The Gospels According To
The Pre-Hellenic Years
The Butch Years
The Great Depression
On A Mission
Playing The Part Of Elizabeth...
Beware of Old Dogs
Bad New Good New
1979-1988 (The Dark Ages)
Once upon a time,
back in the late 70’s - the Sugar Plum Fairies (a
gay dance and drag troop in Iowa) borrowed 4 habits from an Catholic
convent to perform a
lip-sync version of the Sound Of Music.
…Ii has to make you wonder why the mother superior of the convent
bother to ask how many of the actors would be women or what she would
have said when the answer was "none". Unfortunately, the
theatrical debut of the all-male SofM never transpired, but for some
reason the habits never got returned. But I digress.
When the Sugar Plum Fairies migrated to The Gay Mecca by the Bay aka
San Francisco, only 2 sets of costumes had made the trip from Iowa; the
habits and some cheerleader outfits. The story goes that in
Vicious called up Sister Missionary Position and asked her if she
wanted to go terrorize the Castro in drag and if he wanted to be
cheerleaders or nuns.
…So as bad as it is having the Sisters around, it could have been
worse. You could have had the Sisters of Perpetual Cheer
running around San Francisco doing splits and high kick in even shorter
skirts. The more modest ones might even wear jock
straps! Now there's
a mental image!
Luckily for everyone concerned, Sr. Mish chose the habits.
So 3 male nuns ran amuck in the Castro and generally
terrorized the nude sun
bathers at Lands End. They had a few laughs and got their
pictures taken by some German tourists then Easter Monday put the
habits back in the closet and got on with their lives.
is until a few months later when a local gay bar was playing
baseball against the San Francisco police department for
again, the nuns showed up to "cheer lead". The crowd went
wild and the Sisters stopped the game with their antics which included
running one of the wimples up the flag pole. After the game,
Sister Hystorectoria convinced the other 3 Sisters; Vicious, Missionary
Position and Reverend Mother that “male nuns” could be more than just
campy fun and hi jinx, it could be a great way to advance political
ideas. The people of San Francisco paid more attention to
them than any other
street performers. So for the first and only time in the San
Francisco Sister's history, we advertised for new members.
The 4 founders ended up with 10 more recruits bringing the total to
After several meetings and under the light of a full moon on March 11th
finally signed a Constitution that was the founding of the non-profit
Order of male nuns called The
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The Order was later renamed The Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence, Incorporated to separate it from the
for-personal-profit group The
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Un-incorporated that spit
off from the original Order.
The newly formed corporation and its 14 charter members got to work
right away. It should be noted that new
Sisters didn't spend long in the Order during the first few years as
concepts of membership and commitment were not solidified.
of Sisters came and went often only participating for a few months
early 90's. Despite the high turnover of members, the Sisters
organized and ran the 3-Mile
Island Memorial Parade and put
on their first official fundraiser for the gay Haitian
1980. They organized protests, dances, athletic events like The Gay Olympics (later
renamed the Gay Games after an injunction by the US Olympic Committee) and other gay
related projects. One of the best
fundraisers the Sisters put on was The
Castro Dog Show to raise seed money for a brand
new assistance program for GRID.
Shortly after the show it became
politically incorrect to refer to the disease as Gay Related Immune
and the organization changed its name to the AIDS Emergency
Fund. Yes, folks that was the very first ever
AIDS fundraiser. In the early 80's devastating diseases were
the gay community, the Sisters once again stepped up with the first
ever safer sex pamphlet, Play
Fair. The pamphlet combined
humor with facts to help get the attention of the groups that were at
high risk for sexually transmitted disease. Despite the work
the Sisters were doing, they were not necessarily popular in the eyes
of the public, the press or even the gay community. There was
great pressure in the early 80’s for gays to conform to society norms
and naturally the Sisters just plain refused. They were
accused of, "ruining it for all of us" in the gay community.
...Of course now days the Sisters have learned to be careful not to
discriminate. We like to think we are no longer ruining it
for the gay community; heck we’re ruining it for
The membership of the Sisters is an ever evolving process; a delicate
ballet of mutual respect, new-age comradery and subtle
backstabbing. We are all artists of one sort or another with
egos like Bonaparte and faces like Bozo. It's amazing that we
manage to get anything accomplished! But we do.
not always been the case. As mentioned previously, a small
of nuns split off from the main Order in the mid-80's. Those
wanted to change SPI from a educational and fundraising
organization to a profitable event producing organization and keep the
profits for themselves. This has become known as "The Great
Divide" in SPI.
Even though only 2 Sisters left to form the Unincorporated
several other Sisters couldn't take the fighting and legal actions that
the divide caused and the Sisters' number plummeted. It took
3 years for the numbers and reputation of the Order to recover from the
schism. By 1990, the Unincorporated Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence were all but forgotten and SPI Inc had regained it's
reputation as a reliable fundraising organization.
The Butch Years
I admit it; it was actually Father Butch that joined the Sisters, not
Hellen. Butch was dating a man that turned out to be Sister
Dana. Despite being a bit drag-phobic, Butch was coaxed into
a priest shirt and dragged along to some events as Dana's
chaperon. Butch quickly became popular in the Imperial Court
and consequently unpopular in the Sisters as they were not particularly
keen on the
idea of male persona back in those days. Never the less,
Butch persisted and continued to work with the Sisters and the
Court. Luckily for Butch, the Sisters didn't find out till
much later that Butch had been appointed By the Emperor and Empress to
head the official church of the San Francisco Imperial Court of the
Lady and the Lyon. Had the Sisters found out that he was
"Head of the Convent of Mount St Helens and Whip of the Sisters of
Perpetual Indulgence" the police might not have ever found his
body. After a couple of years of his presence it because
obvious that the Sisters had use of men in their group that weren't
afraid to wear pants and male persona were allowed to join the
Order. Although there were several male persona that came and
when, none persisted for more than a year or two and not before Butch
ever went on to become members. Butch is the oldest male
person in any Order of Perpetual Indulgence. Butch championed
the concepts of male ministrants; priests, monks, shaman etc within the
Sisters. Butch was one of two ambassadors to Imperial Courts
in the US. As Father Butch, he was the first Sister to serve
as an office (The Administrative Coordinator) of a major
Parade Committee. He also represented the Sisters to the
California Associate of Pride Inc CAPI and wrote their bylaws.
What Father Butch wasn't
was a fan of the white face. He was also the first male to
daughter, Sister GladAss of the Joyous Reserectum, who being abandoned
by her first mother was picked up by Butch. The majority of
appeared in public without the characteristic clown white makeup.
This was another hot topic among the Sisters as there were 4
other Priests that joined the Order after him who also didn't wear
makeup. After many meetings and long
discussions, 4 of the 5 of
us decided that we would start wearing the whiteface so that there
would we would publicly present a more uniform and in the Order's look.
Butch was the driving force behind solidifying the Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence, Inc as a democratic Order. Before
Butch formally joined, the Order had been run primarily by one or two
individual members who had enormous powers within the
group. In fact, the old bylaws had been written in such a way
that the official president of the Order could have dissolved the
corporation singlehandedly in certain circumstance. One of
the first duties that Butch took on as a member was to head the
committee that would overhaul the bylaws and rules of the
Order. Butch and a handful of other Sisters spent hundreds of
hours discussing, arguing, fighting, apologizing and coming to
consensus on how an Order of male and female nuns and priest should
operate as a non-profit. We even toyed briefly with the idea
of not incorporating which would have given us more freedom to protest
and be political. But we realized that would have in turn
made us less able to raise
funds or produce events for our community. We chose to
continue on the path of
a bona fide non-profit as the benefits of the ability to help other
organizations far out weighed the frustrations of having to deal with
the government bureaucracies.
The Great Depression
the space of about 12 months in 1993-1994, the Mother House in
San Francisco lost about 1/3 of it's members, 7 in total to
AIDS. Those Nuns
Of The Above were; Her Most Holy Reverend,
Our Mother The Abbess aka Reverend Mother Abyss, Sister Vice and Virtue
aka ViVi, Father Flick, Sister Psychadelia aka Sister Sushi, Sister
Marquesa De Sade aka Sister Dede, Sister Lucius Lashes and Sister
X-Stacy Collett aka Sister X-Plosion aka St. Vinyl White.
These were dark times for the Sisters; many of our friends feared that
the organization couldn't survive the loss of members and the emotional
toll that it was inflicting on the remaining group. But we
did. It took a year or two for the Order to regroup, but we
came back stronger and wiser. During these desperate times the
physically able and
sick Sisters rallied to the cause and campaigned even harder for
ethical treatment of AIDS patients and HIV+ people and relaxing of the
FDA policies on drug trials. We educated the public at
events, put out press releases, created pamphlets, did grief counseling
and ministry and worked with other AIDS awareness
organizations. The final grand manifestation
of rebuilding the membership after our losses was the
creation of 4 panels for the AIDS Quilt. Drag nuns who put
together costumes with a hot glue gun got together to hand-sewed 4
panel for the Order for the AIDS quilt. I sewed the sun rays
for Sr. Reverend Mother Abbess and Sr. Kumoniwanalaya. The
completed quilt was displayed for the first time literally front and
center at the last showing of the complete quilt in Washington DC in
1996. Sisters were also invited to read the names aloud at
the event. It was an amazing event that drew national
attention to the issues of AIDS and HIV+ peoples. It was an honor to be
part of it!
1993 the renowned French photographer Jean Baptiste Carhaix returned to
San Francisco specifically to photograph the Sisters. As I
between jobs at the time, I offered to assist him on some of the
shoots. I have a fairly extensive background in photographic
processes so he was more than happy to take advantage. The
part that I had not anticipated was his insistence that I dress as a
nun so that I could help inspire the other Sisters. This was
first time I ever took the character of Hellen seriously. I
surprised how good I was at it and how much more fun it was than being
a priest. It didn't take too long before Hellen became the
dominant personna and Butch got delegated to the more obscure events,
Halloween and New Years Eve.
Despite the losses in members,
there were also many sterling additions to the San Francisco
House. Hellen took on her second daughter, Sister GiGi Fa' Q, the French
GiGi is one of the most popular Sisters in any Order and all
though is now a member of the Paris Order, is still admired by many
Sisters in San Francisco.
1998, I took on the duties of Mistress of Novices and became the
Vice-President for the San Francisco Order. I was less than
affectionately known as the VICE-President as I did try to live up the
the idea of Perpetual Indulgence. I was re-elected to
this position for 3 years before allowing another foolish
Sister to take it on. At the beginning, there was not much
many new members to deal with. But that changed all
For our 20th Anniversary in 1999, it was decided that we would take our
celebration out of the park and back to the Castro where it all
started. Originally we were planning on a small street
closure and a modest crowd with just a couple of acts.
However, the Catholic Church got wind of our plans and attempted to
block the street closure. This controversy was exploited by
press and even politicians took sides. Finally at a packed
Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, they voted to allow us the
street permit. By that point, we were in nearly every
paper an on national news. Needless to say, the notoriety not
only brought out tens of thousands of well wishers to our birthday
bash, but also made dozens of people apply for membership. As
Order's official contact on such matters, it was my duty to inform the
prospective new debutaunts how much hard work it would be and how long
it would take before they would be allowed to speak on camera.
Understandably, the majority were under them impression that
everything the Sisters do happens by Magic and didn't follow up.
There were a few that persisted. Of those, I had
fortune to see 6 all the way to their Full Profession and get 2 more
started on the road to Sisterhood. I am proud to say that all
are still member of the San Francisco Sisters and have all contributed
greatly to the strength of our Order. This turned out to be
tip of the proverbial iceberg and the Sisters have not only continued
to increase their ranks in San Francisco, but in nearly all Orders
around the world.
On A Mission
2005, Sister Penny Lane requested a partial sabbatical from the
Order right after being elected to the position of Mistress of Missions
so that he could run for Emperor of San Francisco.
Unfortunately for me, he won.
you aren't familiar with
the Imperial Court system, it is quite similar work to what the Sisters
do, but it is usually much more expensive and demanding to hold one of
these elected titles. The Emperor and Empress of each City
elected their title each year by the denizens of their community and
server for 12 months before stepping down at the following Coronation.
Coronations, of which I have attended dozens, are huge drag
extravaganzas with production numbers and audiences that are dressed to
the tits! A gurl could go blind from all the bling, that is if it
weren't all paste. But enough about Penny and the court, this
I found myself being voted the new Mistress
of Missions which is the Sister
that is in charge of helping new Orders get started as well as
verifying that they meet the standards of the The Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence. I had helped the Abbey of St Joan
with their Exequatur which is the formal recognition of an independent
Order of Sisters and had advised some groups when I was Mistress of
Novices. I wasn't that concerned with taking on the
additional duties as Penny said there was only one Mission in the works
and maybe a couple of people in San Diego that wanted some info.
Boy was he wrong! In addition to the Florida Mission, the San
Diego group was already 11 members strong and had already started work
habits. There were also a Portland and Las Vegas groups
forming too. I soon found myself acting as
surrogate mother to The
Asylum of the Tortured Heart in San Diego, The
Order of Benevolent Bliss in Portland and the Sin Sity Sisters
Vegas. All of these groups were strong, independent minded
groups that were also being advised by Sisters from other Orders as
well as San Francisco. The long and short of it was that I
averaged more than 40 hours a week for about a year and a half coaxing
these Missions into becoming new Orders of Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence and advising new groups in Eureka and Palm Springs
too. I had the privilege to present the Exequaturs to San
Diego, Las Vegas and Portland and be present when the next Mistress of
Missions presented the Eureka Sisters, House of the Big Red Wood their
Exequatur. I also accepted and advised the Palm Springs
of Perpetual Indulgence, though the next co-Mistresses Marty Timothy
and Merry Peter got the pleasure of presenting them their Exequatur.
Of course, not all was fun and games; it is very
difficult to start an Order of SPI without killing yourself or your
founders. I spent a lot of my time helping smooth ruffled
feathers, write helper documents and explaining the 25 years worth of
structural concepts that the Mother House in San Francisco had created.
I ended up with a small book that has become the founding for
many new groups.
I won't even pretend that I did all of the work by myself, there were
Sisters from the Russian River Sisters, LA Sisters and the Abbey of St
that work extremely hard for the new Houses. Sisters, Ivana
Mandalay, Tragedy Ann, Nova Nilla, Candy Cide and I worked together to
come up with a repeatable plan for new SPI Houses. I was so
impressed with the way we worked together that I proposed that a new
cooperative organization of Sisters from the established US Houses be
started that would oversee the process of mentoring and evaluating new
Orders. I jokingly referred to it as the United Nuns Privy
Council in honor of the Privy Council that was the name of the first
Board of Directors for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc San
Francisco. Or UN-PC
for short. Surprisingly, the Sisters not
but the name too. It has taken a few years, but the UN-PC is
now a fully functional organization with representatives from all the
US SPI Orders and a head that has been elected by their membership
rather than appointed by the Mother House. It's gratifying to
see democracy in action! To date, I have given 4 Orders their
Exequatur and assisted a total 7 become independent Houses of Sisters
Perpetual Indulgence. The UNPC has added several other new
and Missions to the US after I stepped down. They have also
advised Orders in other regions as well. At last count there
49 Orders and
Missions spread across the face of the Earth. The Sisters of
Perpetual Indulgence is the
fastest growing Order of nuns ever! And we won't stop till we
archive Global Domination!
Umm, you might wanna forget I mentioned that last bit, it's supposed to
be a secret... for now.
Now Playing The Part Of
stepping down from Mistress of Missions, Hellen thought
would be able to quietly slip into semi-retirement. After
all, 18+ years volunteering for the Sisters is a long time!
There were only a handful of active Sisters anywhere near that
old. Sigh, but among other things the Goddess is
also a trickster and best laid plans of mice and nuns... yadda yadda
After a short spell of limited activity with the Order, Sister Mary
Lauren asked Hellen to attend some meetings and events so that
she could be sure she would get the votes necessary to elevate to his
full profession. Having been friends for some time it was
impossible for Hellen to deny him, but stipulated that once Sr. M.R.
elevated, Hellen would be pulling 'a Houdini' and disappearing.
Alas, it was not to be; it all changed at The Benefit For The
Boob; a fundraiser for breast cancer. I was minding my own
business sipping on a Stoli & Tonic when Postulant Guard Tighty
asked me to be his "mother" in the Order. I've know TW about
long as Mary Ralph and have always thought that he would make
a great member of the Order. Despite me interest in retiring,
found myself agreeing to sponsor him on the remainder of his journey to
profession in the Sisters. It turned out to be a blast!
TW convinced me to go to a lot of fun events and get to know
of the newer Sisters. I have made even more friends within my
little Sister family and am still enjoying being a Sister even into my
21st year. Even though he is now a fully professed member of
Order, we still do events together and talk regularly. Thanks
the new lease on being a nun TW!
In the last few years, the Sisters have become prodigious
fundraisers. This year we handed out tens of
grants at our Anniversary party on Easter. More
grants will be distributed at our annual Pride Grants and Saturnalia
Grant parties. I personally am not that into fundraising.
There; I said it! Still, there is a lot to do a nun
days in the Order. I find that I spend a lot of time
oral history of events and personalities to newer Sisters. I
often advise Sisters on event and give them ideas to keep them busy.
seen a lot of exciting, surprising, exacerbating, annoying, hysterical,
comical, weird and down right surreal stuff as a Sister.
Hopefully there will be even more interesting stuff still to
Beware of Old Dogs 2009-2011 Not
saying I'm a B.... I really don't know how the F*ing C*ts
managed but Hellen was elected to Mistress of Novices for a 4th
term in 2014. For those in the know, No other Mistress of Novices
ever served more than 3 terms total. That included my last Little
Sister Agnes Dei Afta Tamara. During my reign of terror, I
re-wrote what the idea of Novice Mistress was to include counseling and
guidance of sponsors as well as new members. That did mean having
to say "No" to some pairings and concepts. The idea that the MoN
position would need to be accoutable not only to the membership but to
the sponsor and the new members too. I documented a lot of
proceedures so that the job would be easier for It was also a sad year
as the the first instate member of The Sisters passed away; Postulant
Irma Gration (later voted to elevate to Novice Sister Irma Gration.)
That was an exceptionally difficult time for his sponsor and
myself that made me question my reasons for being a Sister. In
the end I found strength in carrying the torch partly on on Irma's
behalf. During the one year stint, I processed no less than 18 new members
as many as was in the order when I started!) through their
process, placing Black veils on 12 of their heads. I should
mention that I wasn't the only old dog that got new densures; serveral
of us old bitties found ourselves helping out in this New Order.
I did stuff... That shorthand for I fell back to just being a nun
that attened meetings and events. The House is doing well, but we
are starting to have internal conflict with a couple of members that
don't seem to fit in with the other 60-something active members.
Bad News, Good News, Bad News 2012-2014The Supreme Court's overturning of Prop8 in 2013 set of a new
flurry of activity. I became "obsessed" with the idea the Sisters
should have the same rights to marry couples as a Catholic Priest does
considering the fact that we do all of this on our own time for the
benefit of the community. In July I started the idea that somehow SPI
should be able to be considered fully vested Misters in their own
right. Long story short, The Perpetual Indulgence Ministry Program or
PIMP as we like to call it was founded. This is truly a
nondenominational ministry. Ministers are expected to check their own
spiritual beliefs at the door when they conduct a ceremony and instead
embrace the spiritual and social needs of the people they are
conducting the ceremony for. Well sure, we're going to bring a lot of
symbology, humor and glitter into the ceremony, but it still belongs
to the participants! The good new is that in November, I celebrated my 25th Anniversary with the Sisters!
In December of 2014, the committee elected me the
first Prime Minister (President) of PIMP. In January 2014 I
the first official ceremony that proclaimed 17 Sister to be Ministers
in The Ministry. We are still working on a fully accredited
process of certifying religion independent Minsters who can cater to a
queer friendly community who yearns for a more "interesting" and
personal weddings, memorials, baby naming and blessings. As Prime
Minister and Founder, It's a lot of work but I am hoping for a brand
new chapter in how Sisters can serve the community.
December 2013 I was elected to the Board of Directors as an At-Large
Board member. I hate being on the board (no offense to my truly
lovely fellow boardies!) but being on the board is boring! The
Good news was that I was able to represent PIMP. Bad news, the
Board budget was cut so much we didn't get much lead time to dive into
serious matters. Good news; we still managed to rescue a lot of
issues the previous Board had left behind.
More Bad news, the
1st Vice President and Mistress of Membership resigned in January.
This was a blow as we'd had several Board resignations the
previous year. When it came time to elect a new Mistress I
foolishly said I'd do it after several other Sisters declined.
Bad news; no one would ran against me. BAD NEWS, no one
really knew what the frikin position was suppose to do other than fill
in for the Abbess if she got run over by a steamroller and that she had
something to do with "membership". Long story short again, I
begged for and got control of the bylaws committee that rewrote the
policies that redefined the 1st Vice President as the Prioress
(Prioress is traditionally the second in charge after an Abbess.)
The good new is that position is now defined as a peace keeper
and guidance counselor of sorts. Sort of an HR Directors.
Even better new is that the title is changed from Mistress of
Membership (which I kept getting mixed up with Mistress of Novices and
Mistress of Missions) to Prioress.
I've wanted to be the Prioress for years and years! Now we
just need to figure out how we're going to get along better and make
the world a better place. Next stop; World domination!
Retirement is relative
retiring in 2015, I have been attending fewer events than I did in the
first 26 years, but can still be spotted prowling the streets of San
Francisco in habit, at least on occasion. I still help with some
of the behind the seen work on SPI SF's internal documents and have
even acted as point nun for our shoot with Bob Ostertag's documentary
on Hank Wilson. I try to stay out of the internal working of SPI
not to mention the inevitable politics.