You Think Pronouns Are The Issue?

Cemia “Ci Ci” Dove, also known as Carl Acoff Jr., was a transgender woman killed by someone, brutally, in Cleveland, Ohio.


Cemia “Ci Ci” Dove

Acoff’s body “was stabbed repeatedly and dumped into a pond, tethered to a block of concrete.”

An intentional killing, obviously.

The killer did not want anyone to find Ms. Acoff’s body.

I will “speculate” that a Man murdered Ms. Acoff.

Let’s also assume that Ms. Acoff’s “gender identity” contributed to her murder.

National GLBT organizations and the Pink Media have latched onto Ms. Acoff’s murder as a tale of Trans* oppression, although these groups have framed “oppression” as how Mainstream Media covered the story. Some outlets called Ms. Acoff a man while others used clearly sensationalistic language about her.  The GLBT Media response is predictable, with hand wringing about pronouns and how transgender people are the most oppressed people on the planet (they’re not – but some Trans* people certainly suffer more than others).  This article is particularly offensive with its suggestion that journalists who engage in tabloid news practices have “blood on their hands.”

No, they don’t have “blood on their hands” (although Mainstream Media surely fails at preserving human dignity).

So who does?

In the Trans* community, reliable statistics (and by reliable, I mean not the National Center for Transgender Equality’s survey) suggest that it’s young black Transwomen living in poverty who face the greatest risk of victimization (by Men, by the way).

Let’s look at Ms. Acoff.

Ms. Acoff, 20, had amassed a not insubstantial criminal record, stemming primarily from her behavior on public transportation.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 10.12.06 PM

Police charged Acoff with disorderly conduct on numerous occasions.  Indeed, Acoff engaged in violent behavior on at least one occasion when in “December 2011, (she) was sentenced to six months in the county jail after pleading guilty to inducing panic and assault for squirting Mace in a man’s face while on a bus. The passengers had to evacuate the bus. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman also ordered Acoff to not to ride RTA buses after that incident.

Spraying MACE in a person’s face on a bus – an enclosed space – is not pro-social behavior.

It’s anti-social behavior.

Can we talk about mental health?

Acoff lived in South Collinwood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood hit very hard by the foreclosure crisis.


US Census Data, Housing Stock, Change from 2000 to 2010.

African American

US Census Data, Population Trends, 200 to 2010. The significant decrease in population stems from people losing their homes in the foreclosure crisis.

Acoff lived in a neighborhood with a concentration of crime – robbery, theft, burglary, assault.

S Collingwood

Spot Crime Data for South Collinwood, Cleveland, Ohio.

Rondell ROad

Detailed Spot Crime Data for South Collinwood, Cleveland, Ohio.

Can we talk about grinding poverty?

Acoff’s social media presence suggests that she wanted to appeal to the Male Gaze (that is, she is not a person who harasses Lesbians).

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 11.23.09 PM

This is exhibitionist behavior, by the way. It might also suggest something else.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 11.45.26 PM

Can we talk about prostitution?

“Intersectionality” would dictate that Transgender Organizations should work to ensure that Ms. Acoff – who is clearly a member of the most vulnerable demographic of the Trans* Community (young person of color living in poverty) – is at the center of  a movement for “rights.”

The rights, not insignificantly, that would be MOST important to her would not include “the right to be called she.”

Rather, they would include: A Right to Mental Health Services, A Right to Safety, A Right to a Living Wage.

They would also include, most importantly, A Right to Be Free From Male Violence. Most of the people remembered on the Transgender Day of Remembrance are, again, Transwomen of color killed by Men, usually after the Men “discover” that the Transwoman is biologically male.

But, instead, we get…


This story – a Transwoman of color found dead – will repeat unless and until a few things happen (Remember Tyra Trent, Baltimore?).

Name the Problem.

Name Actual Solutions.

A Man likely killed Ms. Acoff.

Both Transwomen and Women suffer from Male Violence. GLBT Organizations do not lobby for interventions to reduce Male Violence.

I recognize that Male Violence is a huge and difficult issue, and that it is easier to focus on “pronouns” and say facile bullshit like “the media has blood on its hands” and “cis people oppress trans people.”

But that does nothing, absolutely nothing, for people like Ms. Acoff.

But maybe that’s the point.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 10.19.09 PM

The “dangerous drugs” were estrogen, apparently.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 10.16.32 PM

Spraying mace in someone’s face on a crowded bus is not pro-social behavior.

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  1. Right on bugbrennan these are all the issues both the trans and lgbt movement are forgetting in the drive for assimilation and social approval from the military and the churches.

  2. longshangui · ·

    Brilliant commentary. This may be the only non-trans blog that constructively critiques transactivism and takes it seriously enough to require such critique. I see the article as pointing out that the agent must be named and dealt with, that is, a destructive social system that channeled this victim into prostitution, and male violence. There is no “transphobia” here.

  3. Brilliant, brilliant, there is a reason you are one of my feminist heroines.

  4. Saint-Loup · ·

    “The rights, not insignificantly, that would be MOST important to her would not include “the right to be called she.”

    Rather, they would include: A Right to Mental Health Services, A Right to Safety, A Right to a Living Wage.”

    Hmmm… hold on. How do you know what rights were most important to her without actually asking her? You can’t ask her now, of course. But you could dialogue with other transgendered people, like her, rather than posting their private FB profiles and the like on your blog (and, as it appears in this case, making judgements about involvement in prostitution on the basis of a couple of photos or a video). Oh, and calling those people ‘dude’ isn’t a good basis on which to open a conversation.

    People from outside a particular group (like you, or me, who are both not trans-) would surely do better to talk AT them less and listen TO them more. That’s if the concern you seem to be evincing here is genuine.

    Take care, it’s an interesting blog.

    1. So what you are saying is that we need to poll every individual? There are individuals who would advocate for the right to shoot up heroin all day. Still cool?

      Your politics sound liberal. I am not a liberal.

      1. Saint-Loup · ·

        “So what you are saying is that we need to poll every individual?”

        Nope. That’s a rather wild straw man. However I am saying that it’s rarely a good idea for someone from outside a particular group to decide what is ‘best’ for that group on their behalf – with, it seems, little evidence of genuine engagement and dialogue with that group. You also don’t engage with my points about diagnosing Acoff with mental health issues and assuming past activity as a prostitute apparently only on the basis of a Facebook profile and an arrest record.

        Identity is important to people – such as the right to wear culturally or religiously important symbols (eg Muslims, Sikhs in Western countries), the right to use/speak your own language, the right to have your relationship recognised in law (LGBT people), and so on. For transgendered people the pronoun used to refer to them is not a trivial matter. Similarly for many women being referred to as ‘Ms’ and not ‘Miss’ is not a trivial matter, despite obviously being of less practical importance than the funding for mental health services and so on.

        “There are individuals who would advocate for the right to shoot up heroin all day. Still cool?”

        I’m not sure what point exactly you’re making but yes, I think that widespread legalisation or at least decriminalisation of all or most illegal drugs makes far more sense than the current failed policies of prohibition. You only need to look at Mexico to see how they work out.

        “Your politics sound liberal. I am not a liberal.”

        Hey, we have something in common! 😛 I’m not a liberal either. Probably ‘libertarian socialist’ is closer.

        Thanks for approving my previous comment.


      2. Both liberal politics and libertarian politics are rooted in the elevation of the individual. They are both navel gazing.

        I don’t engage your points because they are pointless. You seem to demand that people (and women) not notice things. Sorry, but we do. It’s kind of important for us to notice things.

    2. michelle · ·

      because after all…as some transperson goes through the list to prioritize what might be important that are going to have this inner-conversation with themselves…

      “hmm…yeah, that right to be safe…nah we can scratch that from the top of the list. Same with living wage. But it is of uber-importance that people get those damned pronoun correct. THAT’S where my priority needs to be.”

      But since we never had that discussion with some particular deceased individual, common sense can NEVER enter into the discussion…after all, apparently common sense, as we saw previously with biology, is transphobic…

      1. Being killed by a man is kind of the ultimate in oppression, I’d say. But don’t look behind the curtain; Listen to white upper class men who now say they are ladies, because it’s their priority to be called She.

      2. michelle · ·

        I am actually waiting for someone with trans-INC to try and claim that twanz was the real reason for the spike in suicides amongst upper-middle-class whites that was reflected in an article I saw in the past few days…after all, it seems like they want to cling to whatever red herrings that they can find.

  5. Redacted comment.

  6. I would be interested to know why you have rejected many transexuals comments is this because you are afraid they have a point and you have no real faith in your arguments ?

    1. Because most of you seem incapable of not being an asshole.

      1. Ravyn · ·

        personally myself i think we all should take a step back and really not blame anyone yet until we truly know all of the facts. no one knows why she was killed or the motive and placing blame on others and pointing fingers is not really helping the arguement. personally if we just wait and see what evidences comes out then we will get a much clearer understanding of what is happening and then no one can get anger at each other and go about doxxing because of a discussion gone bad. i feel that maybe we all have to look at it from a reality that while yes its tragic not much we or anyone can do but either A) wait for the news report to come out or B) get up and go do something about it to make a difference in our world to make it more peaceful to all.

        Oh and just in case I happen to be told I am wrong and get dox’d. Here is my personal dox just in case anyone get mad at me and decides rage on me.

        Ravyn Sorrow
        381 south terrace ave.
        columbus ohio 43204

        There..I have nothing to hide. So if I get dox’d then I helped you with my information so you don’t have to spend hours finding me to get me put on encyclopedia dramatica in case I happen to be wrong and some one wants to rage on me. :))

  7. Cathy thanks for this beautiful post.

    When I was younger I had a number of friends from the same demographic as Ci Ci. Two of them got murdered. Zero of them thought pronouns were their most pressing issue. White middle-class mtf’s, please stop appropriating the murders of twoc to further your own agendas!

    1. Yes, as a lesbian activist in Baltimore, I have seen variations on this theme time and time again. The GLBT Group (Equality Maryland) and the Trans group (Gender Rights Maryland) do not care about these folks. As a lesbian, I do, and I have more in common with the Cemias of the world than I would ever have with the Dana Beyers.

  8. Audrey · ·

    So you are telling me that if someone constantly referred to you as sir, he, him, or by some male name like Kevin, Dan, Greg…. what have you, you would be fine with that? I am also a transsexual and yes violence against us, employment, and housing are all important! But so is pronoun usage! You don’t have to think about that do you? If you were constantly being called the wrong name and being mis-identified you would fed up with it and probably think it isn’t so mundane. You’re fooling yourself if you think we don’t think those are issues are important. You continue to fool yourself when you try prioritize issues when they are all equally important!

    1. I get called him and sir all the time.

    2. michelle · ·

      hmm…living versus a wrong pronoun being used, perhaps even on a regular basis. yeah, those are really equally on par with each other in the ‘what someone is going to be concerned with’ on a priority basis. Trans* really has a fucked sense of priorities if that is truly their belief…

      And…as Cathy duly notes…females occasionally get misgendered and have various epithets hurled OUR direction as well. We don’t generally do threatening those persons with harm or claiming that they were phobic individuals or that we needed special rights to protect us. We simply move on with our respective lives.

  9. amym440 · ·

    As a woman of transitioned history I see something you missed in your elaborate post that both natally born and woman of transitional history would both suffer from. That is her criminal record and how it could negatively effect her killer being found. Many people I’ll even go so far as to eliminate gender from it with a record like that and that are found murdered usually don’ get their murder solved.I’ll leave you to contemplate why that is. Or people that live in financially depressed areas that get murdered many times also don’t get their murder solved. As for proper pronouns I’d like to think she deserved to have them used. As a person of transitioned history that protested the TDOR I think its the least people like myself can do is to recognize her for who she identied as in death without the need for any trans labels. Many a transgender activist on November 20th won’t be respecting that line of thinking and will be profiting off her death. So if they are going to point fingers at your piece they need to point fingers at themselves also.

    1. Why do you protest the TDOR?

  10. So FWIW I looked up the 2012 list of trans people murdered worldwide. 71 pages of awful heartbreaking stories. Working from memory: all but one of the victims were trans women, and only one perpetrator was listed as a woman (with a woman’s name, anyway- stabbing after an argument). Three perpetrators were listed as other trans people. Most of the cases (Latin America especially but not only) are unsolved and presumably the police are not doing their jobs as well as they would if the victim were a straight wealthy male. Especially when you consider that the majority of victims were sex workers and cops don’t do what they should for sex workers of any sex or gender stripe.

    Yes, awful stuff. But this reinforces your point, Cathy, that it is male violence that is killing trans people and not misgendering from lesbians.

    1. Especially considering that violence against sex workers generally stems from hatred and violence against women. Women are not the perpetrators here.

  11. […] L. Bridges is charged in the murder of Cemia Dove, a transgender […]

  12. I started a new blog, as it’s clear to me that there will be no honesty about the causes of violence against trans people from trans activists.

  13. Angel · ·

    There’s two problems with your analysis: 1) She could’ve stood a better chance of overcoming her poverty biding her time as a “he” and 2) Asserting pronouns means we don’t care about poverty? Why aren’t you saving the whales?

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