The fantasy of the secretary or the barista or the girl next door who moonlights as a sex worker is almost too cliché to bear. Girls with "normal" jobs and top-secret alter egos like "Peaches McCreamsicle" pop up again and again in a genre of literature I'll call "Dude, You Wish." There's an entire empire of sleazy internet ads built around the concept ("Warning: YOU WILL PROBABLY SEE YOUR FEMALE BOSS AND/OR EX-GIRLFRIEND ON THIS 18+ SITE"). So it is with a critical eye toward the randy businessmen of the world that I make the following statement: Many professional dominatrixes do work a second job, and just because you haven't seen them in the dungeon doesn't mean you haven't used their services.
Take Mona Darling, a 40-something domme with purple hair and an otherworldly calm in her voice who bills herself as the "Dominatrix Mommy Blogger." Her blog started as a secret outlet for venting about clients, but when she had trouble conceiving, she decided to use the platform to write about infertility. Gradually, the two roles – domme and mom – came to inhabit one internet domain. As her readership grew, she noticed that her readers kept reaching out to her privately with their own sexual issues. "These women would contact me and be like, 'I'm such a normal woman, I'm on the PTA, but I love when somebody spanks me,'" Mona told me.Although Mona writes about motherhood and sex work in the same space, she keeps the two roles very distinct. "Have you ever been to Hawaii?" she asks me. "You get off the plane and the air is different and it helps you get into that vacation mode. The same thing happens at the dungeon. The same thing happens when I pick up my child at school. Each time, I'm stepping into a different world and role."That's not to say they never collide in unexpected ways. When her son's class took a trip to a local art studio, the five-year-olds lined up to hand-dip a single candle. Fourteen kids. One candle. The dipping process took forever. Later, Mona tweeted that it was the most intense wax scene she'd ever been involved in.But the sphere inhabited by pro dommes is very different from the land of vanilla culture, and sometimes straddling the two can be exhausting. Mistress Dee, an artist and pro domme in New York, "lives in fear of the day" when her two worlds collide. Dee is "terrified" of the day someone outs her as a sex worker, which she feels is inevitable. Given that she's incredibly successful as a domme – "I'm internationally renowned," she says, "and that's not an overstatement, [though] in some ways I wish it wasn't true" – her goal is to keep her domme identity as secret for as long as possible. The irony is that she doesn't want to be a domme forever—she wants to be a full-time artist. But even when her domming days are behind her, she'll look at them as something that can and will haunt her.
"There are publications out there that take pleasure in destroying people's careers over this sort of thing," she says. "I just hope that by the time the two worlds meet, I'm making enough money to hire a really good PR team."Dee's friend Goddess Aviva also keeps her two primary identities mostly separate, but aside from any residual fear of discovery, she's kind of living the dream. Aviva is a visual artist who works on one big art project during the summers and supports her life in NYC by domming during the rest of the year. Her domme work is the financial and psychological enabler of her artistic work. She is her own sugar mama, the Vera to her inner Nabokov. She sleeps in, takes yoga classes, schedules a few sessions with clients every week, goes to museums and shows to stay inspired, has a "very active social life," and usually has one slave day every week—that is, a personal slave, who doesn't pay for her services but instead will come over and clean her house or massage her or take her shopping.But Aviva isn't just in this for an easy buck. She says she's in it because the need to be in control is an intrinsic part of her personality. In college, she found herself bored with traditional hookup culture and intrigued by mind games and controlling the situation. Still, becoming a dominatrix started out as a joke. "I was like, 'Haha, what if I moved to New York and worked as a dominatrix – that would be funny,'" she says. Now, domming is part of herself that she'd be exploring anyway, with or without the job.
Surely some pro dommes just do it for the money, but for these women, it's a job that taps into something a little deeper. Even Dee, who didn't know anything about the BDSM lifestyle before she started, felt the call of the domme long before she knew what it was. "Looking back, I had a lot of qualities that were naturally dominant," she says. "I had grown up as a very confident alpha female."While all three dommes take care to keep their careers separate – whether that means not blogging about their son's kindergarten class or keeping their vanilla identities on total lockdown – it's inevitable that the characteristics of domme work bleed into their other hustles, and vice versa. Sometimes it's useful or empowering – sometimes it's not. Mona, for instance, says she's become more nurturing as a pro domme since having a child.Aviva says her work as a pro domme has made her feel much more self-expressed, which in turn fuels her creative side. "You have to be really creative and smart and confident in order to do well as a pro domme, and I use all those characteristic as an artist as well," she says.On the other hand, Dee's art suffered for a while, since it demands a vulnerability and a willingness to be out of control that's "very antithetical to domination in many ways." The tension between domming and art was something she had to actively address in her artistic life. "I'd been compartmentalising my domme work so much because it's such a weird, intense job, that I found myself blocking off parts of myself that I couldn't access as an artist," she says.All three women agree that having another job or gig or interest or outlet is important for sex workers of all types. "You're taking a lot of people's energies," says Mona, "and sometimes you'll have a really bad session where you can't connect with the person and you take a big hit to your self esteem and it's easier to back off and do something else instead of being like, 'I have to do this tomorrow or I can't pay my rent.'"Aviva uses an intensive screening process when choosing her clients for the sake of her own psychological health. "You're dealing with a lot of people who have inner conflicts," she says. "They feel like they can't express parts of themselves in their daily life or vanilla relationships or at work. Often, you're dealing with a lot of guilt and shame, and that can be very heavy, emotionally."So yeah, the idea of a dominatrix with a secret daytime identity isn't just a fantasy – it can be almost a psychological necessity. And it's more common than you'd think. Mona has what amounts to an entire little black book of sex worker friends with other jobs. "I have friends who work in tech – I have a friend who worked for the government for a long time – I have friends who are masseuses part-time and some kind of sex worker the rest of the time," she says. "A well-known domme I knew was also a house cleaner. I knew a librarian who stripped one night a week."Follow Tori Telfer on Twitter.