Picture it... 1976, Cedar Rapids Iowa. A convent of Roman Catholic nuns lent their retired habits to a drag troupe called "The Sugar Plum Fairies" who were performing their version of “The Sound of Music”. This seemingly small gesture would set into motion a chain of events ushering in a new wave of social justice warriors.
It was a year later when one of our founders, Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch, moved to San Francisco and brought those habits to the streets of the Castro.
Scene: Easter Weekend, during the time of the “Castro Clone”... those working-class boys with the fitted tees and tight denim, sporting full mustaches and sideburns for days!
Becoming extremely bored with the conformist atmosphere at the time, three men went into the streets
to set a challenge to the world! Sister Vicious PHB (Ken Bunch), Sister Missionary Position (Fred Brungard) and Baruch Golden, went in full traditional habits through the streets of San Francisco and marched right down to the nude beach. One even carried a machine gun for protection. The locals reactions were that of shock and amazement, as the men, undoubtedly, captured everyone’s interest. The next appearance would find the friends at a softball game, where they premiered their ever-famous Pompom Routine.
In the fall of 1979, Sister Hysterectoria – Agnes (Edmund Garron) and
Reverend Mother (Bill Graham) went to the first International Radical Faerie gathering and encountered even more men with the calling. Our four founders; Sister Vicious PHB; Reverend Mother; Sister Missionary Position; and Sister Hysterectoria-Agnes; convened with their new friends and spoke our name into existence.
“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence”.
They composed our mission statement: “To promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt”
The next year brought the new Order with Sister Hysterectoria designing the first habits, modeled after a Flemish 14th century "ladies-in-waiting", and a French cloister’s wimple. Through a city grant, she commissioned the first set of habits and “Ear Brassieres.”
Sister Secuba, a calligrapher, created the logo and original banner under which the Sisters made their first public appearance.
As the Sisters in San Francisco continued to amaze the city, the call to Sisterhood spread worldwide. Mother Inferior in Sydney, Australia founded the second SPI Order in the world.
The city’s health scene had hit crisis levels during this year. STI’s were spreading at a pandemic rate and the “gay cancer” was contaminating everyone with fear and prejudice.
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 anywhere in the world to use plain sex-positive language, practical advice, and humor.
The public received it so well that it went through a second printing within just a few months. Sex party benefits and the sale of ashes from the burned down Barracks Bath House provided some funding for this print.
By this time, the Sisters were growing again as they had suffered many losses from the HIV crisis.
The Sisters were beginning to thrive worldwide, having houses in Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Back home in San Francisco, Sister Roma introduced her "STOP the Violence" campaign in reaction to the rise of violence in the streets, especially hate crimes. She devised a window placard system to mark safe homes of refuge in the event of an attack, or the threat of an attack. The Order distributed window signs and whistles in the various neighborhoods and districts of the city, as well as college campuses. The program eventually died down, but reignited in 2010.
Sisters Bufadora and Flatulina Grande formed the "Queer Army" and enlisted the energy of angry people for the Holy Wars against homophobia in the church and government. Draft cards were distributed and the enlistees donned dashing pink camouflage army clothing.
A major protest was against Reverend Coal and his gospel of hate at the Capitol Christian Center (CCC) in Sacramento, the largest fundamentalist church in the State. At the time, CCC was sending members in to The Castro to harass the community. Sister Flatulina Grande, the Queer Army, Sacramento activists, and Queer Nation (numbering 100 plus demonstrators) showed up at the CCC chanting on Easter Sunday, drawing security and parishioners from the inner sanctum.
While most of the congregation hid behind bibles and spewed hate, one choir member; a teenager, came and joined the demonstration and
outing himself in the process. Sister Lost and Found, as he was later named, came to the Sisters for help after both his church and his family rejected him. Tragically, the State of Nebraska forced him back to a foster home despite his wishes to stay with his current gay fathers. Sadly, he chose to take his own life rather than live in foster care. Sister Lost and Found is the name inspiration for the homeless queer youth organization in Atlanta, Lost n Found Youth.
The Sisters also started one of the sexiest alliances known to nuns by working Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley Fair, helping the organizers by acting as door divas for two of California’s largest events, and probably the world’s largest fetish events. Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley Fair attract tens of thousands of participants every year and raises thousands for charity in the process.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, worldwide, have an amazing history spanning 33 years since its creation. The bits and pieces mentioned from the Sistory of the San Francisco mother house are but a fraction of the countless stories a nun could tell.
Click here for more Sistory of the San Francisco house.