On Bambi Ortiz

Months ago, I was one of the most prominent women in the sex worker activist community, but overnight that changed because of some terrible decisions I made. Decisions I want to take accountability for. There are many reasons behind these decisions, and if you are interested I can share the whole long story with you in its entirety which I have chronicled, but there are just a few points I want to be clear about here.

The decisions that ultimately brought about my fall from grace were my use of a fictional Facebook persona, Bambi Ortiz, and the misrepresentation of her and my arrest and imprisonment by an undercover cop. The persona was one of two that had been developed innocently enough as a writing exercise, but that had somehow grown to take on a life of its own. The person named was a real person, but not a cop — rather he was a client who had shortchanged me (that is, had raped me) when I was desperate after just getting out of jail. The lies happened in the moment, solely to blacklist him as a potential client for any other sex workers. At the time, I never imagined that it would become as huge as it did, nor that it would cause so many people to donate money to support my fictional character — yet it did, and I failed to take steps to roll it back at the time.

I suffer from mental illness, and have several co-existing diagnoses, including bipolar disorder (manic-depression as it was formerly known). Until very recently — since this event — I have never received medication to treat the bipolar disorder, it was just one of several conditions I was dealing with as best I could. I have received prescriptions for Xanax, a benzodiazepine, for anxiety disorder — prescriptions which have been elevated to very high levels over the years since my diagnosis. I am also a recovering intravenous drug user (IDU) and take methadone as part of my treatment for this.

Just prior to these events, I had been in jail for several days (on possession charges for the drugs I was legally prescribed, and a decade-old solicitation warrant from Nassau County). When I was released, I was dope-sick from withdrawal from both the methadone and the Xanax (two of the worst drugs for withdrawal), and still facing the possession charges (the old warrant had been discharged by paying a fine). I was also manic. These facts do not excuse my choices, but perhaps they help explain them. I was desperate and ill, and took the first client who contacted me. Out of my desperation I didn’t check references, and was raped by this client as I already described. My only thought was to get back at this horrible person.

The thing about mania is that it makes you delusional. As soon as I typed the paragraph and people believed it I believed it too. As more people believed in Bambi, so did I. I thought i was making Bambi the heroine by being the one to defend us from the police in the half-truth or storyline that I had introduced to a closed group of people. I never imagined how huge it would become.

In my manic state, I continued lying rather than admitting what I had done, and instead sought to lose myself in drugs and booze while lashing out at anyone who challenged me. Many people donated money — money they could not afford to lose — in defense of this fictional character I had constructed as the story grew out of control. As the story grew, the person whose images I had used for my character became aware of this appropriation and demanded that they be taken down, and this finally exposed the lies for what they were.

Digital blackface was a term I had never heard prior to Bambi’s persona being outed as fictional. I’m not a person with malicious intent, and I had no idea that I was doing something offensive when I began all of this. I was fortunate enough to grow up with many different races of friends, but their education level was always about the same as mine. I grew up in poverty and there is no political correctness in poverty no matter what race you are. RedUP was the first space I had been in that actually asked people their preferred gender pronoun.

I think that because I’m a published writer, people have this misconception that I must be educated. In reality, I barely made it to the 8th grade while living in the foster care system and am completely self-taught beyond that.

Within my extensive work within the harm reduction community and my past 12 years as a political activist, I have been fortunate enough to meet many people who have made terrible decisions in their lives. Many of them have been incarcerated for these decisions. It has helped me to be around these people after this fiasco and understand that terrible decisions don’t have to define you. I have learned a lot from this series of poor choices and it has helped me navigate my mental health issues.

As someone whose relationships are primarily with people of color, It was a hard reality to learn that my actions had not only been damaging but also had been racist but I am willing to do all the work needed to learn from, understand, and come back from them as much as I can.

I want to take accountability for these actions, and to apologize to the woman whose image I used and to black sex workers I have hurt and anyone else who was offended, upset, disappointed or hurt by my actions.

I had betrayed the trust of many people, including many that I deeply care for. This trust is essential to the sex worker community, and I acknowledge the damage I did by betraying it. The money that was sent has been paid back now (if you gave money and have not been refunded, please contact me!), but the damage to the fabric of the community continues. I acknowledge that and take responsibility for my decisions.

Some of the people who were hurt by this are now forever lost to me — people I have loved and respected, and who once loved and respected me. I mourn those relationships, but recognize that this is the result of my actions. Some others have reached out to me with kindness and understanding, and I am forever grateful for that. For the rest, I hope to make amends and rebuild the relationships as much as is possible, and I hope this essay provides the accountability that is an essential step in that process.

Since these events, I have been properly diagnosed and am now taking medications to treat the delusions and mania. I am also working to decrease my dosage of both methadone and Xanax and not using any street drugs. I am continuing to work in the harm-reduction and sex worker activism communities and to use the amount of privilege I do have to help others. I am working to rebuild trust and relationships while taking positive steps to improve my mental health. I am determined to be a strong woman that my daughter can one day look up to.

Please, even if you are unwilling to extend trust or consideration to me, do not let my actions cause you to distrust Lysistrata (the organization that handled much of the fund-raising during my fiasco and that rightly reversed all of those donations) or any of the other wonderful and essential organizations that support sex workers. They were victims as much as anyone, and should not share my blame.

I have learned a lot from this experience, and have hopefully grown even more from it. I am always willing to learn more, and I want to provide complete accountability for my actions, so I encourage any input or dialogue from the community on this. I am sorry for my actions, and am taking all the steps I know to make amends.

Love,

Lily

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