The DEA today issued a press release that begins like this: “Heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. The greatest increases have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes.”
The release discusses a new report by the FDA and CDC about heroin’s use across the country.
The only fact it appears to leave out is that almost all the new addicts are white.
Still, for a long time, heroin has seemed to me a way of talking about America.
One reason for that is what the DEA expresses – that heroin is so widespread and in areas and populations that never knew it.
But heroin is also a way of talking about our loss of community and publicly shared assets – streets, parks, etc. Of a retreat indoors, figuratively and literally.
I believe heroin is the final expression, the final extension of our multi-decade exaltation of the free market, the individual and consumption. How else to view a drug that turns everyone addicted to it into self-absorbed hyperconsumers?
That’s why I wrote Dreamland and didn’t have one addict shooting up. To do so would have been to distract from the larger point, that this drug thrives in areas without much community feel, community anchor – the area could be poor, could be wealthy. What they share is a lack of community and public interaction and encounter.
The story generated huge and negative response from many transgender people, gay activists and others — most objecting to the use “he” as the pronoun in the story. This includes an online petition.
“Referring to her with male pronouns in her article is insulting at best and a gross misrepresentation at worst,” wrote one reader. “If you don’t know anything about trans people, you have done a bit of research before writing your article.”
I covered the crime when it happened, then spent several months researching the world of transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, particularly around the area of Santa Monica and Highland, as well as Lexington, where Vickers was killed. I also interviewed long-time friends and Vickers’ mother in East Palo Alto.
As it happens, far from not doing enough research, I did a huge amount, and this convinced me that things weren’t so clear cut when it came to Nathan “Cassidy” Vickers.
What struck me most was, in fact, the ambiguity of what Nathan Vickers intended when he came down to Hollywood and worked as a prostitute dressed as a woman.
Friends on the street knew Vickers only as a woman named Cassidy. Mother and long-time friends in the Bay Area, including two women who were his recent roommates and referred to him as their brother, insisted Vickers was not a man transitioning to a woman, but an openly gay man – known to them as “Chase” — resorting to the only measure at his disposal to find work after a long period of unemployment: cross-dressing and working as a prostitute. One of these friends said she spoke to Vickers a half hour before he died.
They noted he had only recently been doing this and had no surgery, no breast implants, no hormone treatments. He was in East Palo Alto two months before, dressed as a man. But, again, the transgender women on the street told me they knew Cassidy only as a woman.
Faced with these complexities and the fact that Vickers was no longer around to tell me, I opted to use “he” when the story was describing the years he spent in East Palo Alto and looking for work, and “she” when Cassidy Vickers was working the streets of Hollywood.
The night before the story ran, the LAT copy desk called and said they could not use two pronouns for the same person in one story and changed them all to “he.” I was at a loss at what to do by then. I supported the change, and still do, though my own solution was the one I preferred.
In copyediting the story, at one point a pronoun “he” was added but the pronoun “she” was not deleted. It became “heshe” — a gross insult to transgender people and one that I’ve never written in my life. Another person called to say that I shouldn’t have said that the funeral was attended by “men in women’s breasts.” I explained that I used that when I was describing the mother’s point of view, reacting to the people she saw at her son’s funeral. To her, there were lots of men with women’s breasts at the ceremony.