When We’re Not Hustling is an interview series by Jessie Sage that features sex workers talking about what they do when they’re not working.
In this new Peepshow interview series, I talk to sex workers about a unique part of their lives outside of sex work. This week, I talk to Sunny Cheex, a stripper and performer in the North East, who also designs and makes… MERMAID COSTUMES!
How did you learn to sew?
I started sewing a long time ago. My grandmother taught me when I was still a child. I got my first sewing machine when I was 6 years old. I come from a large family and she tried to teach all of us [my siblings and I], but I was the one who clung to it.
How did you become interested in making costumes?
I just liked dressing up, and I liked making costumes. Regular apparel is so boring, but costumes are so interesting!
I went to a technical high school, and I had to make a costume for school. I remember I made a bumble bee in high school out of scrap material. But I also make costumes for fun. For example, I made a Glenda costume for one of my sisters.
What do you enjoy about costume-making?
I like taking a basic idea, a simple inspiration, and spinning it into something that is mine. For this reason, I really enjoy doing mash-ups. Recently, I made a Barbie Tank Girl costume: it was military-inspired with lots of spikes, but also a lot of neon.
You started selling your costumes at Renaissance Fairs. How did you get into that?
I started going to Renaissance Faires five years ago when I was trying to get sober. I had always wanted to, but hadn’t made time for it before then.
When I started going to the festivals, I realized that there was so much there that was similar to what I loved about being a stripper. Except, the people who were dressed up weren’t trying to hustle people for money; they were just doing it because they wanted to.
In a way, it was a nice reprieve. I have been a stripper for a long time, it was nice to be able to dress up, but not have to be a sexy thing or try to sell anything.
But I am forever the entrepreneur, and I started selling mermaid costumes at the faire. Some of the parents were complaining that the shell tops were too risqué for children, so I decided to make a design for children’s mermaid costumes from scratch. I also make unicorn costumes, dragon costumes. All beings fantastical! I design all of the patterns for all of my costumes, so I can make a lot of different things.
I also dress up like a mermaid when I’m there and tell children’s stories. For the kids, it’s magical. It’s their imaginations coming to life. They say, “Oh my God, mermaids are real!”
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).