Friday, March 09, 2007


[This post also appears on Jesuit Watch.]

The last time San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were in the news was a controversial celebration on Easter Sunday. Local Catholic thick-necks took umbrage at the date and petitioned the Board of Supervisors to withhold a street-closing permit.

Gay people were determined to close the three blocks in question with or without a permit, but the Board caved to the gay people and there was no confrontation.

The Sisters, (men who like to dress up as Catholic nuns) grew out of the original genderfuck theater troupe, the Cockettes. Genderfuck, for males, means dressing in female clothing and hairdos and all, but also displaying male secondary sex characteristics—beards, moustaches, hairy shoulders.

NOTE: These days the Sisters have affiliated "houses" worldwide, and membership is open to many sex categories.

The Sisters is a fraternal organization. They run a lively (you can imagine) weekly bingo game, and otherways raise funds for neglected community needs. They are fun and self deprecating, and they actually promote religious values.

You can see on their website a very succinct mission statement,

Soon after the San Francisco Order was founded in 1979, the mission of the Sisters — to promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and serve the community — spread far and wide. Orders can be found across the United States and in several countries around the world.

The Sisters have never issued any dogma ex cathedra that this FOME can’t accept. I assume each of them claims infallibility.

This quote from the Wikipedia entry shows their sense of fun:

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence believe that many institutions and social constructs are a source of dogma, hypocrisy, guilt and shame. This has lead to encounters with the Catholic Church. One was when they staged an exorcism of the Pope on his visit to San Francisco in 1987.

This story illustrates why I like them so much.

It was maybe fifteen years ago, a small group of fundamentalist Christians decided to minister to San Francisco’s gay community by gathering at the main intersection of gay nightlife and handing out salacious anti-gay literature, chanting anti-gay slogans, and singing some sort of Jesus songs.

It was completely legal, and should have been ignored, but some of the many gay people passing by took umbrage with nasty verbal exchanges resulting. Same thing the next night.

It looked like there would eventually be trouble, so the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence brought a bullhorn and a boom box, and led a gathering of gay people across the street. We had some talks, and played some music, and whenever the Christians would start a chant we’d drown them out with our own chant, “NO MORE GUILT!”

I believe they had “ushers” helping to guide people around the Christian group so they wouldn’t be waylaid.

The Christians quickly gave up.

There was real trouble brewing if the Christians went unchecked. The Sisters came up with a creative, non-violent response that Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of.

Members pictured above, top to bottom, Sister Bea Attitude, Sister Harlette O'Scara, and Sister Tilly Comes Again.

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sfmike said...

Great minds think alike, I guess. The Sisters are making a major appearance over at "Civic Center" today too. Like most dynamic clergy, they are attention whores, and the fact that they are fabulously photogenic is part of what gives them power.

I met some queen from Chicago/Los Angeles at the Lone Star Saloon last week who is trying to make a full-length Sisters documentary. I thought about it for a second, and told him, "Great subject. There's history, it's international, and it's at the cusp of all kinds of interesting religious places. Good luck."

sfwillie said...

The picture on your blog of the sister holding a placard that says, "We forgive you," is exactly what I was talking about. It's very funny (pagan drag queens "forgiving" Christian youth, at the same time it's a very Christ-like response.

Viva sisters!