I spoke to P.J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times for this story and must clarify and correct the statements attributed to me, from a familiar position of regret.
I am not still fighting a bed bug infestation, although other members of our group certainly are, and for much longer than anyone should. My bed bug infestation was in the end, long ago, finally eradicated by a good NYC pest control company. But, of course, bed bugs certainly left their mark on me or you would not be reading this and this group would not exist.
A personal bed bug experience is emotionally draining and exhausting, but these days if I am emotionally drained and exhausted it’s because of the specific and unimagined difficulties (and joys) of doing grassroots advocacy work on bed bugs in this city and, most of all, because of the unnerving stories of New Yorkers struggling with bed bugs, struggling with intractable infestations, that I hear about every day.
We started this group to advocate for bed bug control policies in our city. We simply want our city to follow Cincinnati’s and Toronto’s lead and establish a city-wide task force that can devise solutions, based on sound pest management advice, to stop the spread of bed bugs in New York City. We are not a support group. I guess we are lobbyists, of a sort.
Finally, and this is really most important, bed bugs are not pests that occur in homes because of uncleanliness. They feed exclusively on human blood. Bed bugs are neither attracted by dirt nor repelled by cleanliness.
Therefore, I would not ever defensively speak about home cleanliness because I know, better than most, that such statements increase the stigma of bed bugs. I am dedicated to the idea that we have an obligation to confront the stigma of bed bugs. That the stigma of bed bugs must be defeated along with the bed bug. I have previously, though clumsily and unsuccessfully, tried to disentangle the historical sources of the stigma. The shame and stigma of bed bugs, their perennial association with poverty and filth, make everything about bed bugs more difficult. It causes people to not tell their neighbors or their landlords or others who may be at risk of exposure about their own infestations. It causes people to reach for drugstore sprays first. It causes infestations to spread. I would never seek to reinforce it. I would never speak of cleanliness in the context of bed bug infestations unless it were to say everything I’ve said here.
I don’t like to talk about my own bed bug experience because a) it was an unhappy one, and b) it detracts from the work that we are doing. This article confirms it. The reporter and I spoke about numerous policy questions, the difficulties of ascertaining the scope of the problem in urban areas, the good work being done in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and the various challenges posed by infestations. But my personal experience with bed bugs, or more precisely my unwillingness to talk about it, clearly trumped all of that.