On Easter Sunday, 1979, Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch, Sister Missionary Position and Sister Roz Erection took their first walk around the Castro. Dressed in second-hand habits (once the property of a Roman Catholic convent in Iowa), they were looking to shake things up. This was at a time when so-called Castro clones – gay men who favoured a hyper-masculine style and attitude, modelled on an idealized working-class man – ruled the neighborhood, and a “conformist atmosphere” pervaded. Needless to say, they turned a few heads.
For over 40 years, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the order of queer and trans nuns these three trailblazers helped found, has been spreading its ministry across San Francisco, the United States and the world. The order’s mission is to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt,” and the sisters pursue this through a combination of fundraising, campaigning, community outreach and events.
As a “ministry of presence,” the sisters are available to all those who have need of them, and, while they might have unconventional means of delivering their healing message, preferring, as they do, caustic wit to prayers and psalms, their goal is always the same: to look after their communities. Frequently, and certainly more frequently than many who see the sisters at peak fabulosity, having fun and taking selfies at parties, might realize, this requires them to be educators. This can mean standing at the front of a classroom, opening the minds of high-school and college students, or informing some hottie at the club about the dangers of unsafe sex.
While the San Francisco House is referred to as the Mother House, the order is a strictly non-hierarchical organization. Each house – be it the Convent of the Thoroughly Bred and Breaded in Kentucky, the Abbey of Divine Queefs in Baltimore, the House of Common Sluts in London or even the Order of the Moist Brollie in British Columbia – has its own set of rules and habits (pun very much intended).
What joins them all, sister to sister, order to order, is a commitment to their shared values and to their beloved communities. Oh, and their parting blessing: “Go forth and sin some more!”