Binary power relationship

A binary power relationship is a relationship in which there exists an omnipotent entity and a powerless entity. Rolequeer theory asserts that this binarism is not actually a possible state in which entities can exist in absolute terms, because one entity always has some amount of power and influence over themselves (called “agency”) or over another entity. Nevertheless, encouraging people to believe in and conform to a Powerful-Vulnerable binary is the goal of oppressive institutions such as schools, nation states, foreign and local militaries (police), and other authorities.

The process of pressuring an entity to conform to a binary power relationship is also known as social repression and relies on the depersonification of an individual into a role. Most relationships are not 100% vs. 0% power relationships, but are instead strongly unequal power relationships. Nevertheless, pretending that these strongly unequal relationships are power binaries comforts abusive persons with most of the power and obstructs the person with the least power from resisting abuse of power.


In “the real world,” no such thing as a truly binary power relationship exists. However, the idea of a binary power relationship has had an incredibly long history and has infected most modes of perception and expression. Some examples of binary power relationships are:

  • the relationship between God and non-agentic human;
  • the relationship between programmer and computer program;
  • the relationship between fiction author and characters they write.

In contrast, many relationships that are for one reason or another commonly perceived or expressed as binary power relationships are not in fact absolute binaries. Rather, they are strongly inequitable power relationships. These kinds of power relationships include:

  • the relationship between parent and (especially pre-adolescent) child;
  • the relationship between jailer and prisoner;
  • the relationship between master and slave.

In none of these latter relationships is it objectively true that the less powerful entities have no power at all, but the abusive stereotype of the more powerful role behaves or asserts that it is true, anyway. Children and prisoners do in fact have some amount of power to resist the demands of their respective authorities but abuses of power in both cases are defined by attempts to obscure or further diminish the less powerful entity’s agency so as to more completely transform the relationship into a power binary.

Influence on language

Colloquial speech is strongly influenced by the false belief in binary power relationships. Power binaries are inherently deterministic, meaning that a given decision from the powerful entity will always and completely determine all aspects of the behavior of the powerless entity. This decision-making process is fundamentally different from a choice:

Literally, “to keep one [option] alive and to kill all others,” taken from the latin root “-cide,” meaning “killer,” or “act of killing,” and the prefix “de-,” meaning “to negate.”
Literally, “to enjoy one possibility,” evolved from the latin word _gustāre_ meaning "to taste."

This stark contrast between “deciding” (the killing of options) and “choosing” (the enjoyment of a possibility) was not lost on rolequeer theorists:

So, too, must you be unfaithful to me to claim your power; you must choose disloyalty. It is a choice The System will never offer, because it wants you to make a decision between futility against it or conquest of it. Both those options coerce your loyalty to it; the decision itself is a dyadic structure.

But remember, language is a superpower. It turns the impossible into the possible. The word “choice” is defined as:

> the right or ability to make […] a selection when faced with two or more possibilities.

Meanwhile, the word “decision” is defined as:

> the action or process of deciding something or of resolving a question.

The root of the word “decide” is “cide,” meaning “to kill,” as in pesticide, homicide, and genocide. When we are coerced into making a decision, rather than empowered to make choices, what we are doing is killing possibilities. We are, in fact, being non-consensually violent to ideas; we are undermining the possibility of diversity.

maymay, "From Triads to Triadic Relationships"

See also