Editor’s note: All references to “Bambi” and “#FreeBambi” below only refer to Lily Fury’s fictitious and stolen persona. There is a real Bambi out there who deserves our respect and consideration.
It’s 3:45 PM Eastern Standard Time and, thankfully, I’m off work from my job at a grocery store—this means, just like on any given, average day off, I’d be able to enjoy my day how I would like: writing, playing X Box, binge watching Netflix, whatever floats my boat, really. That was my plan today—until I clicked around online to find out more about #FreeBambi and if we had enough extra money in our checking account to be able to donate today.
Listen: for over 15 years now, I’ve been involved in the sex trades in one way or another. For the last three years, although I’ve been officially retired from sex work, I still write, think, and talk about it often. I donate quietly and as often as I can to whatever crowdfund or offering plate passing I see on social media or hear about from friends. I send and receive plenty of love from friends who are or have been in the business. In short, it’s very much still a part of my life and, if I were to have talked to you yesterday, “it will always be a part of my life,” is absolutely something I would have said—with no trace of irony present.
I loved sex work. I loved how I was able, while living with PTSD and depression, to provide for myself and have a life. I loved how I was able to choose when I could work and not worry about being terminated or written up if I called in sick—hell, there’s no calling in sick in sex work, there’s just… not working today. I loved being able to work as far as my energy would take me while still honoring my body and spirit—and also knowing if I didn’t have it in me, it was ok. I loved it—and still some days miss it. I miss working hard, making my own rules, setting my own boundaries, and using the tool of my desirability (as perceived by others) to craft a life for myself. It feels funny now, to say “I loved sex work.” I never thought I would say that, but here at 37 years old, it rings true and authentic for me—and it’s an important part of what I’m about to say next, because I did truly love the work of it.
What I never loved and have never made bones about is, well, pretty much everything else. I never loved the sex of it, the struggle and poverty, the sexism, the weight (and fat) shame and abuse, the open and safe space for pedophiles and predators, the lies and lying, the homophobia and discrimination, or the racism, gaslighting about racism, and justification of racism of it. I never loved being part of an industry where I knew that, simply because of the arbitrary, human notion of race, I would never be able to live the full life I’d dreamed of in that space. I figured out through talking with other Black and Latina sex working friends—this wasn’t an imaginary ship I was sailing, and I wasn’t alone in it. We were all together in it: full service girls who were turned away from brothels because “We already have a Black girl,” or dancers who, no matter how high they flew in tricks or how hard they twerked on the floor, could rarely (unless they were in a predominantly urban space and a wealthy party showed up—which is once in a very blue moon) make enough money to afford paying nightly/weekly fees to work at the clubs. Full service outside girls who dealt with rapes and sexual assaults by cops—knowing they could never report because they would never be believed (or worse, they’d be targeted later) because Black women are often considered both hypersexual and undesirable and, thus, un-rape-able. I never loved those parts of it, and today, while we talk about racism, the sex industry, and Black women who are sex workers, we need to talk about how #FreeBambi has a role in it.
Things get really real when you’re about to come up off some money, honey.
Bambi was here, and then she wasn’t. The first many of us heard from Bambi was in a (now 404-not found) roundtable discussion on Tits and Sass about Police Violence and sex workers of color where she was introduced with a blurb: “Bambi is a black and proud fashionista + stripper with burlesque…” and that’s all, folks. [Editor’s note: we have taken down the Police Violence Against Sex Workers of Color Roundtable, which “Bambi” participated in, until we can talk to roundtable panelists Shagasyia Diamond and Phoenix Calida about what they would like done with their contributions to it.] There’s no more to be found from where her face first sticks itself out of a browser and into the world. But she didn’t disappear just then, no. Bambi “stuck around a little—not heard from in viral or high profile situations, but still known to the sex work community—until a few days ago. Around mid-May 2017, posts started popping up online with the hashtag #FreeBambi. The story was two sex workers, Bambi and Lily Fury had both been raped (during a sting operation, by coercion) by the same NYPD officer, arrested, held without bail, and were released after, respectfully, eight and five days.
Fast forward a few hours and #FreeBambi was everywhere in the sex work community as, story holding, Bambi was still being held without bail. Quickly being shared with a caption including Bambi being a Black sex worker, #FreeBambi and requests for donations were popping up on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. LysistrataNYC was collecting donations through VenMo and even tweeted they weren’t prepared for the deluge of funds.
Let me tell you, as a Black woman? That was heartening. It was inspiring—that a Black woman was in trouble and so many people were reaching out with actual money to help her?
Listen, like I told you a few paragraphs ago: I never loved the racism. It’s beyond hard, as a Black woman working sex, to find help of any kind. Therapy, genuine friendship, money and financial stability, even a listening ear where water doesn’t run when you’ve parted ways—it’s damn near impossible to find help. Instead, as Black women (along with Latina and biracial women), we’re often expected to carry these movements—to spread the word, get out in the streets, hand out the flyers, RT the campaigns, and help others—all while desperately, in a lot of cases, needing help ourselves. We’re expected to write for free, or, if we are paid or given gifts, to donate all proceeds to other sex workers in need—all while we’re trying to keep lights and utilities connected in the midst of nothing. We’re expected, while we watch our light and white counterparts make real money writing and working sex, to work harder days, longer hours, and give our souls for free, for the movement, for the community.
We are—and there are links all over the internet to prove it—expected to shut up in the face of blatant racism, to never make waves, to not speak publicly about racism and discrimination in the sex industry because, and this is a paraphrase but nearly verbatim, “We can’t make the community look bad to civilians.” In a community where the most well-known faces of the movement include women who write articles about why it’s ok to discriminate against Black clients and guests, all of a sudden, the newest it-girl is a Black sex worker who was raped and detained by NYPD. All of a sudden the tide seemed to be turning and a lot of us were hopeful—she would be helped. Through all of this trauma and violence, more than just Black people cared, and she would be helped.
Until it came out this morning that Bambi doesn’t actually exist, things were looking up. Until it came out that we’d all been scammed by a white woman who’d been a member of the online sex work community (the shit show of shambles that it is) for a long, long while had created Bambi out of thin air and lived as this persona, things were looking up for sex working Black women (at least to those of us who are, well, Actual Sex Working (current and former) Black women). Until the last few hours, when Women of Color have come out to say they had only and ever communicated with Bambi through her fake persona—thinking she was real and a friend, things were looking up.
I was heartened. I was inspired. Honestly, I was emotional over it—was this industry that had barely provided for me regardless of how hard I’d worked, the industry that had erased and ignored me for a decade, the industry that had stoically watched me and other women like me beg and starve for scraps finally turning around? Was the Titanic making a visible turn? It was so beautiful for me to watch and see white sex working women come out and tweet #FreeBambi and “Help our sister.” I thought maybe this was the beginning of something good—something where Black women and other Women of Color might be able to survive in this business without having 2 or even 3 other jobs, going hungry so their kids might not have to, not being able to pay for college with earnings from work, and more. Maybe this would be the beginning of the end of the intra-community struggle, stigma, and racism that would, in time and with work, end the outside struggle and stigma so many sex workers experience.
In the middle of my inspiration, to learn Bambi, the Black sex working victim of police violence and rape had been invented, had never existed, I feel safe in saying I was hot. I’m still hot right now.
When I look at how hard it is for Black women to even be heard in conversation, much less be helped in and by the sex work community—and to have a white woman capitalize on the movement of the notion that Black Lives Matter in order to scam funds from people with soft hearts and, albeit temporarily, open wallets? When I look at how, for generations, Black women have, behind the scenes and underneath it all, created trends, movements, and campaigns to help sex workers of all races and genders? When I consider those same women spearheading change have been left to starve and die in anonymity and squalor and to know, as things change and Black lives begin to matter more to us all, that a white woman would capitalize on that with a confidence scheme? When I remember we live in a world where Black women are least likely to be believed if they report rapes or sexual assaults? In the moments where I compare the fictional scam of Bambi to the real life stories of sex working Oklahoman Black women who were raped and assaulted by Officer Daniel Hotlzclaw? I am angry.
It makes me angry to know I’d, if it was even for a moment, thought things were changing—only to see the truth come out and those same racist faces of the online sex work community are popping up to justify it by using mental illness and difficult circumstances as an excuse. It makes me angry to know this will affect Black women who work sex for a long, long while to come—when we are still so very far down in the ranks of those who the sex work community sees as deserving of help in the first place.
There has to be a place where we can talk about: the harm done to the woman whose photo was stolen and used as Bambi; struggling and poor Black women who are sex workers and how this affects us; the racism and discrimination Black and Latinx sex workers face (that is in addition to the stigma and shame all sex workers experience); and the overwhelming whiteness and racism of the sex industry and the sex work community both on and offline. Until we can be open with one another, safely and without fear of reprisal, we’ll never really be able to vet new friends and welcome them into the fold—meaning there will always be sex workers in need who might never be able to come in from the cold. As long as there’s a white-gloved hand holding the door closed on particular sex workers, there will always be a group outside—and right now, it’s a group comprised of mostly Black and Brown skinned faces.
Until we can be honest, we’ll always do just what we’re doing right now: wringing our hands and typing hard and fast about what-we-should-have-done, justifying the trash that racist sex workers fabricate in order to forgive what another racist sex worker or client has said or done, and watching the community stay thin, white, and light.
Honestly, I’m thanking God for two things right now: 1. things get really real when money changes hands and, 2. I didn’t have an extra penny to my name this morning.