Transwoman brutally slain, and media fail

So, here’s what we know—”Cemia Dove” “Ce Ce” (or “Ci Ci”) Acoff was a transgender woman whose battered body was found dumped in a pond in a Cleveland suburb on April 17.

Photo: Cleveland Transgender Community Outreach Committee
Photo: Cleveland Transgender Community Outreach Committee

Here’s what else we know—after she was victimized by a murderer, she was re-victimized by the Cleveland media.

Acoff was found stabbed repeatedly, tied to a block of concrete and dumped into a pond in Olmsted Township, Ohio. Police identified her Monday using DNA samples from relatives.

Yet despite being told by police that Acoff was transgender, stories on the websites of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and WJW-TV repeatedly referred to Acoff as “he” or “him” or a “man.” They dragged her past criminal record (including possession of hormones without a prescription—gasp!) into the stories, and, over and over, repeated that she was “oddly dressed.”

According to WJW: “The victim was found wearing some pretty unusual clothing.” (My emphasis.)

(“Pretty unusual clothing” is the writer’s way of winking at you and saying, “Hey! Get a load of this freak!”)

After readers complained, the Plain Dealer changed some of the references in Monday’s story to acknowledge that Acoff “sometimes self-identified as a transgender woman” and grudgingly noted “this story was edited since originally posted to bring it within the style recommended by the Associated Press involving transgender people.”

Over at TransGriot, Monica Roberts is all over this case, and she does a better job than I can of listing the media fails:

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  • Misgender the person at every opportunity?  Check
  • Use police mugshot?  Check
  • Drag old criminal record into the story?  Check
  • ‘Deception meme’ injected into story?    Check
  • ‘Tragic transsexual’ meme injected into this story?   Check
  • Use salacious and sensationalist headlines?  Check
  • Not give a rats anus about the victim’s dignity and their femme presentation?  Check
  • Disrespecting another African-American transwoman?   Check.

We don’t know a lot of things about this case. I can make some guesses and speculate, but I probably shouldn’t. (Her body was found with three bras on it, which is “unusual.” Did someone put those onto her? Like, I don’t know, maybe the same person who brutally stabbed her and dumped her into a pond?)

I do know this: Once the Plain Dealer and Cleveland TV stations knew that Ce Ce Acoff was transgender, they had plenty of opportunity to put things right. Sure, her legal documents say she’s “male,” but as soon as you look at her photo, is there even any question she’s presenting herself as a woman? No. So they should have used appropriate pronouns. And they should have focused on whether her murder is a hate crime.

Instead, they focused on what (to them) was a freak show.

I also know this: In Ohio, you can’t legally change your gender on your driver’s license unless a medical professional is willing to submit the proper paperwork. That costs money, and if you’re poor, you probably don’t have access to those medical professionals. And in Ohio, you can’t change your gender on your birth certificate at all. So the legal system can still consider you legally the “wrong” gender, even after you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on therapies and surgeries.

Here’s what else I think I know: Ce Ce Acoff was young and African-American. And I think if she’d been white and upper-middle-class and had been financially able to jump through all of the legal and medical hoops necessary to change one’s gender, maybe the Cleveland media would have treated her with respect and dignity. Maybe.

Sometimes—especially on blogs written by gay males—I read where transgender people are “too damn sensitive,” but then something like this happens, and I think, no, dammit, we’re not sensitive enough.

Second class citizens? If we’re lucky, transgender people maybe get that much respect.

Update: The photo originally published with this story has been replaced with a photo of Cemia Acoff provided by the Cleveland Transgender Community Outreach Committee. The original photo was a mugshot widely circulated with the original story even though Ce Ce was the victim of a murder, not a criminal suspect in this case. We waited to verify the authenticity of the photo – Sue.



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  • Trish – a friend wrote this today

    It addresses some of your comments. Clearly, we aren’t outraged enough b/c while we can’t always stop the murders, there’s simply no reason we as a society can’t impact media coverage.

    And it is really a damn shame that effort that should be invested in supporting Ci Ci’s family & loved ones while pushing for a thorough investigation to catch a murderer will have to be somewhat diverted to address this sordid mess. That shouldn’t be the issue.

    I’m not sure how eloquent I am tonight – but I really appreciate your post and hope we can continue to bring attention to Ci Ci’s life and give her the dignity she deserves in death.

  • I am a GG and sometimes wear three bras, ranging from a smaller up to a larger size, with the larger being underwired. If you put them on from smallest to largest, and carefully jiggle around what you have to “play” with, it gives you really great uplifted cleavage. It is a trick used often in the cosplay scene. Just an idea…. But aside from that, poor cici. She was a beautiful woman, and having read the article I must say she will be on my mind all day.

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