Behaviour Creates Style: A Short Story by Reba Maybury

British Writer, editor and dominatrix Reba Maybury offers a short story about the real of digital (self-)infatuation that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.

Lucienne has the body of a pubescent 14 year old but I think she is 24. She’s from Australia. Her skin has an ethereal shine, and at the moment her hair is bleached white-blonde, sort of ’90s post-Soviet chic. When I first became aware of her in early 2016, however, it was black, straight and long with bangs. Since Vetements blew and they were made creative directors of Balenciaga, she has chopped her hair into a semi-mullet and bleached it – very poverty porn. Her lips are filled with subtle injections and her eyes are adorned with false eyelashes. I’ve never seen her in real life but she definitely encompasses that uncomfortably praised standard of being “petite”. Let’s say she is under five foot five. Once a man told me smaller women were better in bed because, in his words “‘you could throw them around more’.” Does Lucienne know what USSR stands for?

I became aware of her for troubling reasons. I had been romantically involved with someone in a New York band – let’s call them the Punk – and Lucienne had been following me on Instagram. I didn’t know this and had never seen her before, but she was brought to my attention by news that she’d fucked the Punk while he was on tour in Australia. She had broken up with her boyfriend to sleep with him, only for him to stand her up at a Melbourne house party where she was seen crying over her naive mistake.

As soon as I saw Lucienne’s Instagram I felt instantly sick, a viscerally physical reaction. This wasn’t jealousy, but something darker. Her profile is highly curated, and her photos clearly have taken hours to take and choose. I realised I had actually seen her before because she’d @’d me in a video of her singing along to a D’Angelo song a few months ago – a musician who myself and the Punk are openly obsessed with.

Her other photos showed her wearing fetish boots, which at this moment in time isn’t that unusual. Sex work is currently deemed very chic, which is fabulous. However, there is a huge disconnect between the labour of giving arsehole men a service and looking intoxicating online while kitted out in PVC in your bedroom. We discarded the word prostitute in favour of blessing people with the term sex worker. A prostitute – like whore or slut – is considered a permanent state of being, the label of a disposable, cheap, shameful and usually female life. “Sex worker”, on the other hand, allows us to acknowledge that this is about work, a focused, momentary effort that does not define our entire being. Which one does Lucienne think she is evoking in her fetishy images?

Re-appropriation is stressful because it is defined by stealing something that is impossible to put a price on and that goes against what our society defines itself by. Everything must have a monetary value or you must be able to fuck it.

Lucienne’s most artful photo is of her wearing a choker as she peers up at the camera with a poster of the Punk on her wall from a zine (who, by the way, is in no way famous outside of his small American circle). At some point I also realised she only follows around 200 people, over half of whom are my closest friend or colleagues. She’s even photographed images from of the magazine I used to run. Her sleeping with the Punk was in no way spontaneous but a highly calculated plan. Is it arrogant to claim she stalked me?

I went down to the very end of her Instagram to discover 12 month-old photos of her looking very Health Goth, that sterile style worn by white people who think they are avant-garde because they listen to techno and visit Berlin. (I don’t think there is any point in describing the banality of how this faux-culture is sartorially assembled other than summing it up with the words ‘active’ and ‘monochrome’. The internet allows the most fascinating ways to indulge in unfulfilling information). Afterwards, I Googled her and found images of Lucienne from just a few years ago as dressed a Sea-Punk, a directionless and erotically dead subculture created by Tumblr users.

Lucienne’s identity is clearly in crisis but I don’t think she knows it.

Style is created through behaviour, a personal attitude of rebellion from mundane norms, but why does that matter when you can just steal it? What is the difference between stealing and buying under capitalism anyway?

I began to wonder how many of the similarities that myself and Lucienne seemed to share were actually owned by us. Perhaps her identity isn’t in crisis at all. Perhaps the very reason that people hate fashion is personified in her shallow expression. She wants to look edgy. But an outsider to mainstream thought? We all want to feel special. I know how special I feel when I walk down the street after a white, middle-aged banker has just paid me cash to lick my boots.

I am totally aware that I am coming across as the worst type of snob. I don’t even know this girl. She could actually be very boundary breaking and actively trying to uncover the brutalities of our conservative society. Did I mention that she is apparently a stylist? This story doesn’t finish here.

As creepy as the realisation was that I had a stalker there was nothing that could happen. After all, she lived on the other side of the world. All I could do was forget about it. That was until six months later. I had just posted a photo of my friend – let’s call them the Painter – a cool, stylish guy also from New York who was visiting London, when an hour later he began to follow Lucienne on Instagram. I immediately ignored this. I knew it was in no way coincidental, but it was too soon to jump to conclusions.

Two days later the Painter texted in the middle of the night asking whether I was still seeing the Punk while he was in Australia. After thinking I’d outgrown my emotions, the pain of the romance slithered into my abdomen with a thump.

Someone can steal your style or your taste, but when someone goes after the men you’ve fucked – or at least think you’ve fucked – things get dark.

When I saw the Painter for dinner that weekend I asked him whether he was talking to Lucienne. I was under the impression that they had just been texting, but in the short few days from following one another to DM’ing they had now moved on to Facetiming. The Painter knew all about Lucienne prior to her contact with him because of me, but claimed that it was a an unintentional point of contact, and that she had messaged him because she was a fan of his. He said the word “coincidence” over and over again.

Despairing over a new and unknown emotion of internal theft, I called another artist friend in New York, a man who had once given me my one and only tattoo, a dear collaborator. I knew he could calm me down and convince me that I was being paranoid. He listened to me carefully, then said:

“I don’t want to scare you, but she’s just emailed me arranging to get tattooed by me. She’ll be in New York next week.”

She did turn up in New York. And she did get tattooed, not just one small piece but three huge ones. Not only that, she did stay with the Painter but I decided I didn’t want to know anything about this experience. It quite clearly didn’t work out, and the Painter talks about it in vague ways, ways indicating that perhaps I had been right. But no one wants their ego to be bruised.

Since then nothing outrageous has occurred. Except, that is, for a deadening feeling, a surreal sense of sinister vulnerability, the sensation of being right compounded with having your ego molested in computerised confusion. Whiteness is rarely dissected in the ways that are so desperately needed, and we all perform femininity in different ways.

Whiteness is rarely dissected in the ways that are so desperately needed, and we all perform femininity in different ways.

I’m horny, but horniness is not clean cut; my sexuality is feral and sex knows no trends. And as untameable as my libido is, it is nothing without a proximity to the most heightened form of tenderness. Can that exist within the digital? It can only entice it. I suppose the brain is the biggest erogenous zone, but nothing competes with the power of touch. Desire is so much more exhilarating when it concludes with skin meeting. Extremes are only enjoyable when they are balanced.

As I work as a dominatrix who shamelessly discusses my own formulation of sex work – outrageous, empowering, often brutal and sometimes even cruel – expectations are often catapulted onto me. This is because people think I am a character of steely confidence, but my vulnerability is potent. I am often the target of confused emotions for which my confidence is a magnet.

I appear, it seems, as if I think I piss gold, and even though some men do get off on paying to drink it, I am also made up of endless nerve endings which are regularly set alight. All anyone ever really desires is an intimacy which they can believe is mutually unique. I want to indulge in sublime softness with another person, an enraptured silkiness where our facades are banished and we’re alone with our impulsive urges.

That connection is original because it is naked and behaviour creates style, behaviour creates style, behaviour creates style.

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