The Gospels According To Hellen

The Pre-Hellenic Years

The Butch Years

The Great Depression

Growing Pains

On A Mission

Playing The Part Of Elizabeth...

Beware of Old Dogs

Bad New Good New


The Pre-Hellenic Years 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 didn't 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 1979, Sister 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.  ...That is until a few months later when a local gay bar was playing baseball against the San Francisco police department for charity.  Once 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 14.  After several meetings and under the light of a full moon on March 11th 1980, they 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 the concepts of membership and commitment were not solidified.  Dozens of Sisters came and went often only participating for a few months until the 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 refugees in 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 publicized early 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 Deficiency 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 affecting 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 everyone!

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.  That has not always been the case.  As mentioned previously, a small number of nuns split off from the main Order in the mid-80's.  Those men 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 SPI Sisters, several other Sisters couldn't take the fighting and legal actions that the divide caused and the Sisters' number plummeted.  It took 2 or 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.
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The Butch Years 1988-1993

OK, 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 Freedom Day 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 have a daughter, Sister GladAss of the Joyous Reserectum, who being abandoned by her first mother was picked up by Butch.  The majority of the time, Butch 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.
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The Great Depression 1993-1997

During 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!

In 1993 the renowned French photographer Jean Baptiste Carhaix returned to San Francisco specifically to photograph the Sisters.  As I was in 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 only 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 the first time I ever took the character of Hellen seriously.  I was 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 Whore.  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.
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Growing Pains 1997-2004

In 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 deserving Sister to take it on.  At the beginning, there was not much many new members to deal with.  But that changed all too soon...

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 the press and even politicians took sides.  Finally at a packed San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, they voted to allow us the street permit.  By that point, we were in nearly every California 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 the 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 the great 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 8 are still member of the San Francisco Sisters and have all contributed greatly to the strength of our Order.  This turned out to be the 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.
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On A Mission 2004-2006

In 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. 
...If 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 are 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 page is about ME!

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 sewing their 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 in Las 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 Sisters 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 fellow 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 Joan 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 only bought the idea 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 of Perpetual Indulgence.  The UNPC has added several other new Houses and Missions to the US after I stepped down.  They have also advised Orders in other regions as well.  At last count there were 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.
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Now Playing The Part Of Elizabeth  2007-2008

After stepping down from Mistress of Missions, Hellen thought that he 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 yadda.

After a short spell of limited activity with the Order, Sister Mary Ralph 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. was 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 Whitey asked me to be his "mother" in the Order.  I've know TW about as long as Mary Ralph and have always thought that he would make a great member of the Order.  Despite me interest in retiring, I found myself agreeing to sponsor him on the remainder of his journey to full 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 many 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 the Order, we still do events together and talk regularly.  Thanks for 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 thousands in 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 these days in the Order.  I find that I spend a lot of time providing an oral history of events and personalities to newer Sisters.  I often advise Sisters on event and give them ideas to keep them busy.  I've 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 come.

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 (that's twice 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.

then 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 2012-2014

The 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 officiated 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.

In 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

Since 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.

Blessed be.
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