'Looking': On Bottom Shame

This week's Looking takes a structural departure from the norm, focusing solely on Patrick and Richie and their brand-new relationship. It also delves pretty deep into the rabbit hole of the gay sexual experience. So to speak.

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This week's Looking, "Looking for the Future," takes a structural departure from the norm, focusing solely on Patrick and Richie and their brand-new relationship. It also delves pretty deep into the rabbit hole of the gay sexual experience. So to speak.

It's the staying-in-bed-all-morning stage of the relationship for Patrick and Richie, not to mention the discovering-each-other's-sexual appetites stage. Patrick proves to be reticent when it comes to being on the receiving end of anal sex, which is dealt with on its own merits but also becomes somewhat symbolic, throughout the rest of the episode, of Patrick's caution and timidity. Over the course of the day, the two talk and traverse the city and create what the show hopes is a bond with the audience that will carry through the rest of the season.

Guys ... “bottom shame.” Is it real? What is it?

Alex: Well, then we’d have to explain tops and bottoms. Joe, I am deferring to you.

Joe: Well, the story of tops and bottoms begins in ancient Greece, where …

No, okay, that’s not going to happen. We’re all adults here. We know how bodies work. What I think was so great about the way Looking handled “bottom shame” was that they came at it from an angle of very relatable insecurities and curiosities and attractions. And even though they used the term “bottom shame,” they didn’t turn it into a buzzword or something pithy and flip. As to your question of whether it’s real … yeah, it is. It shouldn’t be, but it’s at the very core of the culture’s squeamishness about not just gay sex but sex it general, so it’s not that surprising that it is a thing.

Alex: It’s sort of funny, but this episode kinda reminded me when I came out to my mom. The first words that she cobbled together when I came out were: “Does it hurt?” My face in that moment was a crystallized moment of bottom shame.

Joe: My parents told me to “be careful,” which may well have been alluding to the same thing, I could never really tell (nor, to be honest, did I want to investigate much further).

It’s all so perfectly in keeping with what we know about Patrick: that he’s hung up on appearances, that he’s a mama’s boy, that he’s an over-analyzer. What that Andrew Haigh Weekend aesthetic allows is for the viewer to really see those moments when Patrick’s reticence is overcome by simple desire. The scene after Patrick returns to Richie’s apartment to get one more beej (and some surprise rimming) is incredibly hot but moreover incredibly intimate, and let us see that moment of giving himself over up close.

Alex: I mean, there’s that surface level sense of the word, where someone gets embarrassed that people think they have a face or mannerisms that indicate they like a penis in their butt. That embarrassment comes from being perceived as less masculine or manly that what’s expected. I don’t believe in this. There is nothing more masculine than having a butt that can withstand thrusts from a determined penis.

But I also think that there’s this sense of shame that Patrick is conflating with vulnerability that might physically be unique to gay relationships. Straight people, for the most part, don’t get to choose who get to be tops and bottoms (in a physical sense) in the bedroom. In some gay relationships, and some gay men, the physicality and logistics of sex is psychological.

Joe: Oh totally. Richie even betrays that line of thinking as they’re talking about the Rachel-and-Ross-ness of their relationship. Rachel’s the “boss” on Friends, which makes her the top. I like that the show can be realistic about these attitudes, that Richie doesn’t have to be this all-knowing sage at all times. He’s as susceptible to the ingrained top/superior attitudes as the rest of us, even as he makes an argument that versatility ought to be the ideal. There’s no “cure” to Patrick’s bottom shame in this episode. By the end, he’s still taking baby steps, and realistically so. He tells Richie he wants to bottom for him … in the future. Like much of Looking, it’s the conversations along the way that are illuminating and refreshing. For a show that has been getting a lot of crap for not advancing the gay conversation (whatever that may be) far enough, it’s really something to see a show put the topic of vers as an ideal in such plain and upfront terms.

There was a lot of Patty and Richie in this episode. What’d you think?  

Alex: I feel like the two of these characters together was kind of like brussels sprouts television. It’s not necessarily something I liked or cared for, but it was something that we needed to give their relationship some teeth. I just feel like the episode, like this long-ass date, dragged a bit.

Joe: I can’t agree with this. I mean, I do agree that this episode was a necessity, in order to bring the viewer into Patrick and Richie’s relationship and do the kind of stakes-building that several episodes’ worth of one-third story portioning would have otherwise had to do. But I was pretty well riveted by the whole episode. There was a lot of comparing this episode to Weekend around Twitter last night, and understandably so, given the similarities (a tight window of time; an exclusive focus on two characters in the early stages of a relationship). I enjoyed being drawn into their closed-off world, being reminded of those kind of information-seeking discussions you have with people in the early stages. Looking doesn’t have ambitions to bowl you over with plot or even with jokes, but these moments of recognizable intimacy really get to me.

Alex: Let’s make thing one thing clear: Joe and I have already watched the last four episodes, and our consumption of the show is a little more like House of Cards in that we can binge episodes. And I just don’t think that I’d be completely happy with this episode if I waited a week to see it.

Joe: Yeah, fair enough. If we can be honest about bottom shame, we can be honest about screener privilege.

Alex: Maybe it’s the chemistry between the actors, but I needed more there. Maybe that was the point — to show me how these guys can be low-key, kinda boring, and a couple you would not want to be a third wheel with — but I just wanted to fast forward through this episode. It’s sorta funny, but I think the episode made me miss Dom, Agustin, Doris and Kevin a bit more, even though Agustin is insufferable.

Joe: Screener privilege compels me to add that I think the trajectory Agustin is on in the last three episodes wholly redeems his annoying mid-season dithering, but that’s a conversation for another episode.

Alex: What this Richie-Patty-centic episode did well was make you question who’s more invested in the relationship. Richie is putting himself out there and taking Patrick to really intimate places (sexually and emotionally). And Patrick can’t even pick where to go on his day off.

San Francisco is, like, really pretty. Right?

Joe: Very. This is one area where I think the show has improved on its murky-ish first episodes, is that it’s really showing off San Francisco so beautifully. Also, sorry, I have never had a street hot dog that’s looked that good, ever. Richie was right to praise that, even if he was mostly doing so to deflect the conversation about his father.

Alex: It is extremely cruel to watch this show while being battered by snow week after week.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.