Queer trans disabled artist Enby Jupiter was in the final stages of rehearsing a solo show about sex work at Camden People’s Theatre in March this year when stages across the country went dark at the beginning of the pandemic.
Originally programmed as part of the theatre’s annual Sprint festival of wild new work by early-career artists, From My Bedroom uses the framework of a cam show to explore Enby’s experience of being an online sex worker.
Enby, who goes by Jay when he’s offstage, originally investigated online sex work when he was looking into possible part-time jobs to support himself as a student at the University of Chichester, where he studied for his degree in theatre.
He knew the standard part-time jobs in retail or restaurants simply would not work for him. “No way I could do waiting because I have really poor muscle strength and hand-eye coordination and I would just drop everything!” he says.
“So that’s when I went into sex work, starting in a tiny box room in a tiny student flat with my shitty little webcam on my shitty little disability allowance laptop and I would just stream from there.”
The more he performed, the more he realised he had stumbled on a near-ideal side-hustle. Instead of having to work when he was too exhausted or in too much pain, he could choose when he would be on camera. He was earning enough to keep himself afloat. And he was always alive to the ways his academic studies and his sex work could influence each other.
“I’d have a great idea for a character in class and go home and make a porno of that character to sell, so I was also able to channel the creative skills I was learning in class into my own videos and photo sets and cam shows,” he says.
It was when he was casting around for ideas for his final year solo show at Chichester that Jay hit upon the idea of creating a piece about sex work.
“The third-year shows were known to be this big thing where you’ve got to go hard and everyone became a bit competitive. ‘I’m going to write mine about my dead dad.’ ‘Oh really? Well, I’m going to write mine about having cancer!’,” he says.
“So I thought everyone knows I’m trans and I’ve got to the point of being a bit tired of being the walking trans dictionary. But being a sex worker would be really good story to tell because although I was always open about my sex work, most people just knew Jay the queer kid with depression and psychotic tendencies not Enby the online femme boy superstar!”
Jay was first inspired by, and then mentored by, Dr Brian Lobel, who is now Professor of Theatre and Performance at Rose Bruford College, but at the time was a senior lecturer in performing arts at Chichester and working with Bryony Kimmings and Tom Parkinson on the Complicité / National Theatre musical A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer.
“Brian’s done a lot of autobiographical performance, including BALL and Other Funny Stories About Cancer, so he became a close mentor of mine and was always useful if I needed to talk about how something was going to look onstage or if I was thinking about all the right things,” Jay says.
It was Brian who suggested Jay contact CPT about getting his show programmed at the theatre after he graduated. Which it was, scheduled for Monday 23 March. Nobody knew it at the time, but that would, of course, turn out to be the evening the Prime Minister announced we should all stay at home (CPT had already gone dark the week before).
It was a very bleak moment for Jay, as it was for so many theatre workers. “I was having my doubts that it would go ahead because everything was up in the air so while I was trying to get everything together at the same time I was wondering is it going to be worth all this stress if it gets cancelled?” he says.
“And then when it was cancelled I was hugely disappointed because that was going to be my first time onstage since university. I was at such a low point I looked at my piece and thought ‘This is just crap’ and I did think about giving up theatre at that point.”
More challenges were to come in the weeks ahead. Jay wasn’t able to see members of his extended family. He was cut off from the supportive friends he’s made in his part-time work at cosmetics shop Lush (who all knew about his show and his sex work). And then two weeks into the shutdown, he received a formal diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. “That was like a brick in the face,” he says.
Feeling that the world had just collapsed on top of him, Jay put his theatrical ambitions on hold and concentrated on his sex work, taking the opportunity to rebrand and rework his aesthetic.
This was where he was at when Inky Cloak reached out to see if he would like to lead one of our Inside Out digital drama club sessions in the autumn. We’d clocked From My Bedroom in the Sprint festival programme and put the date in our diaries. Which was why we thought he’d make a great guest artist to work with our older LGBTQ+ participants.
“When you reached out to me, I was really nervous at first because I didn’t even know if I wanted to go back to theatre because it was such a dark time: even though there was so much hope and potential, everything ended up collapsing,” he says.
“But then I was like, ‘You still have this story to tell, you want to tell it, you can’t let the fear stop you’. So I thought this would be a good stepping stone to put myself back out there.”
Thinking about how he might lead his session with the participants coincided with him taking a look at From My Bedroom for the first time since Sprint had to be cancelled.
“I was then able to look at it with fresh eyes and look through all of my notes and all of my pictures and think about my experience at uni all linked together – and I realised my piece was about the wrong thing,” he says.
“I was trying to jam it all together as an introduction to sex work for everyone because everyone needs to know about sex work and because I’m sick of being called a slut – well, I’m not, that’s fine, we can reclaim that! But what the piece needs to be about is more personal – about the struggles of being a queer disabled student who has discovered this community and while his life is hectic and everything is up in flames, this online world is his safety net.”
Jay is feeling positive about evolving the show to match his new perspective because he believes that no piece of art is ever entirely finished.
“Whatever show you have, it’s always going to be evolving, it’s never going to be ‘This is done forever’. There will be times where it’s like ‘This is done for now’ or ‘This version is done’ but I don’t think there’s any limit on how much a piece can evolve,” he says.
• We are able to bring artists like Enby to our weekly digital drama club for for older LGBTQ+ people thanks to the support of Arts Council England, for which we are very grateful.