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Moth to a Flame: An Interview with Isabella Sinclaire

Moth to a Flame: An Interview with Isabella Sinclaire

Intuitive, quick-witted, entrancing—all phrases to describe Los Angeles-based Dominatrix, entrepreneur, and literal Queen of the BDSM universe, Isabella Sinclaire. Owner of Ivy Manor Studios, the Domme Collective and Demask fetish boutique in DTLA, Sinclaire has become an international sensation of the kink community. Her educational sex-positive seminars have made an immense impact on both established kinksters and newcomers alike, while her vast knowledge within the SM sector has enabled humans to express some of the most veiled desires of the human mind.

You have become a prominent figure within the BDSM community since 1993—being featured in television, publications, and performances as both a model and Dominatrix. What led you into the fetish scene?

It was completely by accident. I didn’t know anything about a scene or the lifestyle. I was always strong- willed, independent, rebellious, a bit quirky, and curious. I was also elected Most Bizarre in my senior class, so it was obvious I was a little different and deviant. I wasn’t really sexually deviant, I just didn’t follow the norms. But in 1993, I moved to New York City and my eyes were opened to this world within the first month. I was a moth to a flame. Later, I was described as a fish in water. That sounds less tragic, so I like that analogy better, but regardless, I was immediately drawn in and I have never looked back.

Having been introduced to the scene by accident, can you recall any first experiences in New York? Was there something or someone that really left an impression on you and provoked your curiosity to explore further?

Everyone I encountered left an impression. I was very young and very impressionable. When I began, there wasn’t a slow build up. The facility I worked at had me booked for five to seven hours of session a day, usually one hour each. I dove into the deep end before I knew if I could swim.

I would bounce between sessions, interests, and personalities all day long. I always studied every person and tried to discover more about them and satiate my curiosity, trying to find the drive behind their perversions.

Photography Mark Dektor

Tell me about one or two of your earliest memories being dominant. What age were you, what did it entail and how did the power exchange make you feel?

I was always bullying my boyfriends, but I didn’t realize I was dominating them. I loved to see what they would do for me and I always pushed a little further. I had a boyfriend in high school, and I asked him to wear my panties to school one day and he did. I would also do things to hurt him and see if he would tell me to stop, but he never did. I realized that I was sexually aggressive and very selective about the activities we did when I was in my late teens, around 19 years old. I controlled everything in one way or another, but I still didn’t know what I was doing.

Looking back, I never liked giving power over my body to anyone. I wanted to be touched a certain way and was very specific about that.

Those were definitely my first power exchanges. I was never a pushover and never caved into peer pressure, so I really didn’t acknowledge that it felt one way or the other. It was just what it was.

How has becoming both an entrepreneur and one of the first Dominatrix’s on the web changed your mindset and overall empowerment as a woman?

I don’t think it has changed me at all. I had been a Dominatrix for eight years before I told my mother and father and my dad said, “Well, you haven’t changed a bit, so you must know what you are doing.” And that comment felt good. In one of my first interviews, I was asked what I would do if someone gave me a million dollars. My response was to open an art-based school for the under privileged or special needs kids, and I would still do that today. The thought hasn’t been too far from my mind lately either.

This endeavor would make such an immense impact on our community as the arts are getting pushed out of schools due to lack of funding. Can you talk to me more about this idea and why it is important to you?

When I was in high school, the special needs students were kept in a special area of the school. They were not integrated into the general population and no one really understood their struggles or appreciated their uniqueness or differences. I watched them get teased and made fun of on a regular basis until I was in the tenth grade and decided to spend my study hall volunteering in their classroom. They became my friends and during that time, I saw what made them light up: art and acceptance. Their art was raw and unapologetic. Art was therapy; creating was therapy. Giving that opportunity to people and watching them be happy, flourish, and feel appreciated made me feel whole and purposeful. Luckily, schools now have integration programs so the acceptance is higher these days, but you can never have enough art.

Photography Xetalatex

What is one of the most defining moments in your life and how has it influenced your career?

The most defining moment was popping up on the Internet in 1997. I was the first BDSM membership-based site and I reached fans all over the globe. It opened the world up to me. I gave people an opportunity to realize they weren’t alone. I was a normal looking girl who was into SM. So, if I could do it, so could they.

Your sessions may cover a variety of interests, from CBT, corporal punishment and medical exploration to chastity training, sensual play, and heavy bondage. What style of play brings you the most gratification? Is there something you wish you could do more of?

I love all types of play, but single tail and heavy sensory deprivation probably bring me the most joy because they require the most trust and a lot of skill. I’ve also been really enjoying forced or coerced transformation these days.

I would enjoy a few more sissies. I would love to be surrounded by them, catering to my every need.

A few months back you posted about a past slave, Sky—a relationship you cherished and learned a lot from. Sky was your first live-in slave and the heaviest masochist you had ever known. I imagine this dynamic allowed you to really push comfort levels and explore a limitless array of play. Do you feel comfortable opening up about this relationship and sharing how the two of you were able to establish that bond?

Sky and I never had to establish a bond. We had one immediately and this is why she was so special to me. She immediately trusted me, gave her physical self over to me and her mental self just followed. There have been a few immediate connections like that with others in my career, but it’s more common now that I have a reputation of being trustworthy, knowledgeable, and compassionate.

You have created scenes that many individuals never have the opportunity to witness or experience and some are exceptionally long. Do you have any rituals or habits that help adjust your energy and prepare yourself mentally or physically before each session?

No, not really, unless getting dressed can be part of the ritual. I enjoy dressing for scenes, but I’ve learned recently that it isn’t required for me to flip into gear. I can dominate in my PJs and enjoy it just as much. One of my girlfriend’s told me I was like a light switch. I would flip on and be the brightest light in the room and once I was done, I would flip off and relax. It’s possible to carry a lot of the weight of scenes with you in everyday life. Many people experience burnout, but I’ve been successful at knowing when I need to take a breather or two and recharge. That’s probably the reason I’ve had so much longevity.

Photographer Anonymous

What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being in your line of work?

The most rewarding aspect is giving people an outlet to express a part of their personality that they would otherwise repress until it ate a hole inside of them.

One of the challenges has been being able to educate as much of the masses as I can that you don’t have to be fucked up to be into BDSM.

You don’t have to be a product of trauma or victimization, and if you were, that’s okay. I’m glad you found this as a coping mechanism. No one is alike and no one found this [community] through one portal. We have all come into it in our own way and there is no black and white. We don’t fit into checked boxes and even if you don’t understand it, that’s okay too. Just exercise some compassion, live and let live. Don’t be so quick to judge.

Social media is deleting sex workers from existence and pushing us off the platforms we utilize most for our independent businesses. With such explicit platform policies and the ongoing fight against FOSTA/SESTA, we are enduring a profound cultural loss. Where do you see sex work heading in the near future?

Sex workers existed before social media and they will exist after it. I’m not afraid because once we are off of these platforms, another one will pop-up and we will be safe being a part of it. The Internet is fueled by adult sites and the fans will find us. The fans will always find us. And hopefully, there will be some age restriction measures because I cringe when I think of how many young people might see things they are simply too young to see or understand. I am very much about preserving innocence as long as possible.

Being a mother of two, I am curious how you balance being a parent with being public about your career. How do your censor certain things to protect them from seeing or hearing concepts they may not fully understand yet?

Well actually, I am a mother of four—three are biologically my sister’s kids, but she lost custody of her two boys in 2007. They were 10 and eight years old at the time. In 2010, she delivered a girl and I took her straight from the hospital. I also have a biological son who just turned 18. The three boys are all out on their own now and my daughter just celebrated her ninth birthday. I always refer to us as a modern family. It’s a delicate balance. When I leave work to go home to my family, I disconnect. Their awareness that my life was different from the other parents came to them at about eight or nine years old when they started to become more aware of the world. As they ask questions, I answer them as honestly as possible.

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I can’t hide what I do. I’m way beyond that. All I can do is maintain as much balance and protect them from my world as long as possible until they are ready.

But they never doubt my love, strength, or sense of honesty. They always feel safe.

In our line of work, we are consistently sharing intimate experiences and allowing others to be deeply vulnerable in our space. Have you ever fallen for a client before?

There are very few people I have ever fallen for. It seems like a very romantic idea, but so far, I’ve kept the boundaries very clear. I have let some clients into my private life on a limited capacity, but I have never pursued a relationship with anyone. Besides, in the words of Rita Wayworth, “Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me.” Those words ring very deep in me. I can’t be Isabella all the time. There is no balance there. To voluntarily put myself in a relationship where that is a possibility has never been desirable.

Do you have advice for others who are fearful of stepping outside of their comfort zones and branching out into the community to explore their sexuality within the BDSM realm?

Use caution as much as possible because the community is a breeding ground for sexual predators. Never agree to meet anyone alone and don’t trust people blindly. Find classes and social gatherings you can attend and drag a friend with you. The community is very tight-knit and tends to banish predators quickly, so you’ll know the people you can trust right away. Just don’t rush into anything because you are eager to jump in.

What single person in your life has most impacted who you have become?

My father. He was a hard man, but he was honest and taught me many life lessons. He taught me to never step on anyone for success and to never let anyone step on me. He taught me to respect myself and have honor and integrity. He also taught me how to shoot, fight, find my way out of the woods, build traps, and change a flat tire in a massive thunderstorm. He taught me how to survive.

This is beautiful because in this community, a lot of women aren’t as fortunate when it comes to positive relationships with their fathers, let alone being open about their careers in sex work. You spoke briefly about hiding this part of you for eight years before coming out. Was his response what you had expected?

My father loved me and so did my mother, but my childhood was not positive nor balanced. My parents really had no right being parents. They were way too young and selfish, so I had to raise myself and eventually, I began parenting them. They respected me to make good decisions so even though they didn’t understand my career choice, they respected it.

All my dad really wanted to know was that none of his friends would ever see me naked in a magazine. I wasn’t interested in ever using my naked body as a tool of seduction and power, so I assured him he was safe.

Photography Mark Dektor

What keeps you awake at night?

I worry that I am not prepared. Because I’m self-employed and have never had a safety net, I am always thinking of new ways to survive. The industry has changed and I have changed with it as much as I can, but I am well-aware that if I’m not succeeding, it’s my fault.

What life lesson did you learn the hard way?

I am a natural care giver. I am still learning that there is a limit to how much I can continue to give of myself without beginning to feel taken for granted. I’m still learning.

What is the biggest misconception about you?

That I’m 10-feet tall and bullet proof. People tend to think I’m unapproachable, but I’m really very nice. If I am unkind to anyone, it is because their approach warranted it.

What is your definition of intimacy?

Feeling safe, and I’ve had a problem with that lately.

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