Interview with Mistress Ilsa Strix

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Interview Copyright © 1996 by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Originally published in Spectator


WAH: In SM fantasy literature we often read about the Mistress on the Hill as a bitch goddess or an unattainable dream. And though you live about as high up on a hill as anyone can get, I donít know that you really fit those fantasies. In this interview Iíd like to learn something about the person behind the image of Mistress Ilsa Strix. For starters, how long have you been doing SM at all, and how long have you been doing it professionally?

Mst. Ilsa: Iíve been playing seven or eight years on and off. I was pretty young and had a lot of anger when I first picked up a crop, and I strolled into SM with the nihilistic energy of punkdom: with a vengeance for the heat of things, with the power that comes out of being a teenage punk rocker. I was living a very different life than most people were living at that time.

WAH: How did you get into SM?

Mst. Ilsa: By reading The Story of O when I was 11, and Nancy Fridayís My Secret Garden. I became a pervert really young.

WAH: Well, you didnít become a pervert just by reading.

Mst. Ilsa: [laughing] No, but it awoke everything in me that now thrives.

WAH: Have you any idea how those things got there to begin with?

Mst. Ilsa: No, and I donít care [laughing]. I hear people say, "I like to be caned because it happened to me at boarding school in Britain," and well, okay, maybe. But I really have no idea why people act out their sexualities. Peopleís stuff is their stuff: it just is. Most people start doing SM in little ways – maybe you have sex in an alley, or someone ties someone up, or throws someone else into the dirty laundry – then maybe you move on with it. I have lots of memories of practicing SM before we ever called it SM.

WAH: Who threw whom into the dirty laundry?

Mst. Ilsa: [laughing] We took turns. Professionally, I started to work in New York. I got hired by one of the oldest doms in the business there – I woní tell you her name, sheí been around so long sheí an institution – and my second day on the job she sat me down and said, "You ask the clients what they like and what they donít like, and you do what they donít like most." Well, I didnít last very long there. Then I tried six other places. A lot of them did what they called straight, which is sex, a lot of them did hand jobs, a lot of them allowed clients to touch the mistressesí genitals. None of that felt right to me. I think thatís where I got my strong views about what I will and wonít do in a session, and thatís where I learned that I didnít like SM in New York. Iím not saying there arenít people in New York who do beautiful SM, but the most intense play parties Iíve ever seen have been in San Francisco: people go much farther here because they have the space not to do so, through negotiation and consensuality. This puts the ego in its correct and – if I may be so bold – healthy place.

WAH: Were you born in New York?

Mst. Ilsa: I was born in Connecticut, but I was conceived in Heidelberg. I went to Germany quite a bit during my childhood – it was a bicultural sort of relationship – and spoke German before I spoke English. My mother was one of those unrepressed, very loud German women: my earliest memories are of hearing her screaming from the bedroom. She didnít believe in shaving her legs or arms, and she always had books like the Kama Sutra, The Story of O, Nancy Fridayís My Secret Garden, D.H. Lawrenceís Lady Chatterleyís Lover. I read those books when I was really young because I was an only child – thatís how I read The Story of O before I was 11 – which gave me a warped sense of sexuality very young, by which I mean I didnít view sex as people usually do: I didnít come to it for any submissive purpose.

WAH: Thatís an unusual equation.

Mst. Ilsa: Well, and I donít mean submissive in the SM sense. I mean I donít succumb to the boundaries this society generally puts on women. My home was sex-positive and body-positive in a lot of ways. When I first menstruated my mother took me out to a dinner with the whole family, and bought me a bottle of champagne to celebrate the fact that I had accomplished womanhood, that I had made it that far.

WAH: Your relationship with your mother sounds pretty good.

Mst. Ilsa: It was intense. My mother was a Nazi love child, a product of the Second World War. Her mother thought her husband was dead when he was actually in Russia paying off the war debts. So she got together with another soldier, a Nazi, who eventually left her. She had my mother. When the original fellow came back my mother was two. She was put into an orphanage because she wasnít his daughter: she didnít belong to him.

WAH: Whatís your relationship with your father like?

Mst. Ilsa: What else but a daddyís girl [laughs]? Iíve always been a daddyís girl. My father is one of my very best friends on the planet. We talk every week. He tells me his most intimate things, and I tell him my most intimate things. Heís a really good friend and he tries to be a good father as well.

WAH: Do your parents know about your current work and lifestyle?

Mst. Ilsa: My mom died young, but my father knows. He understands my life, he understands the choices Iíve made, he respects me for who I am, and he respects the development Iíve had. He tries to be as supportive of me as possible without passing judgments.

WAH: Do you have any siblings?

Mst. Ilsa: No. Lots of sisters of the heart, but no blood sisters.

WAH: What do you mean by "sisters of the heart"?

Mst. Ilsa: Iím very close to a lot of the women I grew up with: one who rescued me throughout my childhood, took care of me, and gave me balance; one I taught body piercing who literally saved my life. When we were 18 years old she and I hitchhiked from Maine to L.A. together, she sporting a hot pink Mohawk and me blue and purple dreadlocks. We hitchhiked all around for about three months. It was just like looking at the bloodstream of America. We only had one problem the entire trip: when we got surrounded by a gang under the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri after a July 4th fireworks celebration she pulled out some mace and maced the men and we ran away unscathed. Powerful women awe me.

WAH: Who else are you awed by?

Mst. Ilsa: My heroes are women who have been through incest and abuse and dysfunction, all the horrors that happen to people, and can still stand tall and retain their power to love and create and make harmonies for other people. Lily Braindrop is my hero. Carol Queen. Annie Sprinkle. My friend in Connecticut whoís home-schooling her children and works as a professional piercer. My partner. My hitchhiking friend. Since that time in St. Louis I hate hearing newscasters say, "A gang of youths assaulted a young man last night." I guess we know it wasnít a gang of girls, we know itís a gang of young men. But the media never say so: they never use gender-operative statements about these things. It makes me wonder about how we deal with our young men, about power in relations between women and men. Power dynamics come into my own life, but those energies are also present in society. Maybe thatís part of what makes Mistress Ilsa a female supremacist.

WAH: Female supremacy means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

Mst. Ilsa: Well, I treat everyone equally: if I have a male and a female in a scene, I will not treat one with less respect than the other because of their gender. But at the same time, some of my favorite scenes concern male inferiority and how the world would be a vastly superior place if it were run by women. The other day this guy called me up and said, "I like a woman to talk about female superiority. I walk into the house, she looks at me, realizes that all Iím good for is doing the dishes, makes me do dishes, and if I disobey her, she beats me with a belt." Ideal. When I saw him I talked about what a fine thing parthenogenesis would have been, and how the Y chromosome might actually be a distorted X chromosome. I talked about women warriors, how women are able to handle pain better than men, how women overcome things in society that no man I know could handle, how women are constantly abused growing up in this society and in lots of others and still manage to walk around with our heads up and not blowing our brains out, how I see women succeeding even when their power is taken away through rapes and other traumas designed to make us feel powerless and victimized. Though I didnít talk about it, I also think that in a world where women do about two-thirds of the work and get about 10 percent of the money and even less of the property, itís an honest interaction for men to value the service I provide in an economic way. I have friends who are housewives who donít get paid anything for what they do except a sense of security. I feel bad for them because they lose their independence and their power that way. No one takes away my power, and I donít take away theirs: I provide a service, and men provide the means for me to have my independence. I believe women deserve to have their power.

WAH: That man sounds as if he was a good client for you. If you could profile your favorite kind of client, who would he be?

Mst. Ilsa: My favorite client is responsive, lets his agendas be known, interacts with me so we have some kind of exchange, and allows me to do my magic. Heíll tell me what other doms heís seen, why heís seen them, what he likes, what he might like, and what he dosenít like. I donít like to work with someone who isnít submissive at all.

WAH: How would you define your favorite play partner, client or otherwise? Do you prefer to play with submissives, masochists, fetishists, or who?

Mst. Ilsa: Iím not that specific. My interests are wide, and Iíd get bored with only one kind of play partner. Some of my favorite play partners are clients and some are not. Some activities I enjoy in private would not be legal if I did them professionally. I have one very sweet partner who writes me love poems, gives me flowers, and drives me places as a chauffeur. Heís happy just to sit in the room with me. I put a latex mask on another with a tube down his throat, give him a double enema bag, and do heavy nipple torture on him while heís totally encased in latex. I have a cross-dresser who writhes beautifully on my floor for me when heís a she. And I wrestle with one guy: we enact scenes from Hong Kong videos where women throw men around. These people really turn me on. They are very open, and theyíre respectful: they have respect for what theyíre doing and they have respect for me.

WAH: So to be open and respectful are two common denominators?

Mst. Ilsa: Yes, and that theyíre fun [laughs]. I prefer that someone be clean, but I donít care if somebodyís particularly bright, I donít care what their politics are or what they do when theyíre not near me. I love providing an environment where people become submissive or masochistic, I love providing the safety and space for them to open up, and I love having people open as far as they can with me because thatís the truest sign of submission. Of course, there are some scenes Iím not comfortable with. For instance, with some heavy masochists I feel Iím nothing more than an arm that holds the whip. I donít like being delineated by only my body parts: I want my scenes to be more human than that.

WAH: It sounds as if you want personal connection of some sort with the people you play with.

Mst. Ilsa: Exactly. I treat my scenes – professional or private – as real relationships. I donít go into a scene with a phony attitude, and I donít do anything I wouldnít do with somebody a friend introduced me to. I do exactly what feels comfortable to me. Iím not into SM for it to be unhealthy for anyone, including myself. Of course, this isnít to say I donít play on the edge sometimes. I am a dominant sadist. I keep a stable of collared, branded slaves under contract. The contracts vary in duration and levels of commitment, but when youíve had someone on call 24 hours a day for a few years, your long-term, trusting SM relationship allows you to know each other deeper and to take more risks. My greatest accomplishment in some ways is putting 333 needles into a single penis.

WAH: Iíve met you under several names over the years, but who is Mistress Ilsa?

Mst. Ilsa: I have a lot of different personas. Mistress Ilsa is a very specific part of me who appears in my dungeon. As I said, she started out as a very nihilistic girl and grew fierce. One of the first scenes she ever did was telling someone they were a piece of shit, using her boot to put the personís head in a toilet bowl, and flushing the toilet. Mistress Ilsa has become a much more refined sadist and mistress since then, and Iíve become a lot more balanced as a whole person. I donít have that anger behind me. Instead thereís a powerful tigress who comes out with a deeper kind of energy. Itís not as punk. Iíve matured.

WAH: What enabled you to mature?

Mst. Ilsa: Playing with SM, which has probably taught me more than anything else about interacting with people. Iíve learned how to move peopleís energy, how to negotiate consensuality, how to make people feel comfortable, how to motivate people, how to make things flow, how to make a scene work, even how to tie better knots. I can read things in people I would never have been able to read before. I can read intention a lot better, I can read turn-on, fear, interest, disinterest, horror – I just seem better able to understand people now. I donít see that SM is about sex as much as I see itís about communication. Itís a field where we can explore the experience of feelings, turn-ons, fears, strength, and all the things that donít have a place to be explored in the "real" world.

WAH: Part of what youíre talking about, it seems to me, is exploring taboos or limits.

Mst. Ilsa: People are so complex, so much goes on in our heads that shapes the way we think and where we go – I think ití's more apt to say that I explore places in our very complex selves. I like to unlock mysteries inside a person. I am greatly turned on when a submissive really gives himself or herself to me, and Iíve met very few masochists who go that far without being motivated by some level of submission. Even if itís not sexual, itís an emotional and mental turn-on. Itís an honor when someone opens up to me and allows me to go places inside them. That level of submission is a gift to me I want to thank them for, because thatís what I really want to do, thatís where I want to be: right in there. Itís the most exciting place I could ever imagine being. It gives me a deep feeling of connection, joy, and euphoria.

WAH: When Iím topping in that kind of situation I feel Iím given a gift of self, and itís a constant challenge to me to ride the edge of that gift so I can honor it in return.

Mst. Ilsa: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

WAH: And when I bottom, I want to give that gift, and I want it honored in return.

Mst. Ilsa: Can I quote you on that [laughs]? What is really of value to me is to be able to interact and to give and receive gifts like that, and to meet the challenge to bring myself to them. The workings of a scene may be the same as they were when I started out, but the quality of the power exchange is totally different because I see it now, itís part of my spirituality.

WAH: Spirituality and power exchange are concepts that different people understand very differently. Can you talk a bit about what you mean by them?

Mst. Ilsa: When I say "spirituality" I mean I honor something as sacred. You know a few things in this world – for instance, you know youíre going to die – and a couple more you donít know for sure, but you know deep inside that theyíre pretty probable. One of those, for me, is the spiritual stuff in life: stuff thatís much deeper than our daily existence, stuff thatís sacred. SM is spiritual to me that way: much more powerful and dangerous and beautiful and sacred and profound than I could ever fully understand. So I explore it with respect and honor while still trying to hold on to my edge and my energy and the libidinal charge I get out of it. And if itís not real it doesnít work. Really good SM, or energy exchange, or power exchange, is based on my presenting integral parts of my being to the integral parts of someone elseís being.

WAH: I also know that the SM you practice includes a great deal of attention to sensation and feeling.

Mst. Ilsa: True, but theyíre not mutually exclusive. I had a friend who was bereaving a death recently, for example, but he wasnít dealing with it. He had helped this person when they were dying, he had been there feeding them and making sure they were okay, and it was all very difficult and stressful for him, but he had to hold it together throughout the process. Afterwards he was very angry and holding onto the anger – he couldnít get beyond it to feel his pain and suffering – so we did a flogging scene. I think itís really important to have eye contact with someone, which is the drawback to flogging someoneís backside: you canít see their eyes. So I had Mistress Raquel stand in front of him and play with his nipples and look him in the eyes. Then because breath is such an important communication device in a lot of ways -- how youíre breathing is really a statement of how you are – I had someone else stand next to him being a breathing coach, so we were all breathing in synch. I built him up very slowly so he could relax into it, and he got real angry while I was flogging him. Finally he was raging, pushing against his restraints, swinging his arms and screaming, and at one point he got so mad, so full of rage, that he broke. He just started sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. And we held him. We were just there. It was very cathartic.

When I'm flogging someone I find how much they can take as I build them up by asking them what it feels like. I teach them how to breathe so they can go into their feelings and really relax, get through a little more pain; if they tense up I have them relax a bit. Each time I lay down that whip itís another step on a ladder of submission. Each time they relax they open themselves up to me more. When Iíve finally taken them to the point where their endorphins are in another century, or theyíre leaving their body, or theyíre going through some experience in their brain they had forgotten a million years ago, theyíre so present with me, breathing and looking into my eyes, that Iím as high as a kite too. Thatís a power exchange to me.

On the other hand, I wouldnít want a reader to walk away from this interview with the idea that this is not sexual for me. SM is what gets me hot sexually. Vanilla sex has never been a turn-on for me: Iíve always been turned on by power dynamics, sometimes with pain and fetish play. Nothing gets me as hot and wet as having a good foot slave worshipping my toes. Nothing makes me feel as much an erotic creature as being in full dominant garb – latex, leather, lace – and teasing the shit out of someone. Watching a strong man be tied down and relinquishing his power fuels my libidinal fires.

WAH: That may not happen with a first-time client.

Mst. Ilsa: No, but I donít see novices. And I donít like teaching the protocol of seeing a mistress either. I want somebody with a little bit of experience under their belt.

WAH: What is the protocol of seeing a mistress from your perspective?

Mst. Ilsa: First of all, trusting the woman youíre dealing with, and realizing that when she says she does nothing that is directly sexual, illegal, or nonconsenual, she means what she says. In trusting her youíre treating the situation with respect. Second, following directions: calling at the time youíre told to call, answering the questions youíre asked, neither expecting nor demanding anything that is not negotiated, not expecting sex, not expecting your scene to be a peepshow with the mistress as your stripper. Thereís not a lot of variation in this protocol among most mistresses, but a great deal that a novice might not understand comes from the experience of actually seeing a mistress. Itís important for people to know that theyíre dealing with a real live dominant human being who happens to be female.

WAH: In that context, how you would define your mistressing style?

Mst. Ilsa: I like to have someone go where theyíve never gone before. I like to have someone try something new. The first time I play with somebody thereís a lot of experiment. I want to get them into a place of submission and openness by whatever means that takes. Once we have a connection I want to go in and explore. My style depends greatly on whoís there, but a lot of it is a little girl adventuring.

WAH: Whoís the little girl in Mistress Ilsa?

Mst. Ilsa: The one that loves to explore, and to create and make art out of human bodies, human frailty, human emotion, and human beauty – and rope along with that, and whips and clothespins and found objects.

WAH: Making a big pretty package out of someone sounds like making art.

Mst. Ilsa: I suspended this guy with his feet and arms out in a swan dive – I had some ropes suspending his torso and others to support him so he wouldnít crack his spine [Donít try this at home, kids: itís an advanced technique – WAH] – and six white candles burned beneath him as I slowly lowered him down. That was art, and it was a very intense mental trip as well. I take people on journeys, I take them places, I create experiences I hope will be significant for them.

WAH: You just mentioned ropes, whips, and clothespins. What activities do you prefer? What do you like especially?

Mst. Ilsa: I love doing bondage, I love doing floggings, I love doing piercing. Suturing kind of gets me going. Sometimes having someone in a sling. Electrical play is a lot of fun in the right circumstance. Some cross-dressers can be a hell of an experience. I like doing physical domination with certain individuals because Iím very strong. I can pick up a 175-pound man, put him on my shoulders above my head, and toss him; Iím pretty good at arm wrestling, too. And playing with slave girls is fun, or having two mistresses in a scene – tag teaming – because it always brings in more energy, and that can bring in more intensity. Intensity, I think, is a key word. I like to find the intensity. I like to find that extra something and just grab it. That says a lot about how I approach SM: how can we make this as extreme and as beautiful and as powerful as possible?

WAH: When youíre making it extreme, what do you do to guarantee your own safety and the safety of the people you play with?

Mst. Ilsa: I always give people safe words and teach them how to use them if they donít know how, so they can take care of their own emotional and physical safety if that becomes a problem. I donít do anything unsafe or nonconsensual, illegal, or directly sexual, and I donít deal with urine and scat: those are my boundaries. I provide a clean, sterile environment, and I let people know that even though Mistress Ilsa can be a very tough bitch, she also can be very humane. I donít want to injure anyone physically, psychically, or emotionally. I want people to be okay when they come in and okay when they leave, just with a little more experience. Nietzsche says that for a treeís branches to reach to heaven its roots must reach to hell. Thatís ingrained in my philosophy: I want to take people to the depths of their roots so they can fly in the heavens. And to do that, I have to provide a place where they can feel safe enough to yell and scream and cry and whatever else they need to do so they can go as far for me as possible. Half the time I get just as high as the bottom: I fly right along with them, and we create this cyclone, this vortex of energy that is very emotional for me, and very healing. While I want to see how far I can push a situation, and how far I can take someone, Iím mostly talking about power within, not power over; going underneath and around a situation in imaginative pathways, not just beating someone down. Thatís what happens in real life. Thereís enough of that in this world. I donít want to re-create it. We donít need any more power over on this planet. I want to create something much more complex and beautiful and healing.

WAH: You have a partner and a slave girl: how do you get your own erotic and/or SM needs met privately?

Mst. Ilsa: I explore a lot more in private than I do professionally. I do age regression with child personas running the house, which is emotional, not sexual at all. I also have a lot of gender play in my personal life. Last night, for instance, I was in big black leather chaps and big black boots and a leather vest, I had my hair slicked back, and I was smoking a cigar. I also do a lot of ritualized SM in spiritual form. I think thereís a lack of spirituality in our society. We burn our candles and our incense sometimes when we have sex with a lover, but we never really treat it as a holy act. We have so much guilt and shame around sex that we donít treat our bodies or our sexualities as sanctified, as sacred.

WAH: Is that how you get your own needs met?

Mst. Ilsa: I surround myself with wonderful, open people who view SM from the same perspective I do, and whom I can direct. I get my emotional needs met by my partner, primarily. I go to play parties occasionally, but sometimes itís much easier to stay in. At a play party there might not be enough room to play, and look what we have here at home. A lot of what I do in my dungeon I also do in my private life, but I take on different roles in private, which helps me keep things balanced. I would never use a whip if I hadnít used it on myself first, or had it used on me first, and I try to approach all scenes like that: if I donít understand how my bottom is feeling I canít really feel Iím in control of the situation. So my personal and professional lives have to go hand in hand. I go into San Francisco to get my kicks every now and again, but Iím not looking for stimuli or fixes or things. Itís so peaceful in my house and so lovely in my dungeon that Iíve been really quiet for a while. Iím more content in the last few years than Iíve ever been in my life: more peaceful, more balanced. Itís a time when Iíve been rejuvenating myself.

WAH: What are your interests outside sex, SM, and your home?

Mst. Ilsa: I go to school. I already have a degree, so I donít go for anything but personal fulfillment. Iíve been taking classes on the structure of novels, and a Spanish class. Iím going to take an automotive class soon. Iím taking a class on computers. Iím on the Internet as Ilsa Strix. As eclectic as I am with my SM, so I am also with my hobbies and my interests. I have a lot of hobbies, and Iím writing a book about a young woman exploring the subcultures of San Francisco. Itís a bunch of vignettes, meant as a kind of empowerment piece for those who live in the darker realms. I work on my cars, I work with my dogs, and I work on my computer.

WAH: Have you any last thoughts on the subject of professional dominance as you practice it?

Mst. Ilsa: I got into this work because it was the only job I could think of that involved creativity and liberation, and gave me enough time to do my art, my writing, my self-searching, my self-healing, and all of the other things that comprise my life. This was the only avenue where I was able to act on something that felt good to me and also made me feel I was doing someone else good.


Since our interview Mistress Ilsa Strix has moved to Los Angeles. She can be reached by phone at (323) 957-2227, or on the web at

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