Several months ago we all received an email from Equality Utah’s executive director, Mike Thompson. The subject line made me cringe: “Are You Part of the Dominant Force?” I hesitantly opened the email. Mike was referring to a compliment given by Democrat, Frank Pignanelli, who stated, “Equality Utah is the state's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organization and is the dominant force in Salt Lake City politics.” I hit reply and told Mike that no, actually, I didn't want to be part of any “dominant force.” Pignanelli's quote resurfaced in last month's Allies Dinner. The idea of Equality Utah as a dominant force was touted publicly as something we should all applaud.
OK, some may think I'm over-reacting. I'm excessively parsing language. Yes, I am – and this is why. When I hear “dominant force” I first think of Dick Cheney. He and his neoconservative cabal arrogantly used the term “dominant force” to describe what would later become the Bush Doctrine of preemptive military strikes. In the now infamous Project for a New American Century, Cheney and a cadre of shifty characters crafted a seminal document entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defense Strategies.” In Chapter V: “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force,” PNAC describes an American military of such global magnitude that it could fight multiple theatre wars simultaneously. PNAC maintained that America must remain the world’s sole superpower, and that any threats to U.S. power must be vanquished by our mighty arsenal. The signers of PNAC became the chief architects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As our military is now strained to breaking and our economy is staggering under the weight of our trillion dollar wars, PNAC’s goals of global dominance has now been discredited in the eyes of the world. But sadly, not before the staggering loss of human life.
Now, I know Equality Utah isn’t planning a military coup on the Capital. Obviously, Mike doesn't use the term “dominant force” the way that Dick Cheney does. But language is important. Words shape our reality. In all social movements we need to be extremely aware of the language we use. There is a dangerous temptation to emulate the verbal bravado of our oppressors. We must be better.
Our world has a long history of the privileged few dominating the larger masses. When we consider “domination” we must revisit Riane Eisler’s pivotal work, The Chalice and the Blade. Eisler articulates two models that have existed throughout human history – the domination society and the partnership society. She writes: “the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy – the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model – beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female – diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority.”
The dominator model exemplifies militarism. It thrives on racism, classism and sexism. It maintains that one group has the inherent right to rule over another: Man over woman, rich over poor, white over black, straight over gay, and America über alles. It also maintains that nature should be a resource for man’s indiscriminate exploitation.
Partnership does not require a stigmatized “other” to be an enemy. Humanity has intrinsic value, and all contribute to the greater whole. Eisler describes how in partnership-based societies like Sweden, Denmark and other Nordic nations, women share a greater proportion of power with men (approximately 40 percent of national legislators are female – the largest percentage in the world). Interestingly, in these countries, queers also enjoy greater freedoms (not to mention universal healthcare). There is a connection here. If queer activists really want marriage equality, then the obvious first step is the total empowerment of women in all spheres of public life – economic, political and ecclesiastical.
Queers revolutionize the concept of family. We don’t model gender hierarchies in our intimate relationships. When people say queers are trying to destroy the so-called “traditional family” I say, “hell, yeah!” The patriarchy that exemplifies the Judeo-Christian tradition no longer has the right to determine who is “chosen,” what gender roles are appropriate, and who in our culture is worthy of equal rights. It’s a corrupt worldview that is failing. I say let it! We need to liberate everyone who suffers under oppression and domination. That is our work. The domination model promotes exclusionary rights; a partnership model works toward universal liberty. We must take the best ideas from feminists, environmentalists and civil rights activists. We must form an ideology of total cultural liberation. Our goal of nothing less than complete social transformation. Women must be equal to men. Race must never determine social standing. Queers must enjoy equal rights. The environment must be protected. War must be abolished.
The architects of domination may work to deny us our birthright, but we can stand together in bold defiance – not through force, but in strategic partnership with all oppressed people. Separate we are a minority, but together we comprise an astonishing majority. There will never be equality in a system of domination. Ever. We have to change our story. We begin by first shifting our language from the rhetoric of domination to the discourse of partnership.
Now with all that, please understand that I hold Equality Utah in great esteem. I believe everyone should send them stacks of money and volunteer endlessly. The work they are doing is truly transforming Utah politics. Mike Thompson is a great man, worthy of our support. The board is topnotch. The staff are my friends. They have a big vision for our people. My critique is meant to challenge all of us (myself included) to consider carefully how we verbally frame our movement. Our words will shape our future. Queers have the potential to inspire the world with a larger vision of social justice and human potential. Our words will spark a revolution.
Troy Williams is the executive producer of RadioActive on KRCL 90.9 FM. He blogs at queergnosis.com.