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Why people think a dominatrix influenced the Matrix trilogy

Once the queen of the west coast alternative sex community, Ilsa Strix is often unfairly blamed for the failure of The Matrix’s sequels

Ilsa Strix, a dominatrix who once boasted that her “greatest accomplishment” was “putting 333 needles into a single penis”, had undue influence over one of the most singular sci-fi film series of all time: The Matrix trilogy. Or so people like to think.

Strix was a crop-wielding slave-driver in the underground BDSM community in LA during the late 90s, early 00s. She employed impressive tactics – including the aforementioned needle trick – to keep clients literally crawling back for more. This was all while maintaining a marriage to notorious adult film producer and trans man Buck Angel. Her CV reads like the plot of an E.L. James fan fiction. According to The Mirror, Strix was at one point making £156 per hour “whipping and beating her clients”. She was nominated for an AVN Award (the adult Oscars) in the Best Bondage category for her work in Fetish FAQ 1; she made educational videos and taught classes in subjects ranging from piercing to “the fundamentals of flogging.” And Strix – whose real name is Karin Winslow – held a certain type of client in high esteem: submissive.

“My interests are wide, and I’d get bored with only one kind of play partner,” Strix explained in an interview with Sexuality.org. “I have one very sweet partner who writes me love poems, gives me flowers, and drives me places as a chauffeur. He’s 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 he’s totally encased in latex. I have a cross-dresser who writhes beautifully on my floor for me when he’s a she. And I wrestle with one guy: we enact scenes from Hong Kong videos where women throw men around.”

Two years after audiences gagged at the patent leather bodysuit worn by Trinity in the first Matrix film, the director then known as Larry Wachowski (now Lana), wilted at the sight of Strix in a West Hollywood club. Their first meeting and the relationship that followed – they both left their spouses and became an item – was clumsily dissected in a 2006 story in Rolling Stone. The fallout was messy. Wachowski’s wife Thea Bloom filed for divorce and successfully sought to freeze her partner’s assets. Wachowski and Strix were reportedly looking to buy a house together in San Francisco. Bloom said in her filing, “I believe Larry has been extremely dishonest with me in our personal life, and I believe he is hiding information from me regarding our financial affairs.” Buck Angel, who was devastated by Strix’s sudden obsession with the director, sold stories to several tabloids accusing Wachowski of stealing his wife and of being a crossdresser.

Their relationship greased the wheels of tabloids for some time, as rumours abound that Wachowski flew Strix to be with him in Australia during production of The Matrix: Reloaded. Throughout the whole ordeal, Wachowski – who had struck up a rare agreement with Warner Brothers to avoid doing press – remained silent (Dazed reached out to her for comment on this story, but did not receive a reply). Strix retired from the alternative sex community in 2002. The couple were only seen publicly a handful of times, most notably when she accompanied Wachowski to the 2003 Cannes Film Festival premiere of The Matrix: Reloaded.

Wachowski spoke publicly in 2012, the first time in 12 years, about how in spite of virtually no interviews or outward comments, she’s been forced to navigate the line between public and private. “Every one of us, every person here, every human life presents a negotiation between public and private identity,” she said.

“Every one of us, every person here, every human life presents a negotiation between public and private identity” – Lana Wachowski

There are countless theories about The Matrix films and what they symbolise. The most interesting among them are readings of the trans subtext the film exudes (more on this later). Many still blame what came after that meeting one night in an LA nightclub as the ruination of the commonly criticised, second-rate sequels. Genderqueer performance artist Vaginal Davis once wrote on her blog, “I guess co-director Larry Wachowski is so pussy whipped by Mistress Ilsa Strix that his concentration got blown away or maybe its all the female hormones he’s taking.”

How did a dominatrix ‘ruin’ The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions? She didn’t. She had no discernable effect on the two sequels, unless you perhaps count her as a muse. Strix’s spurned ex told the Sunday Mail, “(Strix) said Larry’s favourite colour is pink and that he loves wearing leather skirts. He is also obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and spiky heels.” The only parallels that can be drawn between Strix and the Matrix sequels is a shared fondness for patent leather, evident in the costumes. Some have pinned the blame of Reloaded’s notorious rave at Zion on Strix. It has been argued that the scene doesn’t add anything to the plot. If anything, it became a crucial part of the moodboard for Yeezy Season 3. But again, no, she had nothing to do with it.

“The suggestion that the lack of ideas in the sequels has anything whatsoever to do with the drop in quality of the films is bewildering,” Timothy Sexton wrote in 2007. “For one thing, there are two Wachowski brothers, so one would think the other could step up to the plate should one strike out. But it appears that they both struck out not because one likes to pluck his eyebrows and take estrogen, but because they were simply not the geniuses it was believed at the time.”

Unfortunately, this relationship became a case onto which transphobic people could project their irrational fears. Because there was a somewhat high profile couple that enjoyed a dom/sub connection and played with gender binary, some straight fans of the sci-fi genre took this progressive relationship as a threat. They blamed the outcome of the sequels unfairly on the “distraction” of Ilsa Strix.

“There’s a critical eye being cast back on Lana and I’s work through the lens of our transness. This is a cool thing because it’s an excellent reminder that art is never static” – Lilly Wachowski

What is most interesting in the aftermath of both Wachowskis coming out as transgender is the trans reading of the films by some fans. The films have taken on new meaning for the trans community. Lilly Wachowski went so far as to acknowledge this new conjecture speaking at the GLAAD Media Awards this past April, “There’s a critical eye being cast back on Lana and I’s work through the lens of our transness. This is a cool thing because it’s an excellent reminder that art is never static. And while the ideas of identity and transformation are critical components in our work, the bedrock that all ideas rest upon is love.”

An astonishing thread pieced together by Twitter user @supership79 points to a trans subtext in The Matrix that seems obvious – only after a careful dissection of the clues. The character Switch, for example, was originally written in the script as a dual character played both by a man and a woman. (Due to costs, the character was only played by Belinda McClory.) Even the dialogue seems to corroborate the Mr. Anderson/Neo trans theory. “It seems you’ve been living two lives,” Agent Smith tells Neo in one scene. “One is Mr. Thomas Anderson, you have a social security number, pay taxes […] One of these lives has a future. The other does not.”

Upon entering the Matrix, Neo receives a medical procedure which removes the “phallic worm tracker” implanted in his skin by Agent Smith. Following that, Morpheus tells him, “Your clothes are different […] your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call residual self-image.” You can go fairly deep with this reading, as @supership79 speculates that all of the mirrors present in the movie tie into the body dysphoria that many transgender people experience pre- and post-transition.

Strix and Wachowski married in 2009 and are still together. Although she was never at fault for the Matrix sequels, or even an inspiration, in a story Strix told about hitchhiking across America with a friend aged 18, she describes her hair as “blue and purple dreadlocks.” That is now the signature style of Lana Wachowski. So perhaps she did have some influence after all…