His eyes big and pure, his back arched, the young man hunches over and looks upward. Lines of pleasure and surprise fly from his head. He seems to be bowing in adulation to a god, a boss or a parent.
Or maybe he’s taking some good dick.
Last week, RuPaul’s Drag Race star Courtney Act designated a new emoji for bottoming: the bowing man (?♂️). As a corrective to our previously inadequate bottoming emojis, this one quickly took off on Gay Twitter.
“Literally looks like doggy style,” says Ian Carter, a porn performer from Panama City. He previously used the common peach (?) to talk about bottoming, but the bowing man is growing on him. To Carter, ?♂️ is “more subtle. It requires a high degree of intellect to understand it,” he says.
Other porn stars agree. CockyBoys model Mateo Vice tells MEL, “It’s the closest thing we got to a man bending over.” Canadian bottom Bl0ndeB0i appreciates the detail of the bowing man: “It looks like a guy on his hands and knees getting fucked from behind. Even the lines on top make it look like there’s action behind him.”
However, the emoji isn’t fully beloved among all breeds of bottoms. OnlyFans star and essayist Ty Mitchell, also known as ProBottom, tells MEL, “It’s a no from me. The only bottoming emoji I recognize is ?. Unless you’re bottoming for a Republican. Then the emoji is ?.”
Another adult entertainer, Beaux Banks, doesn’t think the bowing man encompasses all of what it means to be a bottom. “Clearly, that emoji represents an idea. No emoji really represents bottoming, but if there were one, it would be this: ⬇️.”
The varied reactions to the bowing man shouldn’t come as a surprise. To me, it’s a welcome reminder of the vibrancy, diversity, joy and, frankly, openness of the bottoming community — a group that’s often judged unfairly.
Bottom Stigma and HIV Shaming
Sexual top-and-bottom discourse is often rooted in outdated gender norms. Historically, bottoms have been seen as more effeminate and undesirable, possibly going as far back to ancient Greek societies.
Bottoming has also suffered from an association with contracting HIV, creating a stigma against anal sex and pushing the narrative of HIV victim-blaming — a hot topic with a long history. This season on Pose, the FX series about New York’s 1990s gay ball culture, Billy Porter’s character Pray Tell goes in on his lover Ricky for scoffing at the idea of taking it up the ass, saying, “There’s way too much bottom shaming going on in this community.”
Even popular psychoanalyst Paul Joannides, author of the heterosexual sex manual The Guide to Getting It On, told Gwyneth Paltrow for Goop’s 2017 guide to anal that he “would want to be sure my partner did not have HIV before I’d even let him get close to my bum with his penis.”
No matter that it’s been five years since the FDA approved the HIV-prevention drug Truvada for PrEP. No matter that the CDC supports the science that being undetectable for HIV equals being untransmittable. The stigma against HIV (and, with it, bottoming) lives on.
Bottoms Are Kings
Bottoms deserve more than just rights and respect — they need good dick, too.
To that end, a few porn stars have unequivocally and proudly embraced the bottom brand. OnlyFans star DamagedBttm — Twitter’s unofficial guide to all things anal — came up with his name after someone sarcastically tweeted that tops don’t get enough respect. (The “damaged” part comes from his love for rough sex.)
“This is just an overcorrection to get people to where there’s mutual respect,” he says. That’s why I go so hard against tops. And it’s funny to watch them get mad. [Tops are] way more sensitive than you’d think. It started as a joke but then it became something real.”
In response to bottom stigma, U.K. OnlyFans star Methful has become an ass advocate. “I’m helping to reclaim it, I hope, through teaching everyone how to use tops the way tops use bottoms,” he tells MEL.
Aside from using tops “like the human dildos they are,” Methful is embracing the attitude of the bowing, pleading man with helpless eyes. “It’s the emojification of that feeling when the high school quarterback winks at you playfully, but you know he’ll never love you back,” he says. “He might raw-breed you and thank you for it when his girlfriend is in Cancun, but he will never, ever reciprocate.” The bowing man, then, is “any bottom who has fallen for an aloof, emotionally unavailable top.”
‘A Sexual Thought Prison’
Some would argue we’re doing ourselves no favors by embracing the top/bottom dichotomy. As we celebrate fluid sexuality, so too should queers be encouraged to move freely through a variety of sexual positions. “I think that’s part of the problem. We’ve literally made identities out of sexual positions. It’s a sexual thought prison,” Wood Miller, author of the books How to Bottom Like a Porn Star and How to Top Like a Stud, told GQ last year.
And, of course, bottom shaming isn’t the only stigma attached to gay sex. Grindr implemented a policy to eliminate phrases like “Masc 4 Masc” and “No fats, no femmes and no Asians,” which function as code for heteronormative, Western views of sexual desire.
Nick Milani, a JustForFans star, hasn’t experienced the disparity between tops and bottoms. However, he is a fan of the bottom emoji now that he’s seen Courtney Act’s tweet. “It just makes being a bottom more fun,” he says. “Now we have a go-to emoji.”
DamagedBttm objects to the idea that identifying as a sexual position is regressive. “I know that I like to bottom and I don’t like to top, so I’m comfortable identifying as a bottom,” he says. And while he supports the bowing emoji, he’s found an alternative that feels more true to his bottoming. “Pretty much every time I’m getting choked, I make a puppy-dog face,” he says, imitating the ? emoji. “Every bottom is built differently. Every position feels different. We all find our emojis that best fit us.”