Tops and bottoms and bonding

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Title: Tops and bottoms and bonding
Creator: Jane Elliot
Date(s): June 25, 2008
Medium: online
External Links:
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Tops and bottoms and bonding is a 2008 essay by Jane Elliot.

The fandoms it focuses on are The Sentinel and Harry Potter.

The topic is power dynamics and bonding.

The Essay

Again, not a specific story, just things I've noticed in the Sentinel and Harry Potter fandoms.

Let me say up front that I don't mind bonding stories. In fact, I quite enjoy bonding stories. However, there is one issue that keeps coming up and it bothers the *heck* out of me, namely, that most bonding rituals apparently have positional requirements for the guid[e]s/sentinels/wizards/witches who are bonding. It doesn't help that it's usually the guide who has to get penetrated (to the point that some guides apparently come with self-lubricating asses!), presumably because Blair is the smaller of the two main characters (despite the fact that there's no need for a sentinel to be the bigger of the two -- honestly, it makes a lot more sense for the guide to be bigger, so that he/she can protect his/her sentinel while the sentinel is incapacitated due to the senses).

Why does this bother me (other than the guide issue)? How about the fact that it makes no logical sense? Let's take The Sentinel first. Honestly, there's plenty of canon proof that sentinels can be both male and female, so how does it make a lick of sense that the sentinel *has* to penetrate the guide when the sentinel might very well be female? Is she supposed to use her fingers? Cause you still have an issue, what with the mystical bonding virtually always needing a semen transfer. I guess a female sentinel/guide team is just out of luck. And why does the guide have to be the submissive one anyway? He's the one who holds all of the control in the relationship and if your bonding story absolutely must have D/s elements, it makes much more sense for the guide to be in charge. Frankly, though, if the gods/spirits/magical instincts are so amazing that they can bring a sentinel and guide together from across the country, you'd think they'd be smart and flexible enough that they can handle any pairing, not just an m/m one. (Note: props to Lady Ra, who is the only author I've seen so far that actually had Blair note that it makes no sense for it to matter what position everyone is in, since sentinels and guides could come in all flavors. Sorry, though, I don't remember which one of her fics it is.)

And then you have the Harry Potter fandom, which... man. I'm not sure where to even start. How about the fact that I've never encountered a fandom so obsessed with sexual positions? Virtually every request I've seen on ficfinder comms states a positional preference for the characters, with no leeway for alternate positions or even for characters to take turns. Of course, this translates into stories with rigid limitations on the positions characters take. Even if Harry is a strong, dominant character in the fic and Snape is more secretive and subtle, Harry *still* gets all submissive in bed. Or the reverse is true, and while I'm great with either of these concepts in stories, to have 99.5% of the fic in the fandom follow this trend is really driving me up the wall. Especially when it refers to bonding fic, where I've seen explanations such as 'the older wizard penetrates the younger' (what if the older person is a witch?), where 'the person who initiates the ritual penetrates the one who accepts' (what if the person who initiates is a woman?), or any of a billion other variations where one or the other of them *have* to be on top (and I think you know what I think about that!)

I actually have a lot of issues with top/bottom issues in HP (the biggest one being that most of the time when Harry is a virgin, he doesn't even get the *opportunity* to try both positions; he's simple stuck on the bottom, it's assumed he likes it, and that's where he stays), but the ritual bonding issues really bug me because there's no freaking need for them to be there. Just have it stated that Snape prefers to be on top and Harry's okay with it. There's no need to force the issue when it doesn't make any logical sense.


Fan Comments at the Post

I would see a major difference between 'ritual bonding' within a classical 'magik' context ( where the process and procedures derive from a preset external text) and 'instinctive' bonding ( such as that in most - but not all - Sentinel stories) where the procedures are created by the persons involve.

In the first - I would have ZERO problem with OOC or impractical 'topping' aspects. By the very nature of ritual, the acts are removed from considerations of character so as to align with the 'structural' aspects of the forces invoked. In some ways ( and here I skip VOLUMES of lore) the further from the inherent actions of the individuals involved - the greater the need for and the power of the ritual. Also the questions of the physical become less relevant as - clearly - were the participants unable to carry out ritual 'A' they would simply have chosen ritual 'B'. The choice of why a certain ritual might require a line or two from the author, but could never be insuperable by logic.

In the second - however - all the problems removed by ritual come back multiplied. Once you surrender the prospect of a studied text (presumedly SOMEONE ELSE having written said text ) one accepts all the responsibility for both text and context. Power comes from the way each action reflects and *multiplies* the inherent power of the actors ( as opposed to tapping the external power referenced in the paragraph above) and thus if alien to nature must inevitably fail.

Plus there is the whole (to leave the hermeneutics) question of 'who thinks of this stuff if it isn't stuff they think of' that would get us back to character, writing, world creation, etc. But I think I'll just geek out on the ritual question. This is long enough, IMO. [1]

I've ranted before about Harry (or any other virgin, but it's really frequent in the HP fandom) never getting to try topping. Honestly, though, authors who won't even consider the possibility of a virgin wanting to try both positions are rarely good enough for me to bother reccing and/or ranting about. I'm a little more lenient in bonding!fic, since the lack of equality is inherent to the genre, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it:)

And I agree that a character who *prefers* to bottom or top can be a great fic, but I think it's something the characters should discuss at least a little bit before they enter a long-term relationship with each only taking one side or the other. Grr. [2]

I guess a female sentinel/guide team is just out of luck.

But don't you know? If there is no penetration with no cocks involved, it isn't really sex O.o I applaud this attempt of earth-logic! [3]
See... I've always argued in my bonding fics that it's just plain old pheromones.... nice, clear chemical signals that can happen no matter what the gender of the people involved. Otherwise, things really don't make sense. I guess my "Shadows" universe is the only one where I really describe that in detail, but it's the only thing that makes sense. However, when it comes to most people, I think they perceive a connection between positions and power when, in reality, the person doing the "catching" may have the power or, more often, two people don't engage in D/s at all, and the "pitching" and "catching" are just physical preferences. [4]


  1. ^ from darkladyz
  2. ^ from Jane Elliot
  3. ^ from atlantisgrrrl
  4. ^ from LitGal