Power and Psychology
Existential psychologists suggest that all people have a basic human need for power: the power to be capable, to be assertive, the power to be recognized, the power to be affirmed, and the power to be in general (May, 1972). Since all human beings have a natural need for power, then powerlessness can feel intolerable. Feelings of powerlessness can lead people to become depressed or enraged, and sometimes enact violence in a desperate attempt to re-assert their power. Therefore, holding power–and being empowered–is fundamental to sanity, dignity, and human existence.
Power and the Law
In society, power is dependent on resource distribution. Most democratic societies declare that all citizens should have equal access to the rights and resources required to live with dignity. The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that if society’s governing powers do not provide equal access to citizens, then “the people” should be able to exercise their own powers to change, re-organize, or even overthrow government to get their basic rights met. Democracy is established to allow citizens of society to exert their own power to challenge unjust governmental powers that fail to represent their rights. The history of the United States, and the civil rights movements that have happened here, are testimony to the power of citizens to shape a more just and equal society for all.
Power and the Closet
Heternormative societies are inherently organized with an imbalance of power. They revoke rights and resources from LGBTQ citizens while disproportionality bestowing them to heterosexual and cis-gender people. As such, these society’s public policies empower hetero and cis citizens while simultaneously disempowering LGBTQ citizens. Societies who fail to offer protection against LGBTQ discrimination, or whose governing laws actively discriminate against gender and sexual minorities, perpetuate the oppression of the closet. The closet further disempowers sexual and gender minorities by revoking them of existential rights they are entitled to: the right to truth, to freedom, to love, to hope, and to power. As these rights are revoked by the closet, LGBTQ citizens may feel increasingly powerless. Societies which force LGBTQ citizens into the closet and strip away their power, can also be forcing them into states of despair and rage. This may sometimes manifest as violence. In oppressive sociopolitical situations, violence is a desperate attempt to get one’s basic existential need met for power as a human being. For, to be empowered is to be significant, self-assertive, recognized, affirmed, and capable of making a difference in our world.
Restoring the Right to Power
LGBTQ people can restore their right to power by harnessing internal and external resources for power. Queer people can empower themselves by finding others who love them for who they are, and offering love back to their communities. They can empower themselves with knowledge about human sexuality and gender, and also educate others about LGBTQ identity and experiences. They can harness their anger about injustice as a potent tool for social activism. They can engage in movements–marching in protests and dancing in bars and on streets. They can use humor as a source of power, ensuring that societal oppression does not rob them of their joy. They can assert their power to break gender norms and express the full spectrum of their gender identity. They can assert their power to enjoy the sensual, sexual feelings of their body and being. And they can make and spread art, so their voices are loudly heard rather than silenced by the closet.
All citizens of society must do their part to restore LGBTQ people’s right to political power. For, the history of democracy is founded upon civil rights movements. The LGBTQ social movement officially arose in the 1960s, marked by the historic Stone Wall Riots during which oppressed LGBTQ people rebelled against sociopolitical oppression and re-asserted their power via violent riots. Eventually, their re-assertion of power transformed from violent riots to a successful social movement which has advanced society to where we are today. Nevertheless, the closet persists as the distribution of human rights remains imbalanced, empowering hetero and cis-gender citizens while disempowering LGBTQ citizens. Dismantling the closet’s oppression requires citizens of society to assert their power of citizenship by participating in social movements that demand equal rights and resources for all. It also requires governmental officials of democratic societies to honor the ideals with which democracy was designed. This means that governmental officials must allow themselves to be influenced by the power of the people to transform society’s laws on behalf of justice for all.