Published on April 30th, 2013 | by Wild Gender
An Open Letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer Re: Racist Transphobia & Cemia Dove
CLEVELAND, Ohio — As the trans community mourns the death of Cemia Dove (also known as Ce Ce), a 20-year-old woman violently slain on the outskirts of Cleveland, OH this week, we contend (once again) with hateful, demeaning reportage regarding the details of her death. Ms. Dove is the third African-American transgender woman killed this month, and the second who’s identity was mangled in the press, according to Monica Roberts of TransGriot. In this instance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published an account of the death of Ms. Dove, as written by staff member John Caniglia, with the headline “Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified.”
The “oddly dressed body” was that of Ms. Dove, who was stabbed, bound, tied a block of concrete, then “dumped into a pond,” according to the Plain Dealer. In the piece, Mr. Caniglia follows up the article’s salacious headline with an egregious misgendering of Ms. Dove, scandalizing her appearance, and discounting her gender identity, while dredging up a random criminal record, thereby marginalizing her person.
Already, the Plain Dealer article (published on the morning of April, 29) has stirred enormous frustration in the trans community. Since the original piece was published, the Plain Dealer has written another article with the headline “Brutal slaying marks the end of Clevelander’s fight for acceptance,” published on April 30. The new story is a clear attempt to rectify some of the issues in the first, but it still misgenders Ms. Dove and calls attention to aspects of her identity that have no bearing on the case.
As a result, we are publishing a counter-letter, written by Cordelia Eddy of West Philadelphia, that we are hoping is widely circulated. We welcome you to send it to publications, the editorial staff of the Plain Dealer, and any and all people who will listen. Let’s eradicate this horrific level of ignorance and speak up for our murdered, 20-year-old sister. Her death effects all of our lives, there is no time to act like now. Spread the word directly to the Plain Dealer, email Editor-in-Chief Debra Simmons and Managing Editor, Thomas Fladung. And for more on this topic, check out TransGrio post, “How (not) to Write About Black Trans Women.”
Dear Cleveland Plain Dealer c/o John Caniglia,
I am writing to both clarify to you a few things that, due to your privilege, you have had the luxury of never having to learn and to implore you to publish a formal apology in the Plain Dealer for your blatantly transphobic and racist remarks. As I am assuming such remarks stem primarily from your ignorance, I am willing to graciously clarify a few things to you under the assumption that you are willing to formally rebuke the statements you made about Ce Ce Dove.
In what can only be understood as stemming from hate or perversion, your article focuses not on Ce Ce’s murder, but her dress, going so far as to title your initial article “Oddly Dressed Body Found in Olmstead Township Pond Identified.” The use of “body” adds additional gravity to this title; I can only wish that you truly believed you were reporting on a mannequin, to treat a person who endured such a horrific act of cruelty as if they were a fashion victim.
Here are a couple of “Do’s and Don’ts” when fashioning an article about the death of a transgender person:
- Rather than accusing someone of “self-identifying as a transgender woman,” as if she is living a lie, take her self-identification to be valid.
- Do not use male pronouns for someone who, to your knowledge, does not use them. if you don’t know what pronouns a person uses, do not refer to them as a “man” because of arbitrary gender cues you’ve devised.
- To suggest that an individual “later acknowledged that legal documents listed his identity as a man” is to suggest that the character in question is a liar. Legal documents rarely act as assessments of gender identity, but rather state sex assignments given at birth based on factors that do not apply to many people.
- Do not attempt to sensationalize other people’s choice of clothing in order to make your assignment sound more fantastic, particularly utilizing “Betty Boop” to boost your readership or de-legitimize transwomen. Have you ever encountered an article about a cisgender woman that mentioned how many bras she was wearing when discovered dead in a pond?
- When a transwoman informs the RTA that she is female, do not use that in an article in order to confirm your own preconceived judgements about their sanity.
- Do not sensationalize or attempt to criminalize the use of hormones. People use hormones for a variety of reasons, for example, in order to “pass” as the gender they would like to present as. Additionally, why Ce Ce was stopped for carrying hormones is irrelevant and has no place in an article about her murder.
- Transgender people, particularly Black transgender people, are often economically disadvantaged due to oppression. When you devote tedious amounts of time to discussing Ce Ce’s court cases involving unpaid public transportation fare, you criminalize someone whose life was shaped integrally due to the unbridled power of cisgender white men like yourself. I am embarrassed for you.
- Despite editing your article “to bring it within the style recommended by the Associated Press involving transgender people” you continue to refer to Ce Ce as Carl.
Ce Ce Dove will be remembered as a beautiful, fierce, femme woman.
What will you be remembered as?
The author of this letter, Cordelia Eddy, currently lives in West Philly and is interested in queering library and information studies, farming, and prisoner solidarity.