Sistory (History of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence)
A Brief Sistory of the Mother House
With chunks from Sister Phyllis Stein the Fragrant (original Mistress of Archives) & Sister Kitty Catalyst, O.C.P (former Mistress of Archives) Edited by Sister Monica MuffDiver
In (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), a convent of Roman Catholic nuns lent some retired habits to a group of men performing their version of The Sound of Music. Three years later, those habits resurfaced in the streets of San Francisco's Castro district...
On Easter Weekend, during the time of the "Castro Clone," three men went out into the streets to challenge the world. They were met with shock and amazement, but captured everyone's interest. Their next appearance was at a softball game where their pompon routine all but stole the show and by the time the Castro Street Fair had rolled around, they were ready to recruit more. In the fall of 1979, Sister Hysterectoria and Reverend Mother went to the first International Faerie gathering and encountered even more men with the calling.
The new year brought the new Order, and the name Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Sister Hysterectoria designed the first habits after a Flemish 14th century ladies-in-waiting and French cloister's wimple, and through a city grant, commissioned the first set of habits and "Ear Brassieres." Sister Secuba, a calligrapher, created the logo and the original banner under which the Sisters made their first public appearance.
The Sisters continued to raise tempers, eyebrows, and funds throughout the next year, stacking up multiple letters to the editor in protest of them. But their popularity increased. They could be found at many events, fairs and fundraisers spreading joy and cheer, postcards and t-shirts. On Christmas Eve, 1981, the Sisters were cited for "peddling without a license" on the corner of 18th and Castro. "Sisters don't peddle," insisted Sister Missionary Position, "we receive donations and give tokens of joy. It's just coincidental that it happens at the same time." The Sydney, Australia Order is founded.
Registered nurses Sister Florence Nightmare and Sister Roz Erection joined with a team of Sisters and medical professionals to create Play Fair!, the first safer sex pamphlet to use plain sex-positive language, practical advice, and humor. It was so well received that it went through a second printing within just a few months. It was paid for, in part by sex party benefits and the sale of ashes from the burned down Barracks Bath House.
The first AIDS Candlelight vigil in 1983 was orchestrated by the Sisters, led by the banner "Fighting for our Lives," created by the Sisters. One of the many speakers to the weeping and angry crowd was Sister Florence Nightmare. She was not only a health care professional, but advocate for PWAs and was herself HIV positive. Her article "Well and Good," in the Sentinel, combined observations of a man living with AIDS and practical insights of a medical professional. She and her "friend" (don't we mean lover?) appeared on the August 8 cover of Newsweek. The article, about gays and AIDS, was the first time that the topics were handled in a fairly unbiased manner and that the entire nation was able to come face to face with AIDS.
For their efforts the previous year, Sisters were honored with five Cable Car awards including outstanding theme event, outstanding athletic event, and outrageous parade float. Not bad for such a young group.
The Sisters went all out to greet the Pope during his visit in 1987. While many in the city were not pleased to see him, we were beside ourselves. We rolled out the red carpet in his honor and held a full-on exorcism in Union Square. That, and a few other actions and antics, landed us the prestigious honor of being placed on the Papal List of Heretics. (Way to go gals!) The Seattle Sisters start their ministry.
The fifth exposition basketball event thrown by the Sisters, "Rally 'Round the Quilt," a fundraiser for the NAMES Quilt Project distributed over $5,400.
For their 10th anniversary, the Sisters threw a huge gala event, Sistericus, invited all of the Sisters from around the States to join in the celebration, helping to raise much-needed funds for Project Open Hand and AIDS Emergency Fund.
Artist Thomasina DeMaio approached the Sisters soon after stating that she wanted to create portraits of the nuns in paint and clay. Months and months of hard work culminated in a large art exhibit / performance art piece, "Angels in Whiteface," that is still being talked about today.
The London Order is established from Australian Sisters/missionaries.
This year saw a large outreach to the international communities. Sister X, Sister Vicious, and Sister Psychedelia went forth into Europe to spread the Word and form Missions. By June, the Sisters brought the large show/performance art piece, "Dimanche D'Indulge," to Paris to celebrate the investiture of the Paris order. This was also where "The Condom Saviour Consecration and Vow" were first premiered, and have been performed many times since.
From the missionary efforts of last year both the French and German orders are formed. Sister Sam came out in 92 and wanted YOU! The Queer Army enlisted the energy of angry people for the Holy Wars against homophobia in the church and the government. Draft cards were distributed and there was no excuse not to enlist. One of the first actions of our pink-camouflaged army was to distribute condoms on USF campus on February 14.
The Children's Halloween was started as a safe space for the kids and continues to this day as a treat for hundreds of kids for gay and not gay parents and their children.
Hallow Queen, a wonderful costume-mandatory dance/cabaret raised over $6000 for a handful of charities.
Sisters attend Stonewall 25th Anniversary in New York City and help lead the Drag March from Alphabet City to the Stonewall Inn. Favorite chants: "2-5-6-7 we're tough dykes and we don't have to rhyme" and "the Pope wears a dress and so will I ".
For the first time, the Sisters bless the San Francisco Mime Troupe opening-day free performance in Dolores Park on the July 4th (US Independence Day) weekend. Showing a broader range of community service, the Sisters put on W.H.O.O.T.Y. (We'll Hold Our Own Thank-You) benefiting the Women and Cancer Walk.
Now, in a time where there are more than twenty convents worldwide, the Sisters create and have brought to Washington, DC four quilt panels, 24' by 24', commemorating over thirty "Nuns of the Above" as part of the Names Project Quilt. We know that there are more Sisters whose names have escaped us as much as their lives escaped them, but their energy and love live on through us. The sisters also attended, for the first time, the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.
Renewing a commitment to queer youth The Sisters start several supportive activities: for LYRIC's Young Loud and Proud conferences they put on aprons and act as lunch ladies bring smiles (and VERY LOUD DISCO MUSIC) to help start their day of activist organizing. They also helped put on PROMSTiTUTE an alternative queer youth prom where the youth were encouraged to wear very short skirts and drink to excess. The Sisters also help at several AIDS art auctions as dotters, runners, wrappers and display models (please note: no artwork was dropped).
In other tragic-comic news Sister Hellen Wheels, Sister Dana and Sister Kitty performed for one of the many Imperial Court functions "The Out of Town Court Show" and won, but didn't even remember they had attended and performed at the event (ahem) until reminded several weeks later. The House of the Sheila Na Gigged (Cardiff, Wales) formed.
The annual Pink Saturday event in the Castro, which is the Saturday night hotspot before the San Francisco Pride Parade, is officially organized by the Sisters for the first time ensuring monies raised stay in the community. Each year has seen more money going to local beneficiaries. Also that year Sisters organize Wig Out, a wig drive collecting from San Francisco drag queens hundreds of new and reconditioned wigs for women under-going chemotherapy.
The Sisters celebrate 20 years of good-spirited activism with an Easter Birthday party fundraiser in the Castro, while looking forward to another twenty years of community service. The local Archdiocese condemns the order thus granting us an estimated $1 million in free publicity. Play Fair! Is re-issued and updated after 20 years to be all gender inclusive, encourage folks to use safer sex techniques, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and lose the guilt.
Later that summer the Sisters visit Reno, Nevada for the first Reno Pride Parade and, again, are condemned. The Governor of Nevada refuses to issue a proclamation in support of Transgender, Bisexuals, Lesbians and Gays so the Sisters write their own. The celebration receives front-page press as well as coverage from every television news channel in the city. Together with Survive AIDS, the Sisters take the lead in organizing the annual AIDS Candlelight Vigil making a big splash on SF City Hall steps. People with AIDS are honored with remembrances, AIDS Hero Awards and performances from the cast from RENT, Dear Diva, Dirty Little Show tunes as well as drummers and U.S. Representative Nanci Pelosi.
Reportedly the first fashion show in a sex club, Hot Cross Buns is held on Good Friday at the Power Exchange with local fetish designers including Dr. Carol Queen (from Good Vibrations) with a Dildo Fashion show which raises over $3000 for local charities. Another fine San Francisco tradition The Great Tricycle Race is reborn with much support from the good folks at Harvey Milk Institute. Contestants race through the Castro on regulation tricycles and ended with the annual Hunky Jesus and Easter Bonnet contests.
Sister Betty Does, LNM, weaves through a maze of red tape to present Resurrection Bingo to the Castro at Metropolitan Community Church. The monthly event raises over $7000 for local charities. The Sisters find themselves in the middle of an AIDS denialist mythology drama when members are targeted around bare backing issues. The Sisters rise to the occasion by granting money to AIDS Activist against Violence and Lies (AAAVL) who battle the denialists on many fronts. AAAVL helps to prevent violence against PWA's from occurring and works to protect public meetings from being threatened by the denialists.
The Sisters burst with Pride and take to the streets at San Francisco Pride as the Brides of Christ (of course) in support of Californians for Same-Sex Marriage. Later, at the SF Pride Festival, the Sisters perform an exorcism of radio-show hostess "Dr." Laura to free her of her hate-filled speech against gays and lesbians. The Sisters close the year with their annual Solstice benefit which raised funds for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society and the Sisters Archives. At the event $10,000 from their Community Grants Fund is presented to local non-profits and several more worthy individuals including Saint Harry Faerie Godfather (Harry Hay) and Saint N'John (his partner) are Sainted.
Sisters launch World Domination Tour and are surprised that staunch conservatives like being punished for naughty behavior. The Sisters are elected Grand Marshals for the San Francisco Pride Celebration. The Russian River Missionary Order is founded by the San Francisco Order and Sister Mary Margaret of the House of Explosion.
The Sisters celebrate a record year financially, bringing in over $100,000, with over 80% of that money going back out into the community.
Under the rallying cry of "25 Years to Life — Ruining it for Everyone, " the Sisters kick off 25 Weeks of Indulgence from Easter Sunday to Folsom Fair Sunday with their annual anniversary celebration in Dolores Park followed by fun evening activities in the Castro. The Order managed to compete in all 25 events, and decides never to do that again!
The Order continued its growth with the founding of Missions in Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Eureka. In April, Sister Penny Lane became the first Sister to be crowned as Emperor of San Francisco's Imperial Court ushering in the Court of Swinging Monkeys and Roaring Tigers. Revival Bingo, which raised thousands of dollars for local organizations, ends its successful run at the Metropolitan Community Church in the Castro. The Sisters have the extreme pleasure and joy of Sainting Margaret Cho on stage at the Pride Celebration.
Revival Bingo finds a new home at Most Holy Redeemer in September and donated its first two months' proceeds to the church. The Tour De Castro, a tricycle race and pub crawl organized by then Novice Sister Mary Juanita High, raised $8520 to help 14 AIDS Lifecycle riders who were short of the minimum donation to ride and is recognized as the Best New Charity Event of the year by the InterClub Fund of San Francisco. In November, the San Francisco Archdiocese bowed to right-wing pressure and kicked the Sisters out of Most Holy Redeemer Church sending Revival Bingo on the hunt for a new home and depriving the Church of much-needed funds and attendees.
Sisters Uma Gawd and Fawn D'amen cycle once again, raising more than $6,000 to fight AIDS, while Sisters Mary Juanita High and Mona Little More of Portland, OR roadie on the AIDS Lifecycle raising spirits. This year's Pink Saturday saw a heightened safety effort by the Sisters who were recognized by local police for their efforts at throwing a fun and safe Pink Saturday.