Number 168 Winter 2016 $9.95
Issue 169 / Spring 2017
Submission Deadline: January 15, 2017 (Note: Hard deadline this time!) www.rfdmag.org/upload
Photo: Bo Young
“To stay in the clouds is to run with the spirits of imagination, wonder, and wit. Who would want such companionship to end” --- Mark Thompson, Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self Mark Thompson was a seminal figure in your life – something which you may know from personal knowledge of him, reading his books or articles, participating in his quest to create a spiritual life for gay men and his documentation of our culture through the pages of the Advocate or his camera lens. Since Mark’s passing in August, many people have been taking in the news. Whether you knew Mark as a friend, you were acquainted with him, or you knew of him through his writing – Mark had a way of never letting you go but always a gentle push to delve deeper. He touched RFD when he urged the Monette-Horwitz Prize to be given to us in 2010, he pushed for us to be
visible to a larger audience, a honor and a challenge, that was how Mark worked. So it’s our privilege to request our readers, friends and colleagues of Mark’s to submit stories of remembrance for a man who has been pushing for a broader spirit for queer people since his early college days through his time working on the Advocate, his work documenting gay male spirit, and his unending interest in fairness and equality. Of course he also had close ties to the beginnings of Radical Faerie consciousness, was both a pioneer and an assembler of knowledge about our spiritual and communal experience of coming together first as gay men, queer men then as all things evolve to include the whole spectrum of gender and sexuality. We look forward to seeing your memories of Mark, be they stories, photos or poetry. As always please feel free to share this call for submissions far and wide.
Righteous Frocks Debonair! Vol 43 No 2 #168 Winter 2016
Between the Lines When we think of our dear Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the word enthusiasm comes to mind immediately, and with a smile! A big smile! Wikipedia tells us: The word originates from the Greek ἐνθουσιασμός from ἐν and θεός and οὐσία, meaning “possessed by [a] god’s essence”, applied by the Greeks to manifestations of divine possession, by Apollo (as in the case of the Pythia), or by Dionysus (as in the case of the Bacchantes and Maenads), the term enthusiasm was also used in a transferred or figurative sense. The term was confined to a belief in religious inspiration, or to intense religious fervor or emotion. Enthusiasm defines this phenomenon that has graced our lives since 1979, when on an Easter weekend in San Francisco three men went out into the streets to challenge the world: Ken Bunch (Sister Vicious PHB), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position) and Baruch Golden. They went in full, traditional habits through the streets of the city and down to the nude beach. In the fall of 1979, Sister Hysterectoria (Edmund Garron) and Reverend Mother (Bill Graham) went to the first International Faerie gathering and encountered even more men with the calling. Our 4 Founders, Sister Vicious PHB, Reverend Mother, Missionary Position and Hysterectoria-Agnes convened their friends, chose our name and composed our mission statement: to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt. Who would’ve known what they unleashed on the world; and at the right moment! The Sisters were on the front lines of the community’s response to the AIDS crisis raising money, distributing condoms, teaching safer sex, caring for the sick & the bereaved long before anyone else! What a legacy of service done in clown white (or not), make-up, glitter, heels, boots, robes and bejeweled wimples = so queer + so right on! Ever mixing the sexy with the spiritual, these divine trannifestations grace our streets, bars, baths with a queer vision of radical integration making space for all of us to embrace ourselves to the core. For many of us who were spiritually raped by organized religions, the Sisters are our response. It’s an in-your-face fuck you to the idea that we are any less divine cuz we fuck ass, or drink cum. The SPI Order has blossomed throughout the world, heralding a new era of spiritual stewardship in our community at large and a path to enlightenment for those who embrace this call to service, activism, and being outrageously gorgeous & funny all the while! In these times of political nightmares, the Sisters are a balm and a call to action. We face uncertain times after the shock to the system, and we have a band of merry warriors at the ready to lead the resistance to forces that would strip us of our civil rights, our political progress, and our value in society. With enthusiasm we offer you issue #168 and celebrate the Sisters, their mission, and their legacy wearing Righteous Frocks Debonair! —Rosie Delicious, aka Sr. Morta Bella, for the RFD Collective
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Submission Deadlines Spring–January 15, 2017 Summer–April 21, 2017 See inside covers for themes and specifics.
On the Covers Front: Photograph by Anne Sophie Fremy Back: Sister Mary Juana. Photograph by Erik McGregor
For advertising, subscriptions, back issues and other information visit www.rfdmag.org RFD is a reader-written journal for gay people which focuses on country living and encourages alternative lifestyles. We foster community building and networking, explore the diverse expressions of our sexuality, care for the environment, Radical Faerie consciousness, and nature-centered spirituality, and share experiences of our lives. RFD is produced by volunteers. We welcome your participation. The business and general production are coordinated by a collective. Features and entire issues are prepared by different groups in various places. RFD (ISSN# 0149-709X) is published quarterly for $25 a year by RFD Press, P.O. Box 302, Hadley MA 01035-0302. Postmaster: Send address changes to RFD, P.O. Box 302, Hadley MA
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01035-0302. Non-profit tax exempt #62-1723644, a function of RFD Press with office of registration at 231 Ten Penny Rd., Woodbury, TN 37190. RFD Cover Price: $9.95. A regular subscription is the least expensive way to receive it four times a year. First class mailed issues will be forwarded. Others will not. Send address changes to firstname.lastname@example.org or to our Hadley, MA address. Copyright © RFD Press. The records required by Title 18 U.S.D. Section 2257 and associated with respect to this magazine (and all graphic material associated therewith on which this label appears) are kept by the custodian of records at the following location: RFD Press, 85 N Main St, Ste 200, White River Junction, VT 05001.
Managing Editor: Bambi Gauthier Guest Editor: Sr. Soami Assistant Editor: Rosie Delicious Art Director: Matt Bucy
Artists in this Issue Anne Sophie Fremy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27, 31,35 Brother Bimbo del Doppio Senso. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Caroline Barbarit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Chang Martin.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29, 31, 35 David Edwards (Sr. Mary Dazie Chain).. . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Greg Day.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25, 36 Jean-Baptiste Carhaix. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15, 23 John Entwistle.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40, 42 Mark Christopher Harvey. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17, 18, 20, 24 Max Koo.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8, 11, 32, 38 Mike Chase. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Richard Reyes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2, 47 Sr. Chanel (Gilbert Baker). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Terry E. Christian.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
International Sisters with the Social Networking Sisters of PI, Berlin, Sept 2016 Photograph by Richard Reyes
CONTENTS Announcements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Post-Election Rant. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tom Seidner. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Letter to the Community. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jicama Fine (Sr. Flora Bundt Cakes). . . . . . . 9 An Epistle Embracing a Universal Vocation. . San Francisco Mother House . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Nuns Down Under: A Moment in the Illustrious and Sometimes Scandalous History of the Australian Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. . . . . . . . . . Sr. Mary Anytime a.k.a. Teacosy. . . . . . . . . 16 Nunsense in the City of Desires. . . . . . Peter Mitchell/Sister Mary Sit-On-My-Face. . . . . 19 Greg Day: Photojournalist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 An Outlet For Ministry: An Oral History Interview with Sister Ann Wenita Morelove. . . . . . . . . . . . Nikita Shepard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Be Good. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . e.c. patrick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Nunstory. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sr. Lilith of the Valley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 The Sisters from An(other) Academic’s Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Melissa M. Wilcox. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Sisters and Faeries and Glitter. Oh my!. . . . Sr. Merry Q. Contrary (Morgain Lessloss). . . 44 Joy Crucible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sister Mary Peter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Sister Auction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sr. Sugar le Fae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Boy-Drag Ministry: Kree. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sr. Suffrin Suckotash. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Sisters Dancing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dragon (Arthur Durkee) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Bring Forth the Jubilee. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dragon (Arthur Durkee) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Founding the First Florida Order. . . . . . . . . . . Steven Reigns (aka Sister Fister). . . . . . . . . 51 Who Is My Favorite Nun? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sister Indica . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Marc Aguhar’s “Litanies of My Queer Brown Bodies” at Le Royal Occupé Theater, Montpellier, France. . . . . . . . . . . . Caroline Barbarit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Why I Am a Sister. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sisters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 My Voice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sr. Freida Peoples. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 Buzz Bense. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Liz Highleyman. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
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ANNOUNCEMENTS Summer of Love with Hippie Modernism The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) will launch the region-wide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love with Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia. This major exhibition examines the intersection of the radical art, architecture, and design of the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s and the resonance of these innovations today. A traveling exhibition organized by the Walker Art Center and assembled with the assistance of BAMPFA, Hippie Modernism will be on view in Berkeley from February 8 through May 21, 2017. The exhibition will coincide with the first anniversary of BAMPFA’s new Diller Scofidio + Renfro–de-
signed building in downtown Berkeley. Hippie Modernism charts the evolution of one of the most fertile periods of recent cultural history (c. 1964–74) with experimental furniture, alternative living structures, immersive environments, media installations, alternative magazines, experimental books, printed ephemera, and films. These works convey the social, cultural, and political ferment of the 1960s and 1970s, when radical experiments challenged convention, overturned traditional hierarchies, and advanced new communal ways of living and working. Hippie Modernism also demonstrates how the counterculture, once dismissed as a social and aesthetic anomaly, introduced ideas and techniques that have profoundly shaped contemporary
life, including ecological awareness, social justice, and open communication. From yoga and organic foods to the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, the counterculture’s legacy remains as strong as ever. bampfa.org (510) 642-0808
Special exhibit: “Freaks, Radicals and Hippies: Counterculture in 1970s Vermont” From communes to organic agriculture, progressive politics to healthcare reform, alternative energy to women’s and gay rights, no aspect of Vermont life remained the same after the dramatic changes that occurred during the 1970s. This dynamic and thoughtful exhibit offers a look back into this influential time in Vermont’s recent past. Contains Adult content. Open through September 2017. Located at the Vermont History Center at 60 Washington Street in Barre, VT. Regular open hours 9:00 am–4:00 pm, Monday–Friday. Visit vermonthistory.org/vt70s for special extended hours and related programming.
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Above: “Angels of Light: Portrait of Debra Bauer and Rodney Price,” early 1970s; photograph; 20 x 16 in.; courtesy of Debra Bauer. Below: Courtesy Vermont Historical Society
Personal Highlights from Standing Rock Being a guest and supporter in an indigenous led movement. Centered in prayer. Reminded multiple times a day. How to stay centered. Harness our focus. Be the peace. Honor the water. Wish well for those on the ‘other’ side. This energy was clean, clear, steadfast. Beautiful. Dignified. Undeniable. • I had the pleasure of walking around, delivering homemade baklava from Jennifer MacDonald of Habibi, who typically makes and sells it so she can buy toys for Syrian orphans, as well as Silvermoon chocolate balls made by Truth-i and Aradhana Silvermoon. Wish y’all could have seen people melting as they tasted your treats. (I have pics to share). • As I did the above, I asked each person which tribe they were from. Each and every one was different. At least 30 tribal reps I randomly shared with! I also took these treats to the medics, who could barely take a second (16-hour days), but they were so grateful for the loving support. • Every day, in the medic and food tents I saw handwritten labels: “This (thing) is sent from our community from (town/country) in support and solidarity with Standing Rock—We stand with the water protectors!” And every time, my chest filled with tears (as my
Anatolian Land of Goddesses Gathering In the Fall issue of RFD, we who called the Radical Faerie Gathering on the Turkish coast near Dalaman, realized there were some errors in the previous notice. As the situation in Turkey remains volatile with stories Photo courtesy author.
eyes are now) because seeing all of that gives me hope. • I was deeply touched seeing Muslim, black, as well as gender queer and trans allies, people hit so damn hard in this country and still (perhaps even more so) choosing to show up. In solidarity. With both the indigenous and the water. The depth of what’s happening. Crossroads. Addressing all oppression. • The brilliance bravery solidity of volunteers leading the nonviolent direct action trainings (350
attended the one I went to), as well as the general, legal and media orientations. Very much appreciated the inclusive gender language and emphasis on prayer, peace, self responsibility and being clearheaded allies. • Witnessing the power of the recently-formed International Indigenous Youth Council, excessively spunky, gender inclusive, spirit-connected, profoundly respectful of the elders (mostly, super activated and a depth beyond their years (how old are these souls?).
emerging every day of further horrendous steps taken by the government against any perceived opposition, we are evaluating, in concert with friends in and around Turkey, how viable this gathering will be. We are encouraged by the local people in Turkey who very much want this
Leadership I’m excited to back. • Watching friends be in service, including Ms. Suzannah Park organized 7,000+ square feet of food (moving pinto beans alone was 1,375 lbs!). And then she coordinated twenty camp kitchens to meet for the first time so surplus can get where it’s needed and donation requests can be updated weekly. This bad ass gal was there for five days only and managed to plug in like that. Oh, and she also heard that one of the grandmothers needed walkie-talkies and proceeded to round up donations, do the research and order thirty of them. Yup, that was day two. • Seeing friends Naima Pennimanxa Alixa Garciaimbi Climbing Poe Tree Chloe Smith Song of Rising Appalachia with the International Indigenous Youth Council in a cipher at the Sacred Fire. Tears in our eyes as their words touched all. • Kiddos excitedly jumping in to help, especially on wood chopping. They’d go for hours, completely absorbed. And proud. Reminded me of my time with the hilltribe people in northern Thailand. Everyone played their part. So integrated. So natural. • Climbing into the tent at the end of the night, recounting the day, snuggling up and passing out with my two maties, Suzannah and Keresey Pearltandingrock #mniwiconi #waterislife #noDAPL #solidarity #respect #loveinaction —Janell Kapoor (Global Sister)
gathering to take place. We will announce definitively whether the gathering is going to take place, by late December. The dates for the gathering are April 21-30, 2017. For more information or to stay in touch, email email@example.com RFD 168 Winter 2016 5
Post-Election Rant by Tom Seidner
et me state first that I think the act of assigning blame for the election of Donald Trump is irresponsible and wrongheaded. We need to plan our response, not speculate about the past. But I am going to do it anyway. The right wing of this country is celebrating the election as the just desserts of policies that championed concern for immigrants, repudiation of racial profiling, acceptance of the gay, lesbian and trans communities, and women’s reproductive rights. The horror they describe is that white working class families felt ignored, politicians lived in a bubble, and that something called “political correctness” imperiled the very future of this country. The left is divided. Some largely agree with the right, blaming the Democratic Party. Some blame the Republican Party’s willingness to embrace policies that stigmatize minorities. I think these narratives are comfortable ones for the people voicing them. They use Orwellian language to make their message more palatable. They substitute “identity politics” for “civil rights,” “alt-right” for “white power,” and use “neo-liberalism” as an all-purpose put-down. I think all of us in stigmatized communities know that we have not been elevated to a privileged status. We are just as unheard by our politicians as anyone in the Rust Belt. We are aware that a black president and gay marriage do not make up for mass incarceration, huge racial disparities in wealth, suicide rates of gay and lesbian youth, unprecedented deportations, murders of trans people, rising Islamophobia, continued destruction of American Indian land, and violence against women. We are also aware that many on the left who think that tolerance of racism, homophobia and misogyny is the sole province of Trump voters, have been going on for years, occasionally being appalled at stories of prejudice and then putting down the paper and forgetting about 6
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them. I am as much to blame as anyone else. But I think the real problem is the election process, itself. We have allowed it to become a gladiatorial entertainment, rather than a reflection of our values. The primaries were appalling. They were criminally expensive and hopelessly divisive. We had a full year of infighting when each party did their best to destroy their own and then picked the person that was either preordained or dismissed. Their only hope to unify the shambles of the parties they left behind was to attack the other party’s candidate. They knew it was the only thing they and their
former rivals could agree on. What that meant was all we heard as voters was the ridicule. Was it any wonder that we had the two least popular candidates in history? Whatever their real flaws, that was less about them than what is considered good politics. Half the voters decided the whole thing was so unpleasant they wouldn’t vote at all. And third party candidates who didn’t have primaries looked so much more pure. What was viewed as too controversial or boring was for the Democratic candidate to talk at length about policy, as we know she would have liked to. So we ended up with a false equivalency of “he’s bad but so is she,” somehow dismissing their stated goals to either be more inclusive or less so. And she still got a record number of votes. But then we all remembered about the Electoral College, seemingly for the first time in sixteen years. It cost Photograph courtesy author.
us an election in 2000 that we are still recovering from. It means that voters in most states were viewed as irrelevant to the candidates. It would give someone in Wyoming four times the impact of someone in California, but only if either of those states was in doubt. When the Electoral College doesn’t decide to go rogue, please let’s not forget about them again. When we let ourselves be audiences for candidates, it is much easier for us to let ourselves be swayed by a simple idea rather than a complex one. When we do so, we can forget to ask if there is more to the issue. For example, we seem to have come to a consensus in this election that trade is bad. Trade policies can be very bad. They are largely written by the people who benefit from them. There is very little input from those of us who are concerned for American jobs or whose eyes simply glaze over looking at legal documents. But there are reasons for trade. Trade is a means of building bonds between nations and providing motivation for cooperation rather than war. It tends to raise the standard of living across the globe. We have to question the morality of the United States having less than 5% of the world’s population, but over 40% of its wealth. Aside from the moral question, it is not really in our best interest to live in a world filled with poverty and resentment. Not only does trade reduce prices on goods in this country and provide us with more markets for our own goods, but also the decline of American manufacturing would accelerate without components that are no longer available in this country. We need programs to offset the decline in manufacturing jobs or to develop new ones. But we also need to acknowledge that American peace and prosperity cannot improve while we ask the rest of the world to just suck it up or keep quiet until we are ready to deal with them. We are going to have to make strange alliances in the next few years. A local woman who was instrumental in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” said that there was bitter infighting about tactics right until the end. When all was said and done, people largely agreed that every strategy together contributed to their success. Last month in a very different mood, I wrote that government was the only thing that could keep business in check. Now I’m wonder
ing about the government we are likely to have in a couple of months and wonder if business can be our ally. It was business interests that forced Mike Pence to back down on his anti-gay law as well as challenge anti-immigration laws across the country. I believe the single lesson to come out of all this will be a reevaluation of the word compromise. It is seen now as a moral failing. I think that is because people no longer distinguish between a compromise of their ideals and a compromise of their tactics. I firmly believe that we can find ways to benefit us all but we are going to lose sleep over some of them.
We are going to have to make strange alliances in the next few years. A local woman who was instrumental in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” said that there was bitter infighting about tactics right until the end. When all was said and done, people largely agreed that every strategy together contributed to their success. We need to listen to each other more. We need to agree with each other less. This can be a very dehumanizing time in our culture and it is very appealing to find people who think like us. But really no one does. We need to trust our own intelligence, research things we don’t know, and benefit from other people’s perspective. But if we interact as groups of self-satisfied tribes it is too easy to dismiss the wisdom of outsiders. And we run the risk of silencing ourselves if our thoughts run counter to our group’s cherished beliefs. When we talk to other people and are willing to learn, we increase the chance they will listen to us. But don’t accept what they say too quickly. There is likely to be more to the story. My rant here deserves to be treated with at least that level of skepticism. � RFD 168 Winter 2016 7
RFD 168 Winter 2016
Letter to the Community by Jicama Fine (Sister Flora Bundt Cakes)
would like to speak to my younger Queer community, to those of you who weren’t around during the darkest times of the AIDS plague. Some of you call me elder. It’s a title I often want to run from. It scares me. Most often because I will have to live up to any advice I give you. Since the outcome of the election I’ve been in a dark place. I’m scared. I’m reduced to tears at times. My hands shake. I want to hide in my house with the doors locked. I’m in pieces. Yet through my own grief and fear I see you. Your faces come to me, some familiar some unknown. I see your pain and fear and they are valid. They are not imaginary. The threat is real. I want to comfort you and tell you things will be alright but I’m not sure of this. Many of you are estranged or have a tenuous connection with your birth family because you are Queer or HIV positive or because of this last election or other circumstances. Many of you don’t have an elder to turn to. Many of you feel alone. I’ve been waiting to feel stronger or whole or when my thoughts are more organized to speak to you but I’m unsure of when that will be. One thing I do have to share with you now is my experience. I’ve been in this dark place a number of times before. One of those times was during the mid 80s through early 90s. AIDS was decimating our community. Loved ones, friends, strangers and ourselves were suffering and dying from this horrible disease. I, myself, tested positive for HIV in 1985. I cried, I hid, I spun around and around. Effec-
tive treatment was still about nine years away. I thought I had two years to live, tops. Luckily I had the support of the Queer recovery community and the larger Queer community in Seattle. The government was doing nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. Some so-called Christians were calling for mass internment for people with AIDS, telling us that we should die and go to hell. Even some medical professionals were refusing to touch patients. Families were torn apart and sons and daughters were abandoned, stigmatized and left to die alone. Our community members were broken physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We were in pieces. We started taking care of ourselves and each other. We didn’t have time to wait to feel better or get ourselves together. We took care of each other the best we could. We used the skills we had. We built community using the broken pieces of ourselves. Many new skills were learned by doing. We made mistakes, we cried, we grieved, we buried our loved ones, we kept going somehow. I had an elder who would often say “ Do the next obvious thing”, I had just gotten my massage license in 1985 and decided to use this to help. I started massaging one or two patients in my home once a week and eventually joined the massage team that went into Seattle hospitals and hospice to comfort the sick and dying. I massaged emaciated bodies sometimes covered with KS lesions. I did things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. My fingers still hold the vivid memory of what that feels like. Sometimes these people were loved ones but often they were strangers.
Left: Cass Brayton (Sister Mary Media). Photograph by Max Koo. Above: Untitled (AIDS Pieta), 1992. Photograph by David Edwards (Sr. Mary Dazie Chain).
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Some had no birth family support while others did. There were mothers and fathers and siblings that took care of their loved ones amid the fear and stigma. Some died alone. We tried to catch the ones falling through the cracks. We often failed. From this basis of love and care organizations sprung up. We washed dishes, cleaned houses, wiped asses, made food and fed each other. We organized protests and actions to bring attention to the lack of government response. Real people of faith came forward and helped. Some of us ran for political office. I tell you these things not because I want to be called hero or feed my ego but to give you the benefit of my experience. Many others did a lot more than I did in the face of greater fear. I went to the hospital to comfort a dying friend and instead he was the one comforting me. He died clean and sober and faced his death with grace. He was a hero. I cannot talk about these times without acknowledging the woman that came forward to help. They were the backbone of this movement. A lot of us men were broken and sick . Many times I fell into the arms of women who were there doing the work. They held me up literally at times. We came together from different gender identities, color and economic background. Though the circumstances are different today I see many similarities. Hate is hate and fear is fear. Hate is a powerful dark spell fed by more hate.
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Try not to feed it. This thing called courage is not something I carry around with me that I can give. Real courage comes from within oneself at the time it is needed. It doesn’t come with flags waving and trumpets blaring that is something else. It often comes with tears and shaking and the urge to run and hide. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. I see you, the younger members of my communities and I am given hope. You are bright, strong, energetic and loving. I am honored by your presence in my life. I see the work you do and the risks you take and I am humbled. I have often looked at you and have seen the faces of Queer ancestors I have known. Your Queer ancestors are with you in Spirit and also in more tangible ways. They survive in the rights and organizations we benefit from today. This is a stressful time. The pull of addictions is strong. If you need help, get it. It is there. I love you. We need you. Mend your broken fences, We need everyone. Take good care of yourself and others, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Strengthen those bonds. The work will present itself if we are ready. If you are feeling down, look around you. There is always someone else hurting more than you, Reach out to them. Other communities are under attack. I cannot speak for them. I can only tell my story. You can find their stories elsewhere. I offer you these words and the broken pieces of myself. That’s all I have. �
Above: AIDS Quilt Panel of Bruce Belcher/Sr. Barbarella Ars Erotica Left: Agnes de Garron (Sister Hysterecteria) Photograph by Max Koo.
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An Epistle Embracing a Universal Vocation Promulgated by the Board of the San Francisco Mother House, September 2011
This is a document worthy to be read and studied by all our houses going forward in these times of growth and expanding missions and deepening sororal awareness across the planet. —Sister Soami The rapid rise of new missions and houses (especially in North America where new foundations doubled in five years) calls us all to reflect on our shared vocation. As we grow and interact, more and more questions come up about the trademark, membership and our engagement with queer nuns who, while not part of our Indulgent Communion, profess similar vocations. It is important that we can answer these questions and keep our ultimate mission in sight. As representatives of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. “SPI, Inc.” and board members of the San Francisco House, we want to share information and provide perspective to answer these questions and foster accurate, honest and respectful dialogue. We hope to nurture our shared vocation as servants of the Universal JOY that inspires unique and diverse manifestations, animates and sustains our common work and calls us to a deeper level of honesty and integrity.
What is the Trademark? Recently, many claims have been made about the trademark and its purpose. At its heart, the trademark is a legal agreement between two corporations: SPI, Inc. and another house, or a corporation
and an individual: SPI, Inc. and individual MOPI members. It protects the image and name of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and was created to guard against misuse of our name and image and help us better define the face we present to the world.
Is it a Code of Conduct? Some suggest the trademark imposes a “code of conduct” and would use it to discipline individuals in their communities. But the trademark does not speak to individual conduct unless, as members of a signatory house (or direct signers themselves) they jeopardize our charitable status or subvert our mission to spread joy and expiate guilt. The trademark includes provisions to address these violations and SPI, Inc. is diligent defending our Order and acts when necessary. Questions of individual member conduct should be governed by the members themselves through the policies and procedures set forth in their house or mission.
Does it Create Territories? The agreement defines “The Milky Way Galaxy” as the “territory” or legal area where SPI, Inc. will allow the trademark to be used. This territory is drawn broadly so that signing parties aren’t limited by geography. If the trademark agreement defined the territory say, as the Bay Area, both parties (no matter where they are) could only use our image
Above: International SPI/OPI Dingbat Nuns by Brother Bimbo del Doppio Senso Left: Sister Sparkle Plenty. Photograph by Mike Chase Photo.
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and name within that five-county area. Any activity outside that limited area would violate the agreement and require SPI, Inc. to issue a Cease and Desist letter. A broad definition of territory removes these constraints. We believe many have confused the trademark territory with “areas of operation” for a particular house and think it creates a boundary within which no other sisters can operate and no new missions can form. This is completely inaccurate. The trademark should never be used to curtail the growth of vocations whether of SPI, Inc. sisters or others who embrace a similar calling. Moreover, there are no riders in any trademark or any other agreements between SPI, Inc. and any individual, mission or house that create an exclusive area of operation or award any special privilege. The trademark was never intended to prevent new vocations or formations. It is intended to strengthen our common identity so we can confidently engage our communities, inspire new vocations and collaborate with those who share our aims. Areas of operation are usually defined in the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of a particular house or mission. They are often drawn to comply with State, Provincial or Federal regulations and to define the scope of ministry of a particular house or mission. Having areas of operation should not prevent collaboration between members of other areas or allies.
Members Moving About As members of SPI, Inc. we take vows to promulgate Universal JOY and Expiate Stigmatic Guilt. These vows join us in service and in relationship. When members move to areas with another mission or house or to a place where we have no foundation, we must remember our obligations to each other. The first is to understand the membership policies of our own house and respect those of others. 14 RFD 168 Winter 2016
While the trademark allows members of a signatory house (or direct signers) to manifest when they visit another area or after they move, they are still obliged to observe the requirements of their own house to maintain their good standing. If there is a mission or house in their new area, they should contact them before manifesting. There is a long tradition of nuns presenting a “letter of good standing” from their original house and we feel this is a wise practice. We also believe that if a move is permanent, the member should explore the option of transferring to the mission or house in the area. If moving to an area without any SPI, Inc. presence, a member should first talk with their own house about any policies and procedures that cover such a situation. Some houses offer a “missionary status” in these circumstances to allow a member to remain active and manifest. Again, this only applies if there is no SPI, Inc. mission or house already in the area and the member must continue to observe the requirements of their own house to maintain their good standing.
The Role of the UNPC SPI, Inc. in collaboration with our houses across North America created the United Nuns Privy Council (UNPC) to support new formations and help them organize as charitable organizations with active and informed members and transparent and accountable governance. SPI, Inc. also gave the Council responsibility for informing SPI, Inc. when a new house is ready to sign the trademark and for monitoring existing agreements and notifying SPI, Inc. when there is a violation or when it is time to renew an agreement. As a representative body, the Council is a reflection of the houses that created it with all our imperfections and our aspirations. But above all it is our way to reach out to those who have been moved by our mission and want to create an SPI, Inc. foundation. The Council must always strive to 1982 Red Party Poster by Sr. Chanel (Gilbert Baker)
ensure that these prospective new members receive accurate and honest advice and are treated fairly and with respect. The Council must open the way for new vocations to emerge and prepare those who seek them to succeed and not create obstacles to discourage them from sharing our JOY.
What Does It Mean to Be a Nun? In the beginning, San Francisco claimed that anyone who wanted to be a member of SPI, Inc. in California had to join the San Francisco house. But over time we realized that we are stronger when foundations reflect the communities they serve and now there are wonderful, unique houses from San Diego to Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Russian River, Eureka and Sacramento. We have been further enriched as new missions and houses spring up across North America and throughout the world and blend the best of their local stories into our shared history and vision. We also acknowledge that even before there was an SPI, Inc. there were queer nuns and we have come to honor the memories of powerful figures like Sister Assumpta and the Order of the Sisters of the Good Time. Our relationships with these other Orders should be characterized by mutual respect and a willingness to recognize what we have in common and how we can work together to bring more JOY into our world. At the same time, we must not paper over the sorry truth that these foundations often spring from bitter rivalries, factions, ego and jealousies within an existing SPI, Inc. house and manifest our shortcomings in living out
our JOY and nurturing our relationships. Where these broken origins are present it is the responsibility of every member to search within them and root out the seeds of such divisions and strive for healing and growth towards greater honesty, integrity and unity. Likewise, we must not create confusion among our members or the communities we serve by hiding the differences between SPI, Inc. and other queer orders and we must ensure that no member of SPI, Inc. or another queer order misrepresents our mission or jeopardizes the integrity of our charitable efforts. There is no shame in living our differences openly so long as they manifest the very best of our motivations and call us to bring forth an even more profound JOY. To do this, we must first admit that our egos and wounds, when unacknowledged, cause us to act out, be dishonest, manipulative and hurtful. From the beginning of our Order over thirty years ago, the tension between the JOY we preach and the pain we carry has shaped who we are. This is an inevitable part of our human condition. But it should no longer be an excuse for behavior that tarnishes our mission and shrinks our capacity to experience and promulgate JOY. The vows we share now call us to go deeper. We must be present to the JOY in every moment and vulnerable enough to let it pierce through our armor. We must become servants of a Universal JOY and our every action must reflect our radical commitment to make this JOY known to all. If there are any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org �
Above: Sister Kaye Sera. Photograph by Jean-Baptiste Carhaix Below: Nuns of the Above Panels (4) for the AIDS Quilt 8’x12’ by SF Sisters
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Nuns Down Under: A Moment in the Illustrious and Sometimes Scandalous History of the Australian Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence by Sr. Mary Anytime a.k.a. Teacosy
was ordained as Sr. Mary Anytime Anyplace Anywhere of the Order of the Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence, on a sunny afternoon, March 1982 on the shores of Sydney Harbor Australia. At the time I was living at the Convent of the Seven Leaps Forward with Sisters Sit On My Face, Mae Call of the Wilde and Sister Arse Erotica so it was only natural that I would join the order with great enthusiasm and excitement! The Reverend Mother Inferior presided over the Vestition at this most Holy of Sacred sites down by the water. There were four of us novitiates ordained on this glorious day and when the main rituals were concluded we were bundled into a rather leaky aluminium dinghy and taken out into the harbor and given our final blessing with a quick 16 RFD 168 Winter 2016
passage under the mighty Sydney Harbor Bridge and back! Thirty-five years on I look back with amazement at my short but hectic few years with the order while living in the Sydney convent. A frantic round of social and activist engagements. House blessings, performances at LGBT political events particularly in relation to law reform, endless photos shoots in exotic locations (publicity is So important), film premiers, auditions for a production of the Sound of Music, marching in the Sydney Mardi Gras, opening and closing of venues and bars and one significant night where we rescued the sacred Urinal from a famous Sydney Beat in Green Park! Check out www.universaljoy.com.au for more details. ďż˝
Above: Photograph courtesy Australian Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Right: Photograph by Mark Christopher Harvey.
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Nunsense in the City of Desires by Peter Mitchell / Sister Mary Sit-On-My-Face
t the intersection of Eighteenth and Church Streets, I pulled the electric chord and the street-car rattled to a halt. As I walked to Sister Missionary Position’s (Mish’s) apartment, I passed many Latino families lounging on the street, talking and laughing, the sounds of Mexican music crackling through ghetto-blasters. Reaching the street-level door, I pressed the buzzer. ‘Hallo,’ said Chuck, Mish’s lover. ‘Morning, it’s Pete here.’ The wooden door swung inwards. I shrugged off my back pack and climbed the stairs. As I reached the top, the second apartment door opened. Mish and Chuck’s lesbian neighbours and their five-year old son emerged. ‘Hi,’ said one of the women. I smiled. ‘We’re going to the parade,’ said the boy, a huge grin creasing his face, a small rainbow flag in his right-hand. ‘I’ll see you there then.’ I didn’t know if they knew that I was one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or not. Mish and Chuck’s apartment door opened too. ‘Hi, Chuck,’ I said, turning around. He bear-hugged me then chatted to his neighbours. Mish’s reflection waved through the bathroom mirror, tinsel glistening his eye-lashes. ‘Your habit’s hanging on our bedroom door.’ I folded it over my left-arm. Mish walked out of the bathroom, his rosary beads clacking with the rhythm of his movement. I hugged him. ‘Hmm, that’s wonderful,’ I said, stepping back. On each cheek above the line of his beard, matte-white make-up covered his face while a mandala of rainbow tinsel glistened his right cheek. ‘Is this the sisters’ traditional habit?’ ‘Yes,’ said Mish, adjusting his glasses under the wimple. ‘Sometimes these are so tight.’ He stretched the material around his ears with his index fingers. ‘Ah, that’s better.’ He paused and thought for a few seconds. ‘Well yes, traditional,’ he said, his middle and index fingers making quote signs, ‘given our ironic history’. In the bathroom, I quickly undressed. I consid-
Sister Candicide and Co-founding sister. Photograph by Mark Christopher Harvey.
ered my options. Traditional Sydney habit, that is, the long, flowing garb of the Australian St Joseph nuns? Or our summer variation? I looked out the window. It was late June, the sky wren-blue with rays of warmth trailing to the earth. I decided on the summer habit: the veil, wimple, headpiece and scapula and combined these with my own idiosyncratic additions: R. N. William’s bush-walking boots, and most importantly of all, a red jock-strap. Our summer habit was spontaneously created at the 1982 Pollympics, an annual event organised by the Pollys, a gay-and-lesbian social group started in the 1960s and based in suburban Sydney. It was so hot on the day that we simply removed the cassock to be cooler. I threw all the head gear on and fastened the veil with three safety pins. I tugged at it, making sure each was secure. During a manifestation in Sydney, a gust of wind had ripped it off, the material flying through the air like a ragged spirit. The absence of the shoulders-to-ankles cassock highlighted a more masculine version of the sisters than our usual gender-bending eroticism. I walked into the lounge-room where Mish and Chuck were waiting. ‘Now,’ said Mish, ‘do you have everything?’ I checked my bag: wallet, hankie, comb, change, a few joints. Bottle of amyl? I looked again and threw it in too. ‘Okey dokey, I’m ready.’ ‘We’re being picked up by one of the other sisters,’ said Mish, closing their apartment door. Sister Mary Down-On-My-Knees parked his car several blocks from Market Street. The marshaling area for the march was an industrial neighbourhood with many warehouses and the occasional vacant block, breaking the line of the buildings. We trooped along the pavement, our habits billowing out in the slight breeze. ‘I feel like Dorothy walking along the Yellow Brick Road,’ I said, turning to Mish. He smiled and remained silent. ‘What’s the parade like?’ ‘Hmm,’ he said, gathering his rosary beads and untangling them from the cross. ‘I suppose it’s a combination of a political demonstration, a county fair and a pagan bacchanalia.’ He thought for a few RFD 168 Winter 2016 19
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more seconds. ‘Maybe it’s like your Mardi Gras in Sydney.’ ‘Yeah, it’ll be interesting. I don’t really know what to expect.’ We turned a corner. In front of us, hundreds of people milled about or stood in disorganised groups. Many carried placards with humourous puns, political slogans and poetic dissidence. ‘Ah, here we are,’ said Mish, pointing to the sisters and the Radical Faeries. A counter-cultural movement, the faeries were a loosely-affiliated, worldwide network, redefining the consciousness of gay men through environmental awareness and paganism. Mish greeted many of the sisters and introduced me among sisterly hugs and kisses. There were about twenty nuns in the contingent. A few of them distributed safe sex literature, usually pocket-sized cards. One, ‘Play It Safe’ showed a gay male nun in habit with an explanation of how to use condoms on the bottom of it. Two of the sisters wore fabulous accompaniments to their habits, obviously spending many hours with needle, thread and pinking shears-inhand. One young nun sported the Coit Tower on top of his head. As he talked to the other sisters, he held it continually with his right-hand. The Coit Tower was a sixty-four metre, art deco-designed tower built on Telegraph Hill in 1933. It was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a local millionaire and was visible from most parts of the city. A second nun had a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge on his head. It was an art deco-influenced, suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait, the mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Opened in May 1937, it linked San Francisco on the northern tip of San Francisco peninsula to Marin County. This smaller version of the bridge seemed more stable than its Coit Tower counterpart as it had a lower centre of gravity with the length of the replica balanced evenly from front-to-back. During the hour we waited, all the nuns posed for Kodak moments. The summer habit was a winner. Many times I stood alluringly, my left leg bent in front of the scapula, my right arse cheek leaning out the other side at a suggestive angle.
whistle blew, its sharp noise reverberating around the throngs and the low-slung buildings. It was the Mistress of Novices, calling the nuns to order. We gathered in organised chaos: uneven lines, a contingent of primary colours. The Radical Faeries were more rag-tag than the sisters, their
libertarian diversity resplendent in their drag and politics. On both sides of Market Street, thousands of people crowded the footpaths, two and three rows deep. Same-sex couples, families of the rainbow hue and many hetero people clapped, whooped and waved streamers and rainbow flags under a wide dome of sky. Many people hung out apartment windows or on the verandahs of hotels and guest houses. The edges of roofs on some buildings were also dotted with sitting people, their legs swinging in time to the pumping music. After walking a short distance, three motorcyclists riding 650 and 750 cc bikes swung in behind the sisters. By the facial expressions on some of the nuns, they had obviously practiced our ‘No More Guilt’ motto, lustful glints shining their eyes. The spontaneous intervention of our ‘guides’ widened the distance between us and the Radical Faeries. They were still within eye- and ear-shot as individuals skipped and ran too-and-fro like children at a birthday party. My lust zeroed in on one of the bikers with a cute, round arse, fall-in-love-with-me eyes and wearing brown leather chaps and vest. ‘Morning,’ I said, my throat dry from nervous anticipation. ‘Hi ya. How you doin?’ His deep voice filled me with excitement. ‘Do you mind if I sit on the back of your bike?’ ‘By all means.’ His eyes scanned my summer habit. I slung my bag over my right shoulder, its thin, leather strap a striking contrast to my bare skin. Clutching the scapula, I swung my legs over the seat, the leather warm from the gentle summer heat. ‘Let’s go, Sister.’ He revved the throttle and I held onto his waist as the bike roared forward. He halfturned his face and shouted, ‘What’s your sisterly name?’ ‘Sister Mary Sit-On-My-Face.’ He half-turned around again, his eye-brows rising like question marks. ‘Would you like to sit on my face?’ I crooned into his left ear. He stopped the bike as the other sisters and bikers had stopped too. His left-hand drifted onto my leg and squeezed it firmly. We resumed our snail’s pace. Many revellers laughed and clapped at the incongruity of a leatherclad biker pillioning a nun. ‘I’m Mike,’ he said, stopping the bike again. I smiled and drowned in the deep wells of his brown eyes then decided the incongruity needed
Sister Magically Delicious. Photograph by Mark Christopher Harvey.
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playing with. ‘Don’t freak out with what I’m about to do.’ He nodded, concentrating on the pedestrians and other bikes around us, the continual start-andstop lurching the bike every couple of seconds. I moved back on the pillion seat a smidgen and lifted my left leg then my right over Mike’s shoulders. ‘Whoa,’ he said, turning his head, ‘what the fuck?”’ ‘Keep riding.’ I got the balance right and held onto the edges of the seat with my hands. I balanced precariously on the back of the bike. Mike took it in his stride and maintained the bike’s momentum as its movement enhanced my balance. A great number of the crowd were delighted, cameras flashing as it wasn’t every day a nun threw his legs into the air. ‘That wasn’t too bad,’ I said, putting my legs back on the foot pedals. Mike turned around and smiled. ‘And that’s not the end of it.’ A slight frown creased his forehead. A minute later, I repeated the action, my legs over his shoulders in a pseudo-missionary position. Oh, I thought, if only the sisters in Sydney could see me now! The balance was a constant struggle as there was very little to hang onto on the seat. 22 RFD 168 Winter 2016
‘Fuck,’ I shouted as my head was pulled backwards. ‘What the fuck’s happened?’ ‘Stop the bike.’ I pictured some homophobe running out of the crowd and grabbing the veil in an act of hate. I glanced left. ‘My scapula’s caught in the back wheel.’ So much for apocalyptic visions, I thought. ‘Shit,’ said Mike, shifting into neutral gear. He placed both feet on the road and balanced the bike. I invoked the spirit of the dingo and managed to get both feet on the ground, the scapula twisting around as I did so. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘I think so,’ I said, my voice quavering. I bent down and looked at the material wrapped several times around one of the spokes. Questions crossed my mind. Do I disentangle the material? A few metres away, the third biker had stopped while the first row of the faeries was slowing down. I imagined the whole parade being held up. Or rip it? I decided acting quickly was priority number one. ‘I think I’ll have to rip it.’ A frown crossed Mike’s forehead again. ‘This way will take too long,’ I said, pointing to the twisted material. I ripped it away. Here I was in the middle of Market Street, I thought, the ragged International Gay/Lesbian Day, San Francisco, June 1983. Courtesy archive of Sr. Sit-On-My-Face
end of the scapula fluttering in the air, words caught in my throat. ‘That’s a real shame,’ said Mike. I shrugged my shoulders and shoved aesthetic considerations about what I looked like as a nun to the back of my mind. I hopped back on and we resumed our way. At the next stop, I said, ‘Do you think I should do it again?’ He squeezed my left thigh. For a second time, I threw my legs over his shoulders. Mike grabbed my left leg, his tongue gliding down my calf. The bike moved again. ‘Hey Sister,’ someone from the crowd yelled, ‘had any bad habits lately?’ ‘As many as I can imagine,’ I shouted back. My back relaxed, the leg muscles lengthening as I became comfortable with the motion again. I wrapped my legs around Mike’s neck much to the crowd’s frantic applause. ‘Shit, it’s happened again.’ Mike stopped the bike and, for a second time, we disentangled the scapula from around the spokes. ‘Maybe it’s better if you stay off the bike.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, my disappointment palpable. ‘Sorry Sister,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders. I knew he was right. I was more disappointed at the probability of not seeing him again, of not getting drunk or high with him through the afternoon. For the remainder of the parade, I walked with the other sisters, weaving from one side of the street to the other and back, waving, smiling and posing for photographs. The parade finished at the Civic Centre Plaza, a large park-like area in front of San Francisco City Hall. There were hundreds of stalls of political and social groups, AIDS organisations and all manner of things gay and lesbian in the middle of the downtown area. At the sister’s stall, a small number of hard-working nuns enticed men and women into a photograph with the sisters. The enticee paid two dollars, stood between myself and another nun as we posed in irreverent or erotic ways. The camera button clicked, the lightbulb flashed and a memento for life was given to many appreciative individuals.
One hot, young man walked past the stall, his eyes enthralled with our antics. The third time he strolled past in his form-fitting 501s, bare-chiseled chest and tee-shirt hanging from the back pocket, several of us looked knowingly at each other. ‘I bet he walks past again,’ I said to my other hardworking compatriot, Sister Mona Minute. ‘If he does, we’ll grab him.’ Sister Salvation Armee’ worked the crowd, older Anglo gay male couples, young Latino dykes, young men in their twenties with KS lesions tattooing their faces, all falling to our irreligious allure. Sister Mona Minute nudged me gently in the ribs. Mr Bare Chest, as we dubbed him, ambled past again. Sister Salvation boldly stepped towards him and grabbed his upper left arm. ‘Ooh,’ he crooned, ‘such strong muscles. Would you like to pose with some of our blessed sisters?’
Mr Bare Chest smiled sheepishly, his green eyes shining. For five seconds, he hesitated, the calligraphy of his body language writing indecision. ‘Think of it as a memento for life,’ encouraged Sister Mary S. He paid two dollars and stood in front of the white, cardboard backdrop. I stood on his left, Sister Mona Minute to his right, the tips of our tongues tickling his nipples. After ten seconds, they were erect. We two nuns looked at each other, our eyes widening in surprise. What was going through this young man’s imagination? I glanced down at his groin. A bulge appeared in his jeans. Wonders will never cease, I thought. A gay male nun’s habit as erotic stimuli! It was a moment that neither of we nuns were able to take to its logical conclusion as we were working for
(L to R) Sr. Chanel, Sr. Florence Nightmare, RN, Sr. Kaye Sera, Sr. Francis Diana (kneeling, as usual), Sr. CockledoodleDo, Sr. CPR (with camera). Photograph by Jean-Baptiste Carhaix.
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the rest of the afternoon. Instantly, it was imprinted in my memory-bank of erotic moments. Unfortunately, Mr Bare Chest drifted off into the throngs, his Kodak memento in his strong hands. Several times, he looked back, wondering what might have been. ‘I need a break,’ I said after two hours of continuous work. ‘And a well deserved one,’ added Sister Salvation.
returned to the sister’s stall. We worked through the rest of the afternoon, raising money for the sisters’ future manifestations as well as donations to HIVrelated organisations. By five o’clock, the crowds thinned, the sun sinking behind the surrounding buildings, the shadows lengthening. I walked around the area one last time, the intuition coming to mind that this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that I probably wouldn’t travel overseas for many years. The end-of-a-busy day feel wrapped itself around the moment: people packing up their stalls, the PA system being dismantled on the stage, babies asleep in
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prams. Food wrappers and flyers littered the ground. The San Fransisco nuns thanked me for my hard work and commitment to ‘universal joy’. One or two of them made caustic remarks about the nuns who didn’t work at the stall at all. I managed a lift with a complete stranger, a man who knew one of the other nuns. I was staying in a spare room in an old Victorian terrace in McAlister Street in the Haight-Ashbery. He dropped me across the street from the house and I scurried inside. I unlocked the front door and walked up the wooden stairs. Don was in his first-floor room. He was a friend of my American friend, Fred in Sydney. I didn’t see him earlier in the day. He smiled as I strolled in. We recounted our respective adventures through the day. I went to my room, undressed and hung my habit on a hanger. Lying down on the foam mattress, I looked at it with affection, remembered the moment of parading along the footpath, our habits flowing in the gentle breeze then lingered about what might have happened with Mike, his fall-in-lovewith-me brown eyes a keepsake. �
Sister Titania. Photograph by Mark Christopher Harvey.
Greg Day: Photojournalist
Healing Ritual in Buena Vista Park led by Sister Marie Ever Ready. Sister UnityHarmony meditating at USF campus protest, 1981. Sisters Pius Peak and Missionary Position bedeviled by cops on Castro, Xmas Eve 1981
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An Outlet For Ministry: An Oral History Interview with Sister Ann Wenita Morelove Conducted, transcribed, and edited by Nikita Shepard
he sunshine of a warm October afternoon has just begun to fade, and the boisterous racket of Fall Gathering recedes as we stroll out to the Brigid altar at the Short Mountain Sanctuary. I take a seat on a wooden bench beneath dark green bamboo fronds next to a handsome, slender man whose piercing eyes and close-cropped gray facial hair stand out against gaudy lipstick and blush under a black lace veil, black stockingclad legs demurely crossed beneath a cherry-red dress. In a warm Southern drawl, Sister Ann of the Music City Sister House recalls years deep in the closet as a husband, father, and religious leader in the rural South, followed by the terrifying and liberating process of gradually coming out and finding acceptance, both from others and within. Our conversation spans two hours of boisterous laughter and heartfelt tears, as s/he shares stories about his/her transformation from serving as a Methodist pastor to embracing a powerful and uniquely queer form of ministry with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The following piece is an edited excerpt from an interview conducted on October 8th, 2016, which will form part of an emerging archive of Radical Faerie oral histories. I hope you’ll cherish these stories as much as I have. 26 RFD 168 Winter 2016
I grew up in a small town: Erin, Tennessee. It’s close to Clarksville. There are two stoplights back to back, that’s it; it’s a very small town. Wonderful place to grow up, though. I worked in the grocery store where everybody bought their groceries. People still know me from seeing them all the time. Mom will say, “So-and-so asked about you,” and I haven’t lived there in... thirty years? Forty years? So it’s a unique place. I knew early that I was gay. But I had no role models whatsoever, and no exposure. I didn’t think, didn’t see that there was any option to express that. It didn’t even occur to me to step into that in any way. I didn’t have my first experience with a man until I was thirty-three years old. And if anybody had asked me... and sometimes they did, later in graduate school. Right before I got married, I was working in a church, and the organist sat me down. United Methodist organists are historically gay, and I knew he was. And he sat me down in his rehearsal room, and he said, “Are you sure you want to get married?” I said, absolutely. “Are you sure?” It was like the people asking Peter if he knew Jesus! He asked me three times: “Are you sure you want to get married?” And I knew what he was talking about. But I just did not have the framework to deal with that. So, extreme repression. Above: Photograph by Terry E. Christian. Right: Photographs by Anne Sophie Fremy.
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o I was married for ten years, and I have three children. The youngest just turned twenty, and then my middle son is twenty-two, and Sam, my oldest, is twenty-four. I got married while I was in seminary, and I served as a pastor at a church in Savannah, Tennessee for four years, and then one in Gallatin, Tennessee for four years. And I was in Clarksville when I got honest with myself. Later I had realized that through high school and even college, a lot of the sexual tension between male and female I was so faking. The attraction and the tension and all of that, I was playing, play-acting all that. And then when I could shift it to where it belonged for me, it was like, “Oh, okay! I get it!” But that repression was so strong, I never even let it come out. I was so repressed that I didn’t really give it any thought, until that doorway opened and I really imagined and saw what life could be like. I enjoyed my relationship with my wife. But I became so much more me when I was able to find men. The internet came into the world, and that gave me a window, a way to express. And for over a year it was just internet only, but then eventually I stepped out. And after that there was no going back. There was no putting that back in the bottle. There was a year when I met different men, but within that year, I met my current husband, and he and I have been together for almost seventeen years, married for two of that. We met online. Yeah, it was an AOL chat room. And it was a hook up. We split a Motel Six room, after long conversation. And that first night, I made this mistake, or made the right call, to tell him, “I love you”—first night! And then I backed up from that, because I had not had my wild time at all. This was maybe the third encounter I’d even had with a guy at all. So he did some chasing for a while, because I was doing this wild thing. There was this bar in Nashville that I’d go to... God, what a mess all this was! Even during the week I’d go to this bar, maybe on a Thursday night, drive from Clarksville to Nashville, which is not a short drive. And they have this amateur strip night. And I thought I was being all anonymous. Maybe the third, fourth time I went there, the emcee said, “It’s that stripping preacher!” Because I would compete. And I’m like, holy shit! Of course, me and my big mouth; you tell one person... So I went on with the show, and the whole time Frank is there. He’s not being overbearing, but he’s there, letting me do my thing, but kind of waiting. I’m so lucky, so lucky he did that. And he was there during that time when I divorced. The scariest thing for me through that 28 RFD 168 Winter 2016
was my relationship with my children. Because at that time, I didn’t have any rights if it came out that I was gay. There would be no judge in Tennessee that would give parental rights. And that scared me to death, because they were my world, and I did not want to fuck up their life. But I will always be forever grateful that that was not my ex-wife’s attitude. It was all difficult to work through, but she said, you will always be their father. It was complete joint custody. And one of the things that was really helpful was that Frank, my future husband, could model that for me, because he went through the same thing. He had the same structure with his daughter, and we were able, once we got together, we kept that same schedule, so his daughter and my three children ended up growing up together. So the way I actually told my wife was: I went to one counseling session, to a counselor that I picked, and I came back from that and I told her, “The counselor said I’m gay.” Couldn’t even claim it for me! That coming out is slow; you have to develop it little by little. It’s so funny. And she said—I’m not kidding—she said, “Duh.” She had figured it out by then. You know, we’re never as smart as we think we are. So my poor mother... I was a chicken. I was still working in the church, I hadn’t quit yet. She lived about thirty minutes away, in my same hometown. I was working in Clarksville, and I invited her up for dinner at a public freaking restaurant, and Frank went with me; she’d never met him. And in this restaurant, I said, “Mom, I’m gay, I’m HIV positive, and this is my new boyfriend.” And do you know what that woman did? She turned to Frank and said, “I am so glad you have been there and gone through this with him.” Yeah. She’s an incredible woman. Her name is Ann. Now, add to all this the part that I was a pastor. And you can’t do that. You can’t be an elder preacher in the United Methodist Church and be gay. That meant that I had to either decide to continue to live in the closet or leave the ordained ministry. So I met with my district superintendent and my bishop, and I told them that I was gay, and that I was also HIV positive. And my bishop was as gracious as he could be under the church law. He led me through what the Book of Discipline, the rule book, says. So what it says is, you cannot be a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. So he said, “You’ve already said that you’re gay.” And I’m thinking, self-avowed. And he said, “Are you going to be practicing?” [laughs] And I’m like... um, yeah. Going through all this to not have sex, are you kidding me? Right: Soeur Olga, Soeur Lilly. Solidays Festival, Paris 2016. Photographs by Chang Martin.
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I’m very lucky that in the Nashville area there are different United Methodist agencies, where the poor and the lost in the system sometimes end up. So I’ve continued to do church-related work through one of those agencies. And I’m completely out there, and it’s fine. They know I’m here at this gathering! They know Sister Ann, they’ve seen pictures. I can’t keep that hidden! So in the long term, even though it was all difficult, I just had nothing but support from people at every turn. From people that didn’t have to, and had reason not to. But I carried a lot of bitterness, because I do believe I have a calling to be in ministry. I carried a lot of bitterness towards the church for quite a while. Jump ahead a little bit. I went to my first Pride; I think my daughter Ruth was about thirteen. We all went as a family, all six of us. And— this is hysterical—so we’re walking around, I’m nervous as hell, you know; the only Prides I’ve ever seen are on TV. I don’t know, I mean, this is Nashville, it’s fine. But Sister Rightsawrong, and Sister Enya Face walked by, and I leaned over to my daughter Ruth and I said, “Don’t worry, we’re not that kind of gay.” I think that I was projecting my own years of wanting to be normal onto that situation. And added another layer of protecting her from anything that would throw her world off. Neither one a valid reaction... I mean, it don’t hurt anyone to get their 30 RFD 168 Winter 2016
world thrown off, you know, if that’s the reality. And then it was like another year before I had anything to do with the Sisters. I saw them at a bar; it was actually Sister Evita Zane. I had a conversation with him and said, what is this about? And it’s funny, looking back on it, he was not in Sister mode, he wasn’t in Sister face; he was there to have a drink. But he took the time to talk to me about what the Sisters were and invited me to come to a meeting. That’s how you get started. So I went, and I went back. The first step in our house is to just go out and associate with them in some way, any way you want, just dress outlandishly and show up with them while they’re out doing something. So I went, and met up with some of the Sisters as they were getting ready. So I’m trying to put on a false eyelash. It’s from the drug store, it’s tiny, but I thought it was a big deal, trying to put on an eyelash. And Sister Wendy— who is the fabulous, gorgeous sister in our house, in my opinion—she looked at Sister Enya and said, help a girl out. So Sister Enya ended up pasting on my first eyelashes. And I thought I was just the whore of Babylon. All the makeup, had on a Catholic schoolgirl skirt, little white blouse, and I just thought I was ready for RuPaul. But looking back on it... ha! It’s just so funny, how the perceptions change. All that’s funny stuff, but the thing that the Sis-
Above Top: Music City Sisters Ann and Wendy. Above Bottom: Sisters Pursephone and Ann Renew Marriage Vows at Pride Spirituality Night, 2015. Photographs courtesy Sister Ann Wenita. Right Top: Photograph by Anne Sophie Fremy. Right Bottom: Photograph by Chang Martin.
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“Last Supper” by Max Koo.
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ters have done for me, they’ve given me an outlet for ministry. And taken away the bitterness. You know, I have found a congregation to serve in the community, truly, and I’m very grateful for that. And I’m grateful for the Music City Sister House in particular, because there are several Sister Houses where the tie to the Faerie community and the history isn’t very close at all. There are some houses that don’t have any Sisters in them that have a connection with the Radical Faeries. That’s not the case with the Music City Sisters. There are several who have been active in the Faerie community. And both Frank, who is Persephone—“Persephone Ofeliabits”—Persephone and I both, when we started the process, we just balked at any mention of Radical Faerie. We were two of the first that came into the House that weren’t from that community. And I don’t know what we were trying to prove, but we just were real resistant, you know: we’re becoming Sisters, we’re not Radical Faeries, we don’t even know what that is. And that’s our right, to just be Sisters. And again, that thread of grace. Those people could have said, this is not a good fit. But they didn’t; they encouraged us, they allowed that, and they didn’t cut us off. And…what, can they read the future? Because here I am at my second fall gathering, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. So it’s lots of lessons for me about preconceived ideas, and judging something when you don’t even have any idea what’s really going on. Let go.
hen I got into the Sisters—and Frank was like a month behind me, so it was really both of us—my daughter Ruth was much more independent. She was last one in the house, the other kids had gone off doing their thing. She was like, it was OK and she understood it, but she was a little cold to the whole thing of being a Sister. And she told me, “I do understand, I just have one rule: stay out of my clothes.” But then she figured out that if she worked it right, when we went off to Charming Charlie’s to buy costume jewelry, or to Ross’s to buy drag, and she went with us, she could get something out of it. So she changed her perspective a little bit. And then there was another time we were getting ready at home, and as you get ready, it just turns up, you know. They call it manifestation, because it’s not the process of putting on the face and the clothes; you are manifesting a personality. And as that comes into the room, you’re changing, and so suddenly her dad’s not there anymore; it’s Sister 34 RFD 168 Winter 2016
Ann. And there came a point through that when she said, “OK, that’s enough.” She wasn’t mad, but she just turned around and went upstairs; like, I can’t handle this anymore. But now she’ll buy stuff, and say, I think you’ll like this; it’ll be some jewelry or a shirt or something, and she’ll get it knowing that I might want to wear it. And when she does that, she’s the only one of my three kids that I’ll trust with my credit card, because she is responsible. But she’s not a saint, because she’ll buy these things for me, and then I’ll find out later that she bought like two things for her. With the Sisters, the thing I find the most joy in is if I’m paying attention in a bar—you know, the look is a tool that lets me go up and talk to people, to say things to people that I can’t do as a fifty one year old man. My favorite thing to do is to be in a conversation: how are you doing, good to meet you, explaining what the sisters are about to somebody. And we’re talking, and another person walks up, and I introduce myself to them, and then I introduce the two of them, and walk away. That’s my favorite thing to do as a Sister. I like to look for the people that are maybe leaning against a wall alone, and talk to them. I try to remember that they probably aren’t there to meet a Sister; so if I do try to talk to them, I try to pull somebody else in, to help people make connections. That’s my favorite thing. Another thing we did as a group that I was real glad we were able to pull together was when we put together a vigil the day after the Pulse massacre. We were able to coordinate with other groups in the city to make that happen so quickly the day after. That could only happen because of the previous connections and relationships that we’ve built. I do think there’s an aspect of spirituality that LGBT people don’t work at making a part of their life. Probably for a variety of reasons, but a lot of them because of rejection in the past, and it’s just easier not to think about it than to sort through it again. And I think we Sisters can bring some of that to people’s lives. And it surprises them, because they see us out, and the perception is that we’re crazy party people. And if we bring that into a situation, and then really quickly center it on something that’s a little more profound, it just gets people’s attention. If you’re interested in contributing your life story to a Radical Faerie oral history archive, please contact Nikita at email@example.com. �
Solidays in Paris, 2016. Top: Soeur Clitotem. Photograph by Anne Sophie Fremy. Bottom: Soeur Sissy. Photograph by Chang Martin.
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(Top l to r) Reverend Mother the Abyss, Sr. UnityHarmony, Sr. Missionary Position, Sr. Adhanarisvara (out of face). (Bottom l to r) Sr. Homo Fellatio, Sr. Teresa Stigmata, Sr. Mary Media, Sr. Sensible Shoes, Reverend Mother the Abyss, Sr. Banana Nut Bread, Sr. Adhanarisvara (before she changed her name to Vicious Power Hungry Bitch), Sr. Missionary Position, Sr. UnityHarmony, Sr. Marie Ever-Ready. Man on right: Alfonso. Photographs by Greg Day.
Be Good “Be good,” he said as he stepped out the door with a smile and a wink that said, “ I’ll never be yours.” “Be good,” said another, as if I hadn’t just been, praying to his crotch on my knees, in my bed. “Be good,” once again, that same finished grin. Do I look like a choir boy after letting you in? Good little Catholic boys don’t spread their legs for strangers, don’t dream of cock and assholes like endless, quenchless cravings. Baptized in water, baptized in blood, baptized in your cum, does that make me good? Good little Catholic boys buckle under guilt and shame, yet here I am, your cock in hand, as you squeal and squawk my name.
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by Sr. Lilith of the Valley
ell, after thirty-five years of service to the Order and the community, how does one find a single poem, blessing, story or ritual to represent? As founder of the Denver House and three term MON in San Francisco and my many years of service, it has been my honor to have officiated over a hundred weddings, (alas and sadly) blessed to have held vigil with the dying and the dead and conducted more funerals and memorial services than I would care to recount. Have had the joy to offer many baby and pet blessings, house blessings and public prayer, but also braved numerous demonstrations including facing down the KKK, Christianists and brutal cops. Ultimately though; gloried in the accolades and adulation of the masses! I have reveled in ritual and sacred space, been asked to hold the holy elements and manifest representation of the Gods (High Priestess). I can also honestly say that some of my most profound experiences, both positive and negative have been associated with the Sisterhood. The people that I have met through the Order and indeed the Sisters themselves have been among the most interesting, artistic and creative, spiritual and yet challenging souls I have ever associated with. I have had the pleasure to be inspired by such luminaries as Sr. Soami- my window into the Sisterhood, Nuns of the Above; Sr. X-tacy, Sr. Luscious Lashes, Sr. Marquesa de Sade, Sr. Vice-n-Virtue, Sr. Bufadora and my dearly departed friend Sr. Sushi Psychedelia. I find continued awe in the service of Sr. Mary Timothy, Sr. Roma (of course!), Sr. Bella de Ball, Sr. Hellen Wheels, Sr. Gina Tonic, Sr. Sharin’ Dipity, Sr. Violet Sin Bloom, Sr. Eden Asp, Sr. Mora Lee D’Klined, Sr. Unity Divine, Sr. Candy Cide, Sr. Loosy Lust Bea Lady, Sr. Sarah Bellum, and so many more. I honor unsung heroine Abbesses; Sr. Anal
Sister Lilith of the Valley. Photograph by Max Koo.
Retention, Sr. Saki Tumi, Sr. Edith Myflesh, Sr. Titania Humperpickle and Sr. Anni Coque l’Doo. And to our next generation of devotees; Sr. Agnes Dei Afta Tamara, Sr. Guard NO Pansies, Sr. Maddie ‘bout You and all the new gurlz! My daughters, granddaughters, great granddaughters, little sisters and sisters everywhere…. So instead I will offer an entreaty: Sisters, you must know that the veil which has been placed upon your head by your mother is a heavy mantle. It can be a burden, mark you as a target, separate you from your tribe or even act a repellent. But you must remember that you have been chosen for a sacred purpose; the ‘Goddess’, whoever she maybe for you has decried that you are a priestess and you have an ancient and sacrosanct responsibility; the role of the shaman, the witch, the jester, the cross dressing votary, the activist, the revolutionary- and it’s more than just a ‘pony & dog show drag performance’you have the power to change lives! Your sisterhood is not a ‘persona’ that can be taken off at the end of a day and hung on the back of a door; in or out of face, you are a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence! You are a warrior nun! You are a Mother Confessor and your actions will be weighed and measured in the bounty of your ability for empathy, caring and activism. Yes, silliness and regalia in all her guise is an integral aspect of service; use that to your advantage, but underneath that shimmering and resplendent attire lies the soul of all the pain that has come before and all that will come after; but you my Sisters have the ability to heal. Remain true to yourself and the tenants of the Order. You must not be afraid to confront injustice or inequity even within the Sisterhood! My Sisters, you are a beacon of hope and light, empowerment and joy—use it well and wisely! �
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The Sisters from An(other) Academic’s Perspective by Melissa M. Wilcox
ong, long ago and far, far away (well, not really, but you know how traffic is these days), there lived a twenty-something graduate student who was in a Master’s program in Southern California. She had majored in biology in college, planning to attend vet school, but one quarter she took a course to fulfill a distribution requirement. It fit into her busy bio-major schedule and sounded marginally interesting, but imagine her surprise when she discovered, in that era of Falwell and the Moral Majority, that if the infighting and power plays in the early Jesus movement had gone differently the Christianity that she saw around her might have been completely different too! She was hooked. Starting the next quarter, she took a religious studies class every time she had room to spare in her schedule. She learned how Jewish feminists were reclaiming and re-reading the Hebrew Bible, she read feminist commentaries on ancient Near Eastern texts, and she learned queer theory (which had just been named) by applying it to readings of Hellenistic Jewish texts. “This stuff is amazing,” she thought—and thus, she ended up in grad school. One roasting-hot June morning, she and a friend
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went to L.A. Pride. As they sat on the curb of Santa Monica Boulevard, watching float after float of well-oiled, gyrating men go by, her eye was caught by several familiar figures with white, made-up faces and long, trailing veils. Having grown up and gone to college in the San Francisco Bay Area, she had probably seen these figures at San Francisco Pride. But all she knew at the moment was that they were familiar, stunningly awesome, and a little taste of home—once a Northern Californian, always a Northern Californian! She cheered so wildly that the Sisters came over and said hello personally. Then they walked on, neither they nor she aware that they would become even more of a fixture in her life than they already were. This is my first conscious memory of meeting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. My parents, regular readers of the San Francisco Chronicle, knew about them before I did. I think that to all of us, even before that day at Pride, they were just part of San Francisco’s queer landscape. This was why I was so excited to see them in L.A., which felt a world apart from what little I already knew of the Bay Area queer scene. Most likely they were San Francisco
Mass Against Papal Bigotry in Union Square, 1987. Sisters Lily, Marquessa, VisciousPHB, Lucious Lashes and Mysteria Photograph by John Entwistle.
Sisters, since this was Pride 1995. The L.A. house was on the horizon—a twinkle in a Sister’s eye—but not yet in existence. Over the course of my Master’s program I started to realize that I was more interested in talking with living people about religion than in trying to deduce ancient people’s perspectives from crumbling texts. I took a class on ethnographic methods that required me to choose one group with which to carry out all of the class assignments. I chose the Metropolitan Community Church because my best friends had recently joined and I wanted to know more. Watching queer families take communion together when I was used to watching homophobic Christians tear my community down made a big impression on me. After spending three hours interviewing a pastor who delivered newspapers on the side with his partner so they could afford to serve their congregation, I was hooked. I applied and was accepted to a Ph.D. program that would support me as I learned to study religion in contemporary queer communities. But where have the Sisters gone in this story? Well, they were always there, but in the background. I loved them, I was fascinated and delighted by them in equal measure, but I couldn’t figure out how to write about them as a religious studies scholar. I didn’t really figure that out, actually, until shortly before I started writing. My first clue came, again, from the L.A. house. A then-current (now former) member of the house contacted me to volunteer for my second book project. The first book, as it turned out, focused on MCC, but in the process of researching and writing it I started wondering why I was seeing mostly cisgender men in those churches, and why other scholars who were doing related research were also seeing mostly men in the synagogues, churches, and Bible study groups they observed. So I decided to try to figure out not so much why cis women, and trans people of all genders, weren’t in those groups, but rather what they were doing instead. This particular Sister—one of the few cis women in the L.A. house—volunteered to take part in that study. And it was in interviewing her that I realized that there are some Sisters for whom religion (many people prefer to call it spirituality, but in religious studies we don’t really draw that line) was central to their work with the order, and vice versa. I had my hook, my route into being able to justify channeling my fascination with the Sisters into a book project. When my then-current project was completed—in fact, before the book even hit the shelves—I reached out to the house that was
closest to my location at the time and asked to start learning from them.
ust over seven years later, the book is complete. It will be published in the prestigious Sexual Cultures series at New York University Press, hopefully by the end of 2017. In the more than four and a half years I spent researching the book, I conducted fieldwork with (in other words, hung out with and followed around) members of the Order of Benevolent Bliss in Portland, Oregon; the Abbey of St. Joan in Seattle, Washington; the Music City Sisters in Nashville, Tennessee; the London House of Common Sluts; the Erzmutterhaus Sancta Melitta Iuvenis in Berlin; the Couvent de Paris; and the San Francisco house itself. I was honored to be invited to attend the 2011 International Conclave in Portland, and there I interviewed Sisters and Guards from a number of North American houses as well as a member of the Convent of Dunn Eideann in Edinburgh. I have also interviewed members of the Swiss Order of Perpetual Indulgence (Zurich) and the Couvent de Paname in person, and have interviewed over Skype both members and former members of the Sydney, Australia and Montevideo, Uruguay houses. Sister Soami, GrandMother Vish, and Agnes de Garron—also known as Sister Hysterectoria—generously sat with me to share their memories of the early days of the order, as did Sister Mary Media and Sister Loganberry Frost. Mother Inferior filled me in on some of the history of the Australian order, and I learned a great deal from two key founders in Europe as well. Sister Flirtatious Romanovsky of Middlesex shared with me archival materials from the first Toronto house, and I also collected and studied archival materials from the San Francisco house’s archives, the ONE Archives in Los Angeles, and other people’s personal collections, most notably those of Sister Soami. Processing all of these research materials, which resulted in nearly 1,700 single-spaced pages of interview transcripts, over 100 single-spaced pages of ethnographic field notes from my time spent with the order, and reams of scanned and photocopied archival materials, took about a year and a half. After that, I began writing. Before I tell you about my book, though, I want to point out that this is not the first academic book on the Sisters. That honor goes to Jean-Yves Le Talec, also known as Archi-Mère Rita Du Calvaire, one of the founders of the French order. Jean-Yves, a sociologist who’s interested in gender, sexuality, and epidemiology, wrote his doctoral dissertation RFD 168 Winter 2016 41
about the order focusing primarily on France. It was later published in French in 2000, as Un Mouvement Gai dans la Lutte Contre le SIDA: Les Soeurs de la Perpétuelle Indulgence (A Gay Movement in the Struggle against AIDS: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence). In 2011 another doctoral dissertation on the Sisters appeared, this one written by Jason Crawford and focused on the contemporary San Francisco house. Although Jason’s book hasn’t yet been published, it’s a great read and I recommend keeping an eye out for it! To turn, then, to my own new book on the Sisters: as I worked more and more with the order, and came to know both individual members and entire houses pretty well, one aspect of the Sisters kept coming back up in my thoughts. Most people (as many of you reading this will know) recognize the Sisters’ parody, their camp, and they recognize the roots of that camp in Roman Catholicism. The original habits were real retired nuns’ habits, after all, and you can’t get much closer than that without actually joining the church! But what most people who aren’t very familiar with the order don’t realize is that the Sisters are also deeply serious about being nuns. That combination—some would say tension, but I think tension is in the eye of the beholder, and most Sisters don’t see tension there—is what I eventually came to call “serious parody.” That’s also now the working title of the book: Serious Parody: Religion, Queer Activism, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I think the Sisters are doing something pretty unusual in their use of serious parody. I don’t say unique, because I think it’s possible that other people before and since the Sisters’ founding have done something similar, maybe with the same religion or maybe with a different one. However, this serious parody sets the order apart from other activist groups like the Gay Liberation Front, ACT UP, and Queer Nation. Other scholars have been writing, especially in the past few years, about the importance of play—what some call “the ludic”—in the history of queer activism. Sara Warner points, for 42 RFD 168 Winter 2016
instance, to the Lavender Menace zap at the 1970 meeting of the National Organization for Women, where Rita Mae Brown challenged straight women’s fears of the destructive influence of lesbians by confronting those fears head-on: she checked out the entire audience “as if she were cruising a Greenwich Village bar” (Warner 2012). And Benjamin Shepard
harks back to San Francisco imperial court founder Jose Sarria encouraging the audience to belt out in unison his campy refrain, “God save us nelly queens” (Shepard 2010). However, such scholars mostly gloss over or completely ignore the Sisters. In Warner’s case, that’s because she’s focusing on lesbian-specific organizations. But Shepard fo-
Fag Nun Assunta Femia Canonizes Harvey Milk at Papal Mass; Sister CPR’s partner, Michael is the Pope and Sister Vish is in radiant halo. Photograph by John Entwistle.
cuses on gay men’s and multi-gender groups, and even he only mentions the order in passing. People seem to think the Sisters are solely a performance group, or a small and relatively unknown activist organization; they give the order short shrift and don’t take its work seriously because they haven’t yet come to see the complexity of what the Sisters are doing. Shepard even spends some time talking about the beginnings of New York City’s drag marches in the 1990s, and the poster he reproduces in the book includes no fewer than four Sisters—the most-represented group on the poster other than drag queens—yet he makes no comment on this. Warner’s and Shepard’s work is really great, and it’s helped me think through what I was writing about the Sisters, but I’m arguing that scholars of queer activism should pay more attention to the order because it’s doing something different and possibly something new.
n the book, I spend the opening chapter introducing readers to the order. I cover a lot of the basics that I, too, had to learn when I first began working with the Sisters, and that every junior member also has to learn: what the stages of formation are and how you go through them, for instance; why most Sisters wear whiteface (and why some don’t); who the Guards, Saints, Angels, Henchpeople, and other figures in the order are, and how they fit into the larger picture; where there are houses and how the different houses and regions and orders are related to each other; why people join the order; and so on. The second chapter covers the history of the order, starting from the founding of the San Francisco house and closely tracing the origins of the houses in Sydney, Toronto, Seattle, London (as much as possible, since that house’s history has been somewhat lost), Heidelberg (which later merged with Berlin), Paris, and Los Angeles. It follows the San Francisco house through the height of the AIDS crisis in the Castro, discusses the growing pains in that house and in the order itself (schisms and so on), and traces the order into the 2000’s by considering the reasons for growth and change in recent years. Chapter 2 begins the analytical heart of the book. In that chapter I explain the concept of serious parody in more depth and discuss some examples of serious parody at work in the order, such as the Condom Savior Mass, first performed at the investiture of the Paris convent. Chapter 3 turns to the implications of serious parody for gender in the order, considering not only demographics but
also the experiences of some cisgender women and transgender people who have become Sisters. The same chapter also takes the time to examine closely what happens with gender when the Sisters engage in their various forms of genderfuck, and what it means that this particular form of genderfuck is religiously inflected—maybe, I suggest, there’s such a thing as “religionfuck” too. Chapter 4 asks similar questions regarding race, examining the experiences of Sisters of color in the order, the various ways in which Sisters and Guards interpret and engage with the use of whiteface (not racist, but carrying racial implications in a white racist society like the U.S. and many other of the countries in which the order exists), and the ways in which the legacy of Harry Hay and the long-standing Radical Faerie influence in the Sisters intersect with the concerns of Native queer people, including Native members of the order. Chapter 5 turns to religion. Beginning by exploring understandings of religion and spirituality among some of the members of the order, the chapter explores members’ beliefs and practices (including atheism, agnosticism, and being nonpracticing or refusing to practice) and the relationship—when there is one—between people’s beliefs and practices, on the one hand, and their roles as Sisters and Guards, on the other. It then returns to the theme of serious parody, and considers the impact of serious religious parody in the contemporary political moment, both in the U.S. and more broadly in the world. This focus bridges to the conclusion, which offers some thoughts about whether and where serious parody is taking place elsewhere. I’ll leave you in suspense about the examples I suggest, but I’ll bet a lot of you have seen at least one of them! Researching and writing this book has been, as I say in the preface, “the ride of a lifetime.” I’m grateful to the Sisters for their many, many years of influence in my life, and I look forward to many more. I also look forward to people’s feedback on the book; you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt! � Works Cited Shepard, Benjamin. Queer Political Performance and Protest: Play, Pleasure and Social Movement. New York: Routledge, 2010. Warner, Sara. Acts of Gaiety: LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012. RFD 168 Winter 2016 43
Sisters and Faeries and Glitter. Oh my! by Sr. Merry Q. Contrary (aka Morgain Lessloss)
une 2016 was my twentieth anniversary of meeting the Faeries. When I met them, I was twenty three, had been out for a year and had just completed my first year of theological college (I wish I had a picture of me then with my bleached, strawberryblond, curly hair). I was at a Presbyterian retreat centre for a “Gay, Lesbian and Christian” retreat, thinking I was there to deepen the connection between my spirituality, which at the time was exclusively informed by a liberal Christian tradition, and my sexuality. I was one of, if not the youngest person at the retreat. I was struggling with how to reconcile my growing understanding that my sex and sexuality was holy and the church’s teachings that sex wasn’t holy and was only a means to the end of procreation. A number of the other participants recognized the Radical Faerie within me. They supported my notion that sex and sexuality were holy and they encouraged me to connect with the Radical Faeries. At the time it was a struggle to do so because I thought my identity as a Christian excluded being involved in any other spiritual tradition. Nonetheless, I started to learn about the Faeries and returned to the same retreat centre a few months later for a gathering of young gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual people. It was at this retreat that Sr. Merry Peter helped me to claim my power to be in as many spiritual traditions as I was called to be part of and also introduced me to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I didn’t know it at the time, but this started me on a journey whereby I would leave the church and for a few years be44 RFD 168 Winter 2016
lieve I would never lead spiritual ceremony again. I also didn’t know that this journey would, fifteen years later, lead me to becoming a nun and work with three others to found the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in Vancouver, BC.
or most of my first few years of exploring Faerie consciousness, I was a solo Radical Faerie in the Canadian prairies. Despite being on my own (while intensely looking for other Radical Faeries near by), the strength with which Radical Faerie consciousness resonated with me grew stronger and stronger. On moving to Vancouver in 2001, I connected with Photograph courtesy Sister Merry Q. Contrary.
both the local Radical Faerie community in Vancouver and the larger Radical Faerie community up and down the West Coast. The Faeries have taught me the importance of striving to meet one another as subjects instead of as objects (subject-subject consciousness); they have taught me that in-betweens (two-spirits, faeries of old lore, any beings that are neither/ or and both/and) have often been the spiritual leaders and healers for their communities; they have helped me understand how amazingly sacred and healing sex and sexuality can be; they have revealed to me a level of creativity and activism that I couldn’t have dreamed were possible; they have been perfect mirrors for me reflecting and amplifying both the parts of myself I love / am proud of, and the parts of myself that I am not comfortable with and would rather not have to look at; they have lovingly and (mostly) gently held me accountable to live up to who I am and to use the gifts and skills I’ve been given and have nurtured (or to not hide my gifts and skills). Over the years I have been on the periphery of the Radical Faeries, and I have been central to local and larger Faerie communities. I have been relatively anonymous in the community and I have had my reputation proceed me (most often in positive ways). Currently I am more on the periphery of the communities, however, I still love the Radical Faeries and all that have taught me and helped me to (re)member. I rely on the Radical Faeries and their traditions to continue my healing and growth. I am still inspired and challenged by our creativity, social analysis, and activism. I am sometimes saddened by my own and our internalized misogyny, racism, colonialism, and limited views of gender. I am also sometimes blown away by our awareness of these things within ourselves and our ability to transform and challenge them. One of the reasons I’m currently more on the periphery of the Radical Faeries is that six years ago I, along with three others, I took vows to expiate stigmatic quilt, promulgate universal joy and be of service to our community, and in doing so, founded the Vancouver house of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I needed fifteen years among the Faeries to be ready to focalize the Sisters in Vancouver and translate some of these lessons to live in the larger Queer community in Vancouver. In starting the Sisters in Vancouver, I was able to take many of the lessons I learned in the Faeries and bring them to the slightly more focused (and organized) work of the Sisters.
The Sisters also let me bring together the lessons of the Faeries with the leadership and organizing skills I’ve learned in the work I get paid to do. Over the last six years, the Sisters have become a central part of the Queer Community in Vancouver and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for other not-for-profit organizations. I am so grateful to have been able to bring Faerie sensibility and consciousness to the Sisters here in Vancouver. I’m even more grateful to see how each generation of the Sisters has taken our House to a new level and in new directions while honouring both our local and international Sistory. It is both invigorating and humbling to know the Vancouver Sisters have become more than I could have imagined and more than I could have ever made them. I am deeply grateful for all those who have walked with me on this journey over the last twenty years. I am grateful for all those who have been teachers, mirrors (even those reflecting the more
uncomfortable parts of myself ), mentors, cheerleaders (literally and metaphorically), antagonists and heroes. I look forward to what the next twenty years will bring, how I will heal, grow and evolve. Twenty years ago I couldn’t have imagined I would have the life I do or be surrounded by the amazing people who surround me, so I truly hope that I cannot imagine where I will be or how I will have grown and evolved 20 years from now. I do sense, however, that the Radical Faeries and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will continue to support and challenge me. Blessings �
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Joy Crucible by Sister Mary Peter
uilt and Shame are two words that need no explanation. They are elemental forces giving shape to our experience. For some of us, they warped the gift within that we learned to bury and hide. For others, they sparked a raw hunger to be touched, to kiss, to fuck. In some, they propelled political revolution or launched a journey to push beyond received binary choices. Every Sister of Perpetual Indulgence is an expert in Guilt and Shame. We are fierce warriors battling these weapons when turned against our communities. Prophets challenging the clucking voices within full of judgement. Healers excising these twin cancers from the hearts of those we touch with glitter blessings and deep hugs. Master manipulators caught in old patterns or projecting them onto others. Guilt and shame are set into our vows like the scylla and charybdis between which we navigate, sailing out onto uncharted oceans. But there is another word set into our vows: Joy. No matter the language or formulation, in that first profession, every elevation, each renewal and public witness, we breathe life into the word JOY. Joie. Alegría. Freude. Radost. Vreugde. Радість. But if I asked you, right now, without thinking, to tell me what it means, what would you say? Would you describe it as a sense of well-being or contentment? Is it like happiness, when things feel right or satisfaction when you have what you most want? Is Joy a goal to be achieved or a destination we strive to reach? If so, when we succeed, when we arrive, then what? For almost forty years, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence swept across the world “promulgating universal joy.” But do we really know what that means? All I can humbly offer, after almost thirty years of living as a nun, is my own witness. The longer I serve, the more JOY comes into focus and I begin to understand this strange gift. I see now, in taking vows that I committed to a process of radical 46 RFD 168 Winter 2016
and perpetual transformation. When I said that I “dedicate my life to activism and service to my sisters and my community; to expiate stigmatic guilt and shame; and promulgate universal joy; through habitual manifestation” I built a crucible in which alchemical magic is taking place. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in and out of face. All the wild, raw, random elements and experiences are poured into this vow crucible and melted in a white hot fire. Being a nun is not a performance. We are not creating a bigger- than-life persona. Our face is not a mask behind which to hide. We are “manifesting” – making visible everything that was hidden from others and from ourselves. Manifesting turns up the flame until every illusion is burned away and what remains is seared until pure energy is released – and what remains is transformed into something new. My story is fired until everything is fused to glass and that glass is polished smooth until it is completely transparent. To be a nun is to be that mirror reflecting back the beauty others are afraid to claim, and my own true face. Looking in the mirror is when I begin to understand JOY. For me, it is the capacity to accept and embrace everything with equanimity. Pain and Pleasure, loneliness and love, acceptance and rejection -- all elements fired in the crucible of these vows. Sometimes I weep at the searing pain. Sometimes I weep at the ecstasy of connection to everything. Often, I weep when I take the anguish of another into my own heart and return it as a glittering blessing. It’s all the same, when seen through this mirror forged in fire and polished to exquisite clarity. JOY is the name I give to this alchemical transformation that never ends. Even when my time here is finished, I know that all my energy will be released into the Universe to continue to burn white hot, and return when another voice speaks these vows and another soul begins dancing on this diamond point cutting deeper and deeper and deeper. �
Above: Photograph courtesy Sister Merry Peter. Right top: International Conclave of Sisters at Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, September 2016. Right below: Sisters Faegala, Ann, SandyGO, Soeurs Symazia and Olga in Berlin. Photographs by Richard Reyes.
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Sister Auction The first time I went to the Mountain in face, I felt the weight of being seen in that space like never before. My Greek mask of make-up had transformed me into a living offering plate, a sacred whore and nun in one. Hundreds of naked faeries sprawled out like dandelion constellations. Traversing the land, I couldnâ€™t not make eye-contact watching where I walked. I strode to the bathhouse, and walked in on more naked fae, scrubbing off crud from the garden, fucking on massage tables. No one I knew. I had to reach around them to borrow clothespins for the Sister Auction starting soon.
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â€“Sugar le Fae
A healing for Sister Right of the Music City Sisters, Nashville, TN June 2016 . Photograph courtesy Sister Sugar le Fae.
Boy-Drag Ministry: Kree Kree tells me about her car accident six months ago, how she broke her eye socket, needed speech therapy— her hundred thousand dollar medical bills and legal fees, and now it’s come out that the jerk wasn’t insured. We’re both poor, both working here, she knows that. She just wants someone to commiserate, wants her words to be heard. I nod, listen. She cries alone on the patio for most of her break. When she returns, rosy-eyed to her register, I offer her chocolate. She passes, calls to the next customer in my line: (the words she’d love to hear) I can help you over here.
—Sister Suffrin Suckotash
Music City Sisters at Nashville Pride, June 2016. Photograph courtesy Sister Suffrin Suckotash.
RFD 168 Winter 2016 49
Bring forth the Jubilee
(a praise song for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence)
A hymn of praise (for Sister Mish)
Sisters, dancing, twirling, while devils glare and frown young banner-bearers post themselves between All we dance are rainbows under parasol of rubbers flounced dancing in the sun
Now spin the living globe, spin in circles twirl, in spirals chant go forth to serve while dancing, dancing, dancing
Creatio par cantum Creatio par salutum Creatio ad absurdio Deo joking, laughing, heresies against Pharisees, ecstatic fuck damnation become folderol
And carry forth this Cosmic Love, Lust Divine, Divina Desideriis, other worlds alight with praise And fill this echoed wisdom heart with sacred wine and blood of bliss to shower out all seed of praise
Creatio par cantum Creatio par salutum Creatio par amor
No corner of the spinning world has not this celebration, this merry grace given joy in light
Bring forth the Jubilee, Whitman’s beard in which birds tryst, bring out the smiles of harvest days
We in our baubles, bangles, beads, we authors of permissive grist, we sisters dance habitual grace End all weeping in the altar aisles of sacramental hope, of spiral faith we grace the days of sacred hearts afire with bliss and praise
—Dragon (Arthur Durkee)
(Note: This poem is in an invented form somewhat inspired by the sestina. So we shall call this form, for now, the Sistina. Or perhaps the Sissytina.)
Bring out the sun, you doves, the silver moon that sheds bright rain, that bears all teachers in its biers Creatio par cantum Creatio par salutum Deo gratias glorificatum
—Dragon (Arthur Durkee)
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Madd City, Brew City, Windy City and Kansas City Sisters at Madison Pride, Wisconsin, September 2015. Photograph courtesy Arthur Durkee.
Founding the First Florida Order By Steven Reigns (aka Sister Fister)
lorida is where people from all over the world go to vacation, residents of Florida have a relaxed demeanor, as if they were on vacation. I moved there when I was eighteen, essentially running away from home. I had a great life in Tampa with a circle of creative friends and lived in a small community on the Hillsborough River with very liberal gay neighbors. Florida has always been a mix of southern culture, nomadics, new age, and eccentrics. It was those still clinging onto their southern heritage who would drive trucks ornamented with a confederate flag and gun rack. These are the same people who would use articles to describe race, “the blacks” or “the Hispanics. There were so many egregious things going on politically at that time. I was always on the dance floor, at an after-hours, going to house parties. It felt as if I knew about everyone. At one point I even worked the door at a club. The gay party scene was alive and well, thriving even. The activist scene was another story. It seemed like there were only a handful of gay political players. I felt as if my phone book was filled with party people and just a couple of the politicos. I was becoming extremely disheartened at what I was
Photograph courtesy Steven Reigns.
seeing around me, how queers were being discriminated against. There were so many inequalities. I spent my days doing HIV testing in the inner city and at predominantly gay black clubs. There were rapidly rising rates of new HIV infections and I was becoming more disheartened. I thought of starting an ACT UP. Wondering whom I might recruit, and thought, “No one I know is angry enough.” Then I remembered the Wig Dive and thought, “But I bet I could get them in dresses.” I first heard about the Wig Drive in an article in Time or Newsweek. It was about a group of drag queens dressed as nuns who started a wig collection. I remember a quote, “What do drag queens and cancer patients have in common? Wigs.” That story stuck with me for years. It epitomized what I love about my LGBTQ community. We’re creative, clever, resourceful, loving, giving, and do things with style. I would retell that story to people numerous times over the years. That memory sparked my idea to start an order in Tampa Bay. I reached out to the SF Order and was connected with Sister Penny who was gracious in guiding me through the process of forming a new SPI Order. I would have been clueless without her. RFD 168 Winter 2016 51
I started calling friends and telling them my idea. The first call was to my best friend George Williams, he was supportive, “I know them because of Maupin’s Tales of the City series. Nuns on skates. Good on you.» I clarified, “I don’t think you understand. You’re going to be one”. George was usually up for an adventure but protested this one, “I am a Queer with a capital Q. I sewed my own curtains and I play the flute for the love of crackers. But I’m not wearing a dress. I do things for the community. I did the AIDS Walk two years ago.” I pressed, “And that is all you feel like you can give?” Two days later over beers, he pulled a list out of his pocket of potential Sister names for himself and settled on one. Jacqueline EatsAsses. The runner-up was Connie Hung, in George’s case, this wasn’t false advertising. Jessica Robinson came from a theater background and was getting her prerequisites to become a Veterinarian. She jumped on board right away, going by Sister Rubber Nun. From my notes at that time, I sent out over fifty emails to people I knew to recruit. I created a four-page handout to educate interested parities about the sisters and what I had in mind for a Tampa Bay Order. Jason Carter, a tall handsome accountant I didn’t know well joined for only the first manifestation, becoming Sister Anita Ham. Paul Rued, the most post-punk rock person I knew immediately understood what I proposed and became Sister Lucrecia My Reflection. His ex-boyfriend and roommate Daniel Lancaster, a redhead who’s carpet matched the drapes, signed up and became Agatha Frisky. Michael Roberts was studying pre-med and loved the idea so much that his rare breaks from studying were to attend our meetings and manifestations. He was Sister Ann VonDetta. This is how I became the founder and abbess of the first Order in Florida. I had people inspired and excited. One problem for me was that I had never worn a dress before. Not even for Halloween or as a child raiding my mother’s closet. This was not out of my comfort zone but definitely out of my wheelhouse. There were several meetings, prepping and planning for our debut at Pride and I still hadn’t come up with a name. Some friends I asked to be a part of the Order had names ready for themselves but never followed through with showing up to meetings or manifesting. I was the opposite. For months I didn’t have a name or persona, until I came home one Sunday afternoon and hit the play button on my answering machine. My good friend David K Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare, and his 52 RFD 168 Winter 2016
then boyfriend photographer Todd Richardson left a loud windy message, clearly left while driving Todd’s Miata convertible. He excitedly explained, while David laughed in the background, “We’ve got your name for you. We’ve got it. Sister Fister.” I liked it, laughed, and it became my name.
ur first manifestation was at St. Petersburg Pride in June 2004. We roller-skated behind Dykes on Bikes and distributed over 1,400 condoms. Our fliers had alternate sayings; “Barebacking? Kick the habit,” and “Barebacking? Your habit is killing me.” Sr. Penny gave the best advice and we followed it, “You want to be an army.” She explained that just one or two nuns at an event doesn’t make as much of an impact as a big group. Every event we did we had a group consensus and we coordinated our busy calendars. At the Tampa International LGBT Film Festival we handed out voter registration cards and encouraged people to abstain from having sex with Republicans. Our fliers had slogans like “Take a stand, don’t lie down” and “Sexually Boycott Republicans.” We had pom-poms and did cheers for the crowd. Next, we went to the Kerry campaign office to encourage all the volunteers and remind them that their hard work was appreciated. We then went to numerous St. Petersburg bars where we handed out more flyers, condoms, and Kerry campaign stickers. About 700 condoms were distributed. Damon Anyos was a graphic designer who donated his services for at least four years and helped us brand ourselves in a city that had mixed feelings about who we were. Sure there were those that stopped us to take photos but there were also the times we were called “freaks” by those in our own community. At one meeting, we even discussed how half of us were like superheroes with secret identities until the 4th or 5th date with a new suitor. Drag was embraced if you were on stage, offstage was another story. Being a drag nun seemed to be worse than a drag queen off stage. Given our busy schedules, our only mutual meeting time was 9:45pm on Wednesday evenings. We’d meet at Jacqueline EatsAsses’ house were I had typed agendas and ran a very tight meeting. It was fun to be with friends but these meetings were about business and any deviation from the topic would prolong the night and create a great lack of sleep for those in the room who had to get up early the next day. Meetings usually ended around midnight. Tom Dyer, the publisher of Watermark Magazine
gave us great coverage, Brian Feist of The Gazette would print photos of our events. We were becoming a force except one topic kept creeping up in our discussions, we weren’t feeling pretty. Sister Rubbernun was the best with makeup given her theater background. The only tutorial I received about putting on whiteface was from Sr Penny over the phone. It was trial and error and the early photos of those times show our earnestness. I hasten to say we were ugly when I look back at those early photos because what I see beaming through is our seriousness at wanting better things for our community. We weren’t happy with the fast rising HIV rates, the political environment, and we weren’t pleased at how horrible some were to our own community members. We were young and bright and fun and funny and deeply loved our community. We were working hard to make a difference and there isn’t anything prettier than those qualities. I called up Dauphine Ferrero, in a town of pageant queens, she stood out. She had such a glamour look in the evening but lived as a boy during the day—a super cute boy at that. She also had an old-school sense of humor that was beyond her young age. Dauphine came to one of our late night meetings to demonstrate how to put on makeup. We sat enraptured as she showed us how to keep eyebrows down with a glue stick, use playing cards for shading, exaggerate eyes, and helped navigate a hot debate of pencil vs. liquid eyeliner. After her lesson, our looks went to the next level. Jacqueline EatsAsses’ neighbor heard about us and became our first guard. In February of 2005, Sister Erotica, from the LA Order, sent me a copy of the DVD Dragnuns in Tinsel Town. We watched it as a group, for 95% of the Order it was the first time they were seeing other sisters in action. We really were quite isolated. Our first domain name was FLSisters.org. It was not Tampa Bay specific. Little did I know that the Order I created would be the motivator for an Orlando order after Photographs courtesy Steven Reigns.
they saw us at Pride. I’ve been told there are Orders, or attempted Orders, in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, Tallahassee, and Ft. Lauderdale.
fter several manifestations, there seemed to be a new crop of nuns ready to be of service. Sister Mary Widow became my first daughter. Erik Theiss was a nurse by day, seamstress at night but also was butch enough to do his own car repairs to his vintage VW bus. Mary Widow, at age twenty two, was the youngest of the group. Damon, the graphic designer, became Sister Jara Crisco and joined the order. Then there was Bud Mayhew who had shockingly white hair that looked as if Einstein had put his finger in an electrical socket. He became Sister Budda Liscious. Each time we manifested it was for a specific cause or message. We weren’t interested in ornamenting a bar, we wanted to humor, educate, inspire, and enlighten. We saw ourselves as nuns for the LGBTQ community. The club Z109 was commonly referred to as the “tranny chaser” bar. There were gay men there but mostly it was this wonderful club of social outcasts and misfits. It was not uncommon to see someone in a full beard wearing a sparkly dress, tights, and high heels. This wasn’t genderfuck. This was this person’s best compromise of hiding his work life and dressing the way she felt in the evening. Those in bigger cities might not understand it, those living in a smaller city like Tampa, fully understood the delicate balance to stay employed, alive, and healthy. Given that the wig drive held a place in my heart and head, I called Sister Penny to see what she thought about our starting one in Florida. She was elated to hear my good memory of it. She was involved in one of the first wig drives. We held our Wig Drive at Z109 in February 2005. One of the Sisters wrapped a large three-sided box with wrapping paper, by the end of the night it was full. All of RFD 168 Winter 2016 53
our friends and supporters were shopping earlier that weekend looking for realistic wigs. The clientele at Z109 brought in numerous of their own wigs. I recruited a hairdresser to volunteer his time that evening to do haircuts to donate to Locks of Love, a charity that accepts human hair to make into wigs for chemo patients. A requirement was the hair had to be ten inches or longer. So many long haired men and women entered the club that night, so many exited with short bobs or tight cuts. Sadly, a few years after that first Wig Drive, our very own Sister Budda Liscious succumbed to cancer, the very cause we were fighting against, and became the Tampa Bay Sister’s of Perpetual Indulgence’s first Nuns of the Above.
fter doing several bar gigs, we started to think about the sober queer community and participated in Desmond Clarke’s Gay Skate in April 2005. We helped promote one of the few non-alcoholic social gay gatherings in the Tampa Bay area. Desmond and his partner, Thaddeus Root, later donated server space for our website. The Dish had been a helpful resource when I wanted to connect with other Sisters. When visiting Los Angeles in November of 2004, it was a thrill to meet Sister Rhonda and Sister Erotica. Both Sisters were amazing, welcoming, energizing and helpful. In July, 2005 I moved to Los Angeles, where I became the LA Order’s first transfer nun. My mothers were Sister Dixie and Sister Erotica. The LA nuns; Candy, Unity, Rhoda, Jezebllle, Titts and Tragedy helped me step up my look and attire. Sister Erotica took me under her wing; outfitting me, going make-up shopping, and escorting me around LA. 54 RFD 168 Winter 2016
Sister Agatha Frisky took my place as abbesses and has consistently remained in that position. Agatha helped continue the documentation process to help the Tampa Bay Order become officially part of SPI and a non-profit. Shortly after I left, the Order finally landed on an appropriate wimple; inspired by pirate hats. This was fitting for the city with the Buccaneer sports team. I was incredibly honored when my face became the Tampa Bay Order’s new logo. The wimple is one that I never worn but the smile is unmistakably mine, from a photo taken at a Sister event where my happiness is evident. My joy in being a Sister, helping others, is captured in that logo. I felt such a deep sense of mission. I wanted the LGBTQ community (and others) to know that LGBTQ people have creativity/skills/energy/ideas/ money to contribute and that they are of worth. I saw the Tampa Order as builders of a table for our community, instead of waiting for a seat at someone else’s table. The playfulness and positivity of the Sisters is exactly what that community needed and still needs. I worked hard to form an Order in Florida; to combat the gross politics, apathy in the gay community, and unhealthy sexual choices. Hellish humidity and hurricanes hadn’t stopped me or the Order. I found and organized a dedicated bunch who were willing to be Sisters. I’m grateful for the ones I worked with directly and all those that came after I left. I have so many memories of that time, so many people who helped out, and organizations who donated condoms for distribution. It was a different time in history. So much has changed since then but I look back at our efforts and feel strongly that we contributed in big way to helping make the world we knew better. � Photograph courtesy Steven Reigns.
Who Is My Favorite Nun? by Sister Indica
Who is my favorite Nun? Oh, what a tough question—almost unanswerable when you think that there are thousands of Sisters all over the world doing such amazing work for thirty-plus years. All these Sisters have their own way of embodying our Mission of Spreading Joy and Absolving Guilt and each way is valid so to choose a “favorite”…like I said, it’s tough so instead of telling you just ONE Nun I will tell you who my five favorite Nuns are: Sister Nora Torious 13 (from the San Diego, CA House) I’d toyed with the idea of becoming a Sister for many years but never had the time to devote to the Sisterhood or the courage to join such a respected organization. I had serious doubts that I was “good enough”. But it was Sister Nora who really inspired me to reach out and give it a chance. Since day one, she’s been a confident, mentor, friend and mother. I learned a lot from her and always admired her dedication to the work. She’s highly creative and has created a series of hilarious short films starring the Sisters—a couple I had the pleasure of working on with her. After so many years, she still keeps going and continues to inspire and mentor new Sisters, which is so important and needed. Sister Evelyn Tensions (from the Greenville, NC House) My very first mother in the
San Diego House was Sister Evelyn Tensions. She had a very stern demeanor and I knew that she’d whip me into shape and guide me correctly. And she did. She helped lay a solid foundation and work ethic that has stayed with me over the years. Many of the lessons she’s taught me have been passed on to several new generations of Nuns—the most important being that fierceness is never optional. I hold myself to a high standard because in the back of my mind, Evelyn is hovering saying: “Girl, pull yourself together.” Sister Leigh Viticus (from the Los Angeles, CA House) I’ve always been especially fond of women who join the Order. With men, things can be very competitive and combative at times—all that testosterone and Type A personalities. Women tend to bring a different energy and a balance that, in my opinion, every House needs. Sister Leigh came to LA from Portland as a Novice and I had the pleasure of watching her blossom into a beautiful Nun that has held my hand through tears, comforted me without knowing it and inspired me by the way she interacts with the masses. She’s a walking ball of light and you simply cannot be in a bad mood around Leigh. Sister Unity Divine (from the Los Angeles, CA House) As a media whore, Sister Unity caught my eye early on through her wildly entertaining and often poignant YouTube videos. She was also the first Sister I ever had the courage to say hello to (and I won’t tell you where because I’m a lady). When I think of the quintessential “Sister”, I think of Unity. She balances humor with a deep sensitivity and is as likely to ask you to speak to a rubber chicken as she is to allow you to cry on her shoulder. She’s kind, RFD 168 Winter 2016 55
calming, brilliantly creative and a true icon. Sister Iona Whip (from the South Florida Sisters House) Sister Iona Whip is a newer Sister but I’ve had the pleasure and honor of mentoring her (unofficially) since she became a Novice. I’ve watched her grow into a force and know she will do great things in the South Florida area.
She’s a great makeup artist but underneath the paint lives the truth spirit of the Sisterhood: spreading joy to all and relieving the guilt of those weighed down by religion, family, society. I can’t wait to see what she does but she’s done so much already. She has a tough exterior but beneath that is a well of kindness and selflessness that will certainly inspire anyone to do more…push yourself further…give of yourself more. Emeritus Sister, Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. http://twitter.com/sisterindica
Marc Aguhar’s “Litanies of My Queer Brown Bodies” at Le Royal Occupé Theater, Montpellier, France.
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Photographs by Caroline Barbarit, Ang’elle Photos.
Caroline Barbarit says: “Often you ask me ‘what business do you make?’ I work for this industry nicknamed ‘the factory of dreams.’ I soak in the world of the images in Cinemascope, in panoramic view, I oscillate between the world of the black and the white and the Technicolor. I also see your disappointments, your tears, a whole world of feelings on which i feed because it sticks with my vision of the life: share and give some pleasure.
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Why I Am a Sister Excerpts from Facebook
Sister Nadia Heddensmile Abbess, Rock n Roll City Sisters, Cleveland, OH
“Each of us must seek out and find joy before we can spread it universally.” Sister Sparkle Plenty Founding Member Russian River Sisters, Russian River, CA.
“I am a Sister because I don’t want to have just lived, but to have lived and made a difference.”
Sister Unity Founding Member Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, CA
“I am a Sister because another gay man just died alone of AIDS and someone needs to light his candle and speak words of love over him.” Sister Adora Bearswood The Orlando Sisters, Abbey of St. Gertrude de Nivelles, FL
“I am a Sister to remind our diverse queer community that we are all one and not simply its fractured, labeled subsets.
Novice Sister Ophelia Rass Cincinnati Sisters, Abby of the Immaculate 4 Way, Cincinnati, OH
“I manifest as Novice Sister Ophelia Rass, so that I can be the shield for those who are too afraid to fight or are scared.” 58 RFD 168 Winter 2016
Novice Sister Mary F. Kiel Steel City Sisters, A House Mission of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, PA
“I am a Sister because there is not enough love in this world, because no one should feel alone, because of Pulse and Stonewall.
Novice Sister Misty Meanor Motor City Sisters, A Mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Detroit, MI
“I am a sister because, all of my life, I was that queer boy.”
Sister JFB Just Fucking Bubbles Rock n Roll City Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence, Cleveland OH
“This is being a sister.”
Austin Hansch Ally North County, CA
I want to become a sister because all the sisters that I’ve met so far are truly amazing at what they do and wouldn’t mind wearing a dress and makeup! JoMichael Stoddard, Sister Shock Therapy Founding Sister, Missionary Order of Perpetual Indulgence
“I manifest my queerness so as to be a light so those that are lost and lonely can find their way to a happy life filled with Cosmic Joy.”
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Novice Sister Sheneda Buffet Cincinnati Sisters, Abby of the Immaculate 4 Way, Cincinnati, OH
I’m a sister because I want to help someone who doesn’t have family there for them. Sister BangBang Ladesh The Manchester Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Manchester, UK
“I am a Sister because a mountain needs to be climbed.”
Sister Mary Swishmutch Abby of the Cardinal Sins, A Mission House of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Columbus, OH
“If you need my courage, strength or hope, I am here for you.”
Sister Ambrosia Nectarine
“I am a Sister because sometimes ‘that weirdo in the corner’ needs something stranger than themselves to be present in the room also.”
Sister Foranda Fleur Portland Sisters, The Order of Benevolent Bliss, OR
“Where do you go to feel okay, to feel loved, to be told you’re beautiful just the way you are? You go to the arms of a Sister.”
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Sister Margarita Del Encanto Ashville, NC, Beer City Sisters, Abby of all Souls, A Mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
I am a Sister for all of those who can’t express who they really are because of bullying.
Sister Angel Garcia Brew City of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Milwaukee, WI.
I can’t change the outcome, but I can still change the future. Sister Purrr Do Indiana Crossroads Sisters, Abby of the Shimmering Silo, A Mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
“Today I am doubling down on my sacred vows to promulgate universal JOY and expiate stigmatic guilt. If you thought this sister spread glitter and love through ministry in the past, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Sister Hera Sees Candy San Francisco Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, CA
“I’m a Sister because the wounded amongst us turn to addiction when connection isn’t found and given elsewhere.” Sister Ivanna Cox Derby City Sisters, Louisville, KY
“I’m a sister because when it’s all said and done if I can brighten one person’s day or help impact thousands of people who need love it’s all worth the meetings and time that I put into being a sister.”
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My Voice by Sr. Freida Peoples
ear Sisters, friends and extended family— I think we are all pretty much clear that “Thanksgiving” is not really about the turkey dinner. If you aren’t, then why are we friends? Anyway, I know my Sisters are clear; my real and true friends are too. I think we also are all pretty clear that “Thanksgiving” is also not at all about the Macy’s Parade or football or any of that crap. I think that we are all pretty clear that it isn’t even about the rape, pillage and plunder of Native Americans or stealing their land for a poor pittance. Sadly, originally it was but thankfully we have matured since then. Well, we still rape, pillage and plunder but it is not something we celebrate with a big feast. Yesterday I posted “Count your Blessings” by Ashford and Simpson. Part of what Thanksgiving is about for me is that inventory. I count my blessings and pinch myself. I am blessed. I know that there are places in this world where people never smile, where women are raped casually and as frequently as I take a breath. I know there are places in this world where people do not have clean drinking water and where children have no toys to play with. In fact, there are places in this world where children do not play at all. I know there are places in this world where people are not free to love whom they will, where gay
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men and lesbians are executed as a matter of law. I know there are places in this world where protest is punishable by law. I know there are places in this world where there is neither law nor free elections. Do I need to go on with this? A lot is made of so-called “white privilege.” No one ever talks about “American privilege.” We Americans can easily forget, especially after this past election, that we, as a people are rather privileged. I know sometimes it doesn’t look like that, but at least we have the opportunity to work for change. For sure, we squandered it on Nov 8 and some of us will pay dearly for that mistake, but the fact is we do have opportunities to change what we don’t like, what is not fair, what is unjust. That we don’t use it is our own fault. My own personal inventory shows a life in retrospect, so unexpected for a black kid from NYC. And I am grateful Thank you Sisters, friends and extended family, each and every one of you the place you occupy in my blessed life and for the blessings I receive from knowing you. I urge you to take that inventory and count your own blessings: spiritual, social, psychological, material and otherwise. Sr. Freida Peoples carves it up and serves you gratitude and thanks! XOXO!
Photo and graphics courtesy author.
Buzz Bense by Liz Highleyman
Buzz Bense, a well-known safe-sex educator, sex club operator, and theater aficionado, died Saturday, November 19 in San Francisco due to complications of liver disease. He was 67. “Buzz Bense was a wonderful man who saved many lives with his sex-positive approach to HIV education,” said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, who recently interviewed Mr. Bense for an oral history of his life and work. Mr. Bense was involved in the San Francisco sexpositive and HIV education communities for three decades, an era that spanned the bathhouse battles of early 1980s, which he recounted in a presentation at the GLBT History Museum last year. In 1986 Mr. Bense opened a sex club in a large warehouse at 890 Folsom Street. The space hosted events by groups including J.O. Buddies, Blow Buddies, the San Francisco Jacks, the San Francisco Golden Showers Association, and the Mother Goose Club’s “Jack and Jill” parties. It also hosted AIDS benefits and served as the headquarters of Nomenus, an organization that creates sanctuaries for Radical Faeries. The club at 890 Folsom shut its doors in 1991 with a closing ritual by the Healing Order of the K’Thar Sissies. Not long after, in 1992, Mr. Bense and his partner, Bob West, opened Eros, a sex club and sauna on Market Street in the Castro. “From the devastating epicenter of the AIDS crisis through the ensuing decades, Buzz Bense was crucial to the development of safe and pleasurepositive sex spaces in San Francisco,” Carol Queen, founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture, told the Bay Area Reporter. “His 890 Folsom space nurtured many diverse sex clubs, from all-male events to mixed-gender and -orientation parties like our own Queen of Heaven. When he and Bob West established Eros, it was a signal that gay sex could Photograph courtesy Jim Provenzano.
still be vibrant and public without being unsafe.” In the early 1990s sex club owners, party operators, and HIV educators, including Mr. Bense, formed the Coalition for Healthy Sex, with the dual purpose of encouraging safer sex and defending clubs from police raids like the one that had occurred at 890 Folsom in July 1989. Mr. Bense worked as a graphic designer, and in addition to helping produce safer sex posters for local organizations, he collected more than 150 posters from San Francisco and around the world. The Center for Sex and Culture presented a showing of his collection, entitled “Safe Sex Bang,” in 2013. “These posters do more than chart the tragedy of an epidemic, of an outsider community reeling from grief, loss, and the decimation of a blooming culture of sexual liberation,” Mr. Bense said in a quote from the show’s catalog. “The history of these posters is a story of a fight against stigma, hatred, and ignorance; of a community stepping up to take care of its own; of finding a way to extinguish fear and build pride and self-esteem; and of devoted efforts of committed activists to communicate a path to health and survival.” Bernard “Buzz” Bense was born in Union, New Jersey, on January 23, 1949. As a child he lived for two years in Germany while his father served in the Air Force. The family moved to White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and he graduated from White Bear High School in 1967. Mr. Bense attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he focused on theater arts. He then moved to Vancouver and completed a master’s degree in theater at the University of British Columbia. After working with theater companies in Canada for several years, Mr. Bense moved to San Francisco in the late 1970s. Gifts in his memory may be made to the Horizons Foundation at www.horizonsfoundation.org. RFD 168 Winter 2016 63
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In Faerieland we are one thing—fabulous, free, daring, loving. In the rest of the world, we are something else. Or are we? Feminist metaphysician Ana Roy once said we must “tell the truth in ways that can be heard.” What are our unique truths as faeries, how do those truths benefit the larger population and how do we share those truths in ways in which they can be heard? For the next issue, Helping Youth, we look forward to sharing stories of your work with youth. Helping Youth is dedicated to Charlie Murphy. In 1996, Charlie and Peggy Taylor founded a creativity-based youth development organization called the Power of Hope: Youth Empowerment Through the Arts. Ten years later again with Peggy Taylor and Ian Watson, Charlie formed
PYE Global: Partners for Youth Empowerment to further spread the international work. With over one million youth impacted to date and thirty organizational partners in fifteen countries on five continents, Charlie’s influence continues to grow and promises to flourish in years to come. Few of us are Charlie Murphys, but many of us have had a profound influence on youth in our work in the world. We are teachers, health practitioners, artists, social service workers, counselors, construction workers and every other occupation known. Tell us about your work, how your work intersects with the lives of youth, what you feel you have to share and what feedback you have received from youth about your influence on them.
Mask making workshop for NYC high school students with Gabriel Q. Photo by Covelo.
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