Promising herself that she would not evade the flickering cursor for more than a few moments, Anne O’Hanlon could not resist Googling her own name. As ever, the first result was her Wikipedia entry:
Anne O’Hanlon (born Leytonstone, London, 3 May 1979) is a British journalist who has featured in The Guardian, The Times and other publications. Since completing her PhD on second wave feminist theory, she has written extensively on the impact of the coalition’s spending cuts on women, domestic violence, and online privacy, whilst her Open Democracy essay ‘How London became Surveillance City’ helped her to be shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political journalism.
She hated the photo: her hair was frizzy, and the way the light hit her nose made it look huge. She thought about deleting it, or adding further publications who had employed her, but then remembered that columnist who was caught editing his entry up and his enemies’ down, killing his career, and decided to check her Twitter notifications. No new followers that morning – unlike her ex, whose new op-ed on ‘the crisis of masculinity’ was everywhere – so she returned to Google. For years, she’d been bored with ‘Can you be a feminist and [do X]’ debates in activist circles and mainstream media, but the question of Can you be a feminist and a masochist had long bothered her. Only recently had she allowed herself to look up women writers who’d addressed it, getting no further than a few blog posts and opinion pieces.
She took a breath before typing ‘BDSM community’. Several networks came up: she went for KinkNet, which invited her to join. Calling herself ‘Kollontai79’, she picked ‘Female’ as her gender and ‘Heteroflexible’ as her orientation from a bewildering array of options, hesitating over her role before deciding on ‘submissive’. She chose an image of two high-heeled feet walking down stairs from VALIE EXPORT’s film Syntagma to illustrate, then looked up some groups. Trembling, she copied her About You section into a post in Submissive Women (London):
I’m a 35-year-old woman, professional, slim with long brown hair, looking to explore her submissive side in private with a master or mistress.
She returned to her article, on how National Health Service cuts were affecting abortion clinics. Her phone flashed up: ‘Prince_Vibescu messaged you on KinkNet!’
My partner (Belle_Captive) and I are intrigued. Please see our profiles, but know that we are a couple who like to involve women like you, and that we have a well-equipped dungeon to explore your needs. If you’re interested, write and send a photo.
Alan and Catherine x
She checked his profile:
By day, I am a respectable public official. By night, I will degrade and disgrace you. I like to be in control: if you’re an independent, intelligent woman, I will break you with bondage, spanking, subjugation and humiliation. Over time, my partner and I will reach a place where your imagination, memory and desires do most of our work. Then we can push you through boundaries you didn’t even know you had with a few well-chosen words.
I’m interested. Anne x
I’m PrinceVibescu on Skype. Call at 9pm tomorrow. Wear a black low-cut top and red miniskirt, bare legs and heels. We’ll be waiting for you.
She cancelled her plans – dinner with an editor from The Independent – and went into town. She didn’t know any sex shops, and thought the high street might prove less embarrassing. Wrongly: the assistant in New Look, probably half her age, giggled when she asked about the miniskirt, smirking at her colleague as she ran it through the till. She left, silently, wondering if she had already started doing Alan’s work.
Back home, she breathed in, pulled on the top and skirt, put on her stilettos and opened Skype. Then she called, guessing that they would want her on webcam.
“Good evening, comrade,” said Alan, his deep brown eyes, pencil-thin beard and low hairline striking her from the darkened room, his arm around a woman with long blonde hair.
“We know Kollontai,” said Catherine. “Communist, are you?”
“I believe in equality.”
“You won’t by the time we’re done,” Catherine continued, laughing. “What’s your favourite lipstick, Annie?”
“Christian Dior. Addict.”
“Put some on and kiss the camera.”
Anne applied it, shaking.
“Relax, love. Slowly, evenly. Good girl. You’re beautiful.” Alan laughed; Catherine smiled and kissed him. Anne watched herself on the bottom right of the screen, her eyes aflame. “You like seeing us do this?” Anne nodded. “Good. Pull down your top so we can see your chest. Then get your lipstick and write ‘Slave’ across it.”
Anne took her make-up to her breasts.
“She’s doing it!” whispered Alan.
“Capital letters!” replied Catherine. “She knows she’s ours.”
“Hold them to the camera,” Alan demanded. Anne leaned towards the screen. “That’s it, hold them up.” Then a woman’s voice: “Sit down!” Stunned, Anne sat. “Look at yourself, you little tart!” She shuddered. Catherine laughed: “Did you enjoy that, darling?”
“We thought you would,” said Alan. Come and meet us, we’d love to teach you some more. Send us some of your fantasies and we’ll give you our address.”
Anne left Barons Court tube and found the house in Hammersmith. Catherine, wearing a black corset and long skirt, carrying a riding crop, stood her before Alan, sat in the lounge, dressed in a black mesh T-shirt and PVC trousers.
“Very secretarial” said Catherine, drawing the curtains. “Pretty, but not what we wanted.” Anne watched Alan leave. “Clothes off.” She stripped to her underwear. Catherine took off her bra and gave her a white blouse and black pleated skirt. “Put these on.” Anne did, and Catherine brought Alan back to inspect her.
“Lovely,” he said as he put a striped tie on her. “Usable.”
“We enjoyed your email,” Catherine told her. “We can make your dreams happen. The first is easy.” Alan sat and Catherine put her across his lap. He lifted her skirt and spanked her, ordering her to thank him for every strike.
After ten “Thank you Sirs”, Catherine blindfolded her and led her upstairs. She knew it was Alan strapping her into a chair, cuffing her arms and then locking her ankles into a slider bar. She heard a mouse click, then familiar voices: Pull down your top so we can see your chest. Then get your lipstick and write ‘Slave’ across it …
“You recorded me?”
“Just to tease you,” said Catherine. “We’d like to take some photographs, if that’s okay.”
“You won’t be recognisable,” said Alan. “Blindfolded and gagged.”
“Wouldn’t you like to see yourself so vulnerable?” Catherine stroked her knee. “You trust us, don’t you?” Anne sighed and nodded. “We knew you would,” said Catherine, kissing and then gagging her.
She heard pictures being taken. She had to relent, she realised, finding to her surprise that her anxieties dissipated. Might they reward her? She felt her nipples being clamped. She yelped, muffled, then heard Catherine’s voice: “That’s too much. Give her some pleasure.”
Anne waited, relieved, as the clamps were removed, then felt something metallic, lubricated, inserted into her. Then she remembered her stated desire to relinquish control of her orgasms, and for the next twenty minutes, surrendered delightedly to her helplessness.
Again, Anne couldn’t resist her ex’s Twitter feed. A notification appeared.
Mistress of Reigate @MistressReigate · 30s
.@PrinceVibescu @OHanlon79 Isn’t that Anne O’Hanlon? Nose and hair are a dead giveaway. Not so anti-surveillanc nowe, eh?
Her eyes widened: she clicked ‘View conversation’ and Alan’s tweet came up.
Prince Vibescu @PrinceVibescu · 5m
Naughty girl in detention! Next one will be much more punishing. Talk soon x
Beneath the text, a picture of her in the chair. There were already a couple of retweets and favourites. She texted Alan.
Take that picture off Twitter NOW
Anne: I told you I didn’t want photos – not only do you press me into it but then you put them on Twitter. Remove them immediately.
Alan: Fuck – I thought that was a text message! So sorry. Will delete right away.
Anne: Please do. I’ll keep checking until it’s gone.
Moments later, Anne saw that it had been removed. She hammered her name into the search engine and found another tweet:
Mistress of Reigate @MistressReigate · 4m
Turns out Anne O’Hanlon is quite into surveillance – and violence – LOL #hypocrite
Two retweets already. She tried to call Alan: no answer. She stared at the image. There were no details on Mistress of Reigate’s profile: no email or website, just a cartoon avatar. She would have to ask publicly, which would only make things worse. She texted Alan again.
Anne: @MistressReigate – someone you know? She’s tweeting that picture. Make her stop?
Alan: Sorry I missed your call – in a meeting. I don’t know her but I’ll DM her saying not to use my pics without permission, and that it was posted in error.
Anne checked Twitter again: two more retweets, and one reply – ‘How can you tell with that blindfold? J’ Shaking, she returned to her NHS article. No use: she refreshed the page again. Still there, but no more reactions.
Alan: She’s promised to take it down. Got to go but will mail you later. Don’t panic x
She tried to keep calm. Perhaps people wouldn’t recognise me, she thought, or just won’t care? Maybe it would just disappear into the digital morass. She refreshed again: gone. Another name search found nothing more, so she continued writing, smoking, tentatively, trying to distract herself until Alan got in touch.
‘Prince_Vibescu messaged you on KinkNet!’
So sorry about the picture – we’ll make sure that no-one reposts it. On Skype tonight if you need us. We hope you accept our apology – we’d love to make it up to you soon x
She opened Skype and contacted Alan.
“We’re so glad you called,” said Catherine. “We’re sure you’re angry …”
“Look … I have a profile. Not a huge one, but big enough for this to do me damage.”
“How?” asked Alan.
“I write about violence against women, surveillance-”
“We know,” said Catherine.
“How do you know?”
“We looked you up from that tweet and saw your Wiki page, then your work. You’re good.”
“You’ve undermined that.”
“I don’t think so,” said Alan.
“What if people stop commissioning me?”
“Why would they?” asked Catherine. “They might ask you to write about it.”
“Nobody would take me seriously again.”
“They’d admire your honesty,” Alan insisted. Anne sighed, angrily.
“Can I ask a question?” said Catherine. “You don’t have to answer, but I think you should.”
“Alright,” replied Anne, trembling.
“Deep down, do you want to be outed?”
“Do you want to out me?”
“Does the thought turn you on?” Catherine laughed. “Looks to me like it does.”
“You put that photo up on purpose, didn’t you?”
“No, darling, it was an accident,” Catherine told her. “But a happy one, I think you’ll find. We need to meet. Will you visit?”
“Yes, I think we should.”
“Great. We’ll send some dates. And the photos – we think you’ll enjoy them.”
Annoyed, Anne closed the call.
Alan and Catherine, businesslike in their matching suits, handed Anne a sheet of paper, which she recognised as the initial email she’d sent them.
“Read,” ordered Alan.
You dress me up in a crop top and short skirt, put me on a chain and take me shopping. I’m not allowed to speak, except when spoken to, perhaps when you tell the assistants that you own me, and want to buy clothes (bras, undies, corsets, stockings, outfits) for me to please you. You would tell them what you wanted, and I would have to model things for your approval – in front of staff and customers if necessary.
“We can do this,” said Alan, “tying it in with another fantasy of yours – being made to come in public.”
“We’ll put this in you,” Catherine told her, holding up an egg, “and take you to a restaurant for food and fun. Sound good?”
Anne paused. “Okay.”
“We’ll take a bus to the Westfield shopping centre,” said Alan.
“No way. Too busy.”
“Maybe it’d be better if we went to one of the shops in Soho,” said Catherine. “What would you prefer, Annie?”
“I don’t know.”
“It shouldn’t be too crowded this early,” Alan said, handing Ann the white blouse and black skirt they’d dressed her in last time. “Put these on and kneel down.”
“Why should I?”
“Because we’ll take you to the bedroom when we get home. Now get down.”
Anne changed and knelt, before Alan collared her. Catherine lifted her skirt and inserted the egg. They led her to their car, blindfolded her, sat her on the back seat and drove into town. She had no idea how much time had passed as the car stopped.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“No talking!” yelled a male voice.
“Darling, we’re near the shop. Just a couple of streets away. If you’re worried about anyone recognising you, we can keep the blindfold on. Would you prefer that?”
“No … I want to push myself.”
“Good girl.” Catherine kissed her and then removed it, getting her out of the car. Alan led her through the car park basement to the lift. Frantically, she glanced around: nobody there, thankfully. Then the lift came, containing a prim-looking couple with two small children.
Alan put her in the corner, facing the wall. Thank God the English are so reserved, she thought, and such prudes. “They think you’re filth,” laughed Alan as the family left in astonishment, leading her onto the street. Now, she regretted conceding the blindfold: they were on a packed Tottenham Court Road, tourists pointing and laughing, teenaged boys jeering. Look confident, she thought, holding herself up. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” asked Catherine. Anne nodded, reluctantly. As Alan whispered “head down”, the eggs vibrated: she’d almost forgotten them, and she struggled to keep her balance in her 4” stilettos, her body convulsing with joy.
Alan dragged Anne down Charing Cross Road and onto Old Compton Street. Bracing herself for more humiliation, here it seemed that nobody was bothered, pointing momentarily, even waving and cheering – perhaps this happened all the time in Soho? It was a short walk to the shop: Alan made her ring the bell, then handed her chain to the shop assistant. Anne saw a Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted sign and gazed up at the security camera as she entered, then looked at the DVDs, basques and corsets, PVC and leather dresses, dildos, vibrators and other paraphernalia on sale.
“I want a uniform for our maid,” said Alan. “She’s going to be doing lots of domestic service, so it needs to be practical.”
“Yes sir,” said the assistant, before turning to Anne. “Blue, black or pink?”
“She’ll try them all and we’ll choose,” said Catherine.
“Great!” The assistant handed three dresses, all with white frills on the cuffs and high hemline, to Anne. “They all come with an apron and choker. Changing room’s just there.”
Anne tried the blue first.
“Goes with her eyes,” said Catherine.
“I think the pink would be better,” replied the assistant, smiling.
“Try that,” ordered Alan, and Anne changed again. As she stepped out, another couple entered.
“Excuse me,” asked Catherine, “our sub is trying uniforms, and we’re not sure whether to go for blue or pink”
“Hold the blue against you,” said the woman. “Pink. Definitely.”
“She’ll have the pink and black,” declared Catherine. “Annie, change and then pay the lady.”
Anne handed over her debit card. Catherine made her carry the paper bag and they left. Alan tugged her hard along Tottenham Court Road, making her stumble, and there were going into the car park as two women walked towards them.
“Oh my God, that’s Anne O’Hanlon! I saw her on Newsnight last week talking about CCTV!”
“Quick – get your phone!”
Anne tried to cover her face, but too late: they’d caught her and walked off, laughing.
“Take me home now,” she told Alan.
“You sign up to a website, confess all your perversions to it, write them all down for us, beg us to carry them out your fantasies, spent your own money on clothes to please us,” he replied, reaching for his remote control, “and then get angry when a stranger takes a picture of you?”
“Don’t you dare turn those things on,” she snarled.
“It’ll be alright,” said Catherine. “Come on.”
They encountered no more people as she took her to the car, just security cameras: the thought of people watching her on those made her weep. Catherine sat with her, placing an arm round her shoulder and a hand on her knee, stroking her until her tears stopped.
“Can I use your computer?” asked Anne as they stepped into Alan and Catherine’s home.
“Of course,” said Catherine, bringing a laptop. Anne opened Twitter. Her name was trending. She clicked on it and read some of the tweets.
Stan the Man @StanWithThePlan · 30m
Extraordinary rumours about Anne O’Hanlon going around. Anyone got a pic? ;)
It was obvious: dozens if not hundreds of people were sharing pictures of her being led around central London.
“I don’t know what to do,” she told Catherine.
“Read the direct messages.”
Anne opened them. The first was from her ex.
Incredibly brave. You know it’s not my thing but I’ve got your back. Call me if you need x
The next was from an editor at a major newspaper. Catherine read it aloud.
Is that you in those photos? Do you want to write something about it?
“I think you should,” Alan told her. “I’m going to dictate something, which you should tweet.”
“Go on …” she replied as Catherine took her hand.
“Yes, that is me in the photos,” said Alan, “and I’m not ashamed. I consented to everything. Article coming soon.”
Anne typed his words into the empty box.
“You can do it, darling. Take the leap.”
She took a deep breath and pressed Tweet.
“How do you feel?” asked Catherine.
“Relieved … I feel relieved.”
“People will support you,” Alan continued. “We’ll make sure of it. And your article will be brilliant, I know it.”
She looked at her Twitter notifications. There were several hundred new followers, numerous retweets and favourites of posts where she was mentioned, and for the first time since she began blogging, let alone writing for national newspapers, she felt free of the weight of her own carefully constructed image. A new tweet appeared:
Maria Robins @MariaRobins · 15s
Can’t wait – brilliant and beautiful writer MT @OHanlon79 that is me in the photos and I’m not ashamed. I consented. Article coming soon.
“Darling, you see?” said Catherine. “It’ll be fine. Now shut down the computer and come with us, you deserve a treat.” Alan took her upstairs; Catherine closed the door, laid her on the bed and put her hand up her skirt. As Alan kissed her, she wondered if they were filming, and thought about pushing him away so she could ask. Then she realised that she no longer cared, giving herself over to the pleasures they’d promised, trying to suspend her anxieties about where she’d drawn the line between permission and violation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Juliet Jacques is a writer, cultural critic and journalist. Her fiction has appeared in Five Dials, The London Magazine, 3:AM, Necessary Fiction, Berfrois and elsewhere. Her Transgender Journey series for The Guardian documented her gender reassignment between 2010-12 and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011. She is a regular blogger for the New Statesman and her work has also appeared in TimeOut, The Daily Telegraph, The New Inquiry, The London Review of Books and other publications. She was the featured artist at UBUWEB in December 2013 and her book, Trans: A Memoir, will be published by Verso in 2015.