"Test all things and hold fast to that which is good"
1 Thessalonians 5:21
In the gay vernacular, the terms "top" and "bottom" take on special meaning. Specifically, the Top is the partner who takes on a dominant role, while the Bottom is the partner who takes on a more submissive role. These terms need not be limited to the description of sexual roles. They can and often are used to describe the emotional and even domestic dynamic between two people in a relationship. A Power Bottom is someone who reinvents her role in a relationship, and directs from the bottom up. The Power Bottom is walking, talking proof that being submissive, as opposed to being aggressive, is not necessarily a position of weakness. The Power Bottom has great strength and integrity, and faith in who she is, and what her place in the world is. The Power Bottom sets boundaries. The Power Bottom says, "I prefer to be submissive, but this is exactly how submissive I will be - no further." The Power Bottom often surprises with her determination and strength of character. It is easy to underestimate the Power Bottom. It is also a mistake.
The dynamic between Olivia and Natalia began as very cut-and-dry: Olivia was the powerful, pushy, successful - if terminally unhappy - aggressor. She took what she wanted, she called the shots, she manipulated people and situations. She was the bulldozer. Not only did her aggression and power manifest itself in her using her failing health to muscle her way between Natalia and Gus, but it was tangible on a very basic level: she owned the Beacon Hotel, while Natalia was a paid chambermaid. She called the shots.This was no imaginary line in the sand, but a clear distinction. How many times did we watch Gus tend to Olivia's needs, while Natalia waited at home for him? The one time Natalia took a stand and made a concrete effort to block Olivia's actions (by locking her in the bathroom), her plan backfired, resulted in Olivia's losing a chance at a transplant, and saw Natalia's guilt drive her to sacrifice that which she held so dear - her relationship with Gus. Olivia made things happen. Natalia had things happen to her.
Even before love blossomed, Olivia was on top, while Natalia remained on the bottom.
One year later, and the dynamic has changed. The change is not only in the nature of the relationship (Olivia and Natalia going from enemies, to unlikely allies, to friends, to housemates, to romantic partners), but in the power dynamic.
Declarations of love
When, after months of internal struggle, Olivia finally confesses her feelings to Natalia, she does it with a caveat: I love you, but I forbid you to say you share these feelings, or to even entertain the idea that we have a future....I have already decided that the best thing for you is to marry Frank Cooper....it is not up for debate. This is business as usual - Olivia bulldozing her way through a situation, Natalia letting it happen. Or so it seems.
As it turns out, Natalia has determined what her boundaries are, and she will be true to them. For her, a loveless marriage of convenience is unacceptable. She draws the line, steps away from it, and will have her say. In a triumphant Power Bottom moment, Natalia leaves the altar and, minutes later, makes her feelings clear to Olivia: I don't love Frank, I love you. It is Olivia in this instance who is vulnerable, because she is not in complete control, which is what she believes she wants in a relationship. While Natalia wants to explore this newfound territory, Olivia wants to shut it away in a box and pretend it doesn't exist. The Top does not deal well with uncertainty, while the Bottom, who is by nature more open to new and different experiences, is more willing to navigate unchartered waters. It takes both strength and courage to be a Power Bottom.
Olivia retreats, Natalia advances
Afraid of an uncertain future, Olivia retreats, and urges - fairly orders - Natalia to do the same. Olivia points to Natalia's faith and relationship with God as the stumbling block she believes their feelings cannot overcome. Always unsure of that which she cannot control, to Olivia, religion and God are anathema. Natalia counters Olivia's fear of hitting a brick wall when it comes to reconciling their feelings for one another with Natalia's faith by facing it head on. Where Olivia seems to say, "Let's go no further - you will be forced to choose between me and God, and you will always choose your religion", Natalia seems to say,"There is room in my life for both, because these are the boundaries I have set." She expresses this not in a figurative sense, but in a literal one, by taking Olivia to church and telling her, before the altar, that everything will be ok, and that God still loves them. It is the Power Bottom deciding what it is she will submit to - she will submit to her faith, but she will not submit to the restrictions it might otherwise place on her love for Olivia. Natalia sits in a church, before God, holding Olivia's hand and saying out loud that they are together. It is an affirmation of strength. How's that for directing from the bottom up?
Father Ray and Olivia not moving in
Religion clearly plays an important role in Natalia's life. Natalia sees it as a source of strength. Olivia thinks - or maybe she pretends to think - it's a source of weakness. Both have apprehension about the inevitable - the moment when Natalia must come clean to her spiritual leader about her feelings for another woman. Olivia's apprehension revolves around the idea that Natalia will surely choose her faith over her heart's desire. Natalia's apprehension sits on the other end of the spectrum. She knows she loves Olivia. She knows this is how it is and how it is meant to be, and she fears that her church will no longer have a place for her. Her mind is already made up, when it comes to being open to loving Olivia. She accepts this love as a gift from God. She is, however, not so sure her church will be as accepting. When Father Ray offers her guidance and counseling, it is significant that Natalia makes the clear distinction: this is not a confession. To a Catholic, confession is about reporting sin. In declaring her love for Olivia, Natalia is not confessing a sin, but accepting a blessing. Again, she has set boundaries around what she will submit to. She will submit to her feelings for Olivia. She will submit to the reconciliation she has made with God about these feelings. She will not submit to a narrow-minded doctrine that makes distinctions about love based on something as arbitrary as gender. And, in the ultimate Power Bottom/Freaking Superhero move, she uses scripture to hammer her point home: Test all things, and hold fast to that which is good.
Olivia fears that facing a priest with the truth will weaken Natalia's resolve. Quite the opposite is true. If anything, this confrontation provides Natalia with both confidence and strength. When she tells Olivia that she doesn't feel ready to live together, it is the Power Bottom setting concrete boundaries:
Game, set, match Freaking Superhero/Power Bottom.
© 2009 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves