Can we not quote mine each other?


So I came across this article via facebook (how else would I read anything?). The quote that really rubbed me the wrong way is as follows:

I read blogs. And an unfortunate consequence of reading blogs is that sometimes you stumble upon statements that make you upset. Lately, I’ve been dwelling over one single sentence from a blog post that I read a few months ago. The author was a femme-identified cis woman who described her identity this way:

“I only say I’m queer to steer clear of sex acts with cisgender men whilst simultaneously accommodating my devout lesbianism and propensity towards dating trans men when the butch pool feels too shallow.”

I have become preoccupied with this quote, not because it is unusual or extraordinary – on the contrary, these are very commonplace sentiments among queer women these days. Rather, my interest in this quote stems from how perfectly it illustrates the subtle ways in which exclusion transpires in today’s queer women’s communities.

First, she defines “queer” in terms of her “devout lesbianism” and “steering clear of cisgender men.” Given her definition, a bisexual woman (such as me), who sometimes does have sex with cis men, must automatically be *not* queer—aka, straight. Ah, the decades old lesbian tradition of erasing the B out of LGBT.

Who sees the problem?

According to Julia Serano, that one particular quote was arguing that only devout lesbians who do not sleep with cis men count as “queer.” I found this very unlikely – what kind of queer-identified person would exclude all gay cis men from the queer label? – and it reminded me of a phenomenon I’ve encountered as an Internet Atheist. I’m talking about quote-mining.

Quote-mining is the practice of deceitfully taking a quote out of context in order to support the miner’s larger argument. Sometimes it can be an appeal to authority – such as when a creationist quote-mines Darwin to show that no one knows how the eye could have evolved – but in this case, it’s a strawman, or an attempt to make an opponent’s argument appear weaker by deliberately misrepresenting it.

So let’s return to that quote about what queer means to to that particular blogger. The link in Serano’s post was down, but via the Wayback Machine, I was able to find the original article. Here is the quote in context, with Serano’s excerpt in bold:

Okay, so it’s not. I’m in no way radical. I only say I’m queer to steer clear of sex acts with cisgender men whilst simultaneously accommodating my devout lesbianism and propensity towards dating trans men when the butch pool feels too shallow. I’m femme exclusively in relation to the length of my hair and staunch refusal to reciprocate many sex acts. In other words, I’m not actually a radical queer femme, nor do I even know what it means to be one. But who are you, fellow queer, to challenge anyone’s indulgent and nonsensical interpretation of an established identity?

Oh, look at that. She wasn’t saying what Serano claimed she was saying at all. So why am I harping on this? Because this shit matters. As skeptical queers, we should be better than this. We shouldn’t engage in the same shitty tactics that have been used against queer people and atheists to marginalize us. We don’t need to! We have the truth on our side and we can argue from the high ground because we are right. Don’t quote mine, and please, people, don’t give anyone on ‘our team’ a pass when they quote mine to prove a point either. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.

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  1. I love this, and it’s very timely for me. I got to see yet another throw down in my circles where both parties did this, and nobody was really arguing that different a point of view from each other. I hate this!

  2. My opinion on that quote is that it’s entirely unclear what it’s supposed to mean, even when it’s put in context. Like, I couldn’t definitively say that Julia’s interpretation is wrong because who knows.

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