched over them breathing in the darkness after they came, I took my index finger and traced the letter M on the back of their shoulder. “M like Mine, M like Magic” I whispered. I want to cut the letter M into them with a knife and let it leave a faint mark. A token, a sign, a memory that one day a future partner will ask them about after sex in bright morning light. “Oh that? I dated this woman…”
“I’m not ready for something like that,” they say over the din of the restaurant. I have already steeled myself. I hold my stomach like I’m keeping something down. “Are you sure?” I ask. They can see my disappointment. “I’m sorry love it’s just…” “It’s okay,” I respond, “I understand… I mean, if it’s not right…” I’m tearing up. “This makes you sad.” They offer their hand across the table. “No it’s fine.” I shake my head, look at my drink. “It’s… hard but… it’s fine. I wouldn’t want you to do anything you’re not excited about.” I swallow hard, keep my chin up, find something else to look at, change the subject. We talk about it again in a month and it follows the same script. I stop bringing it up.
Sometimes I still imagine that “M.” I trace it in my mind if not on their body. I tell myself that what matters is what we are, not what we call it. That they are my boy even if they don’t want to carry a mark I made, even if they take off the collar I put on them and pop it in their jacket pocket. I don’t say anything about that. I am playing the part of “chill dominant girlfriend.” That traditional BDSM shit is so corny anyway, right?
The funny thing is that we talk about how lucky we are that we don’t long for the vanilla signals of commitment. I am already very happily partnered and childless. They want to get the hell out of Toronto and have babies somewhere they can grow food. Over the breakfast table, we high five about how great we are at enjoying what we have without the pressure to become something else. We are dates, lovers, sweeties, and we are genuinely good at it. And they are my boy. When they make me happy their light green eyes shine like river rapids. They make me breakfast and dinner and curl up at my feet. They say things like “why don’t YOU decide?” and we both brighten with delight. After months and months of learning to trust me, they let me comfort them when they have one of their mid-twenties’ meltdowns about their future, they rest their head in my lap and I stroke their hair and give them advice when a conflict destroys their confidence. “Are you sure this is okay?” they frown up at me. “If you don’t want to support me…” “Let me take care of you sweetheart,” I interrupt, kiss their forehead, brush their nose with mine. My eyes soft, my hands hard. I have what I want, minus the symbols.
Being a dominant top in love means an ache—for someone to tend to, to take care of, to steer and supervise, to shape and to set free. More than anything else, it is an ache to be needed by someone who is mine to protect—my beloved treasure, my cherished possession, my sweetest heart. The heart I protect like it is my own—because it is.
All photographs © N. Maxwell Lander.