I am a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. I am also a straight female. Go ahead and take a moment to absorb that statement—it comes as a shock for many people.
I first encountered the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization whose members combine drag and spiritual iconography to raise awareness of LGBT causes, in Portland. I was drawn to their joyous natures, charity work, and their positive use of religious symbolism. Having attended a Catholic High School (where I was voted “Most Likely to Overthrow a Small Country”), I have a deep respect and love for nuns. I loved the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their work in the same way, but as I only ever encountered men in this group, I thought this wasn‘t something I could participate in myself, only support.
One fateful day, during a popular Portland Pride event known as the Big Gay Boat Ride, I met Sister Ohna Fucking Tirade, a cisgender female and a member of the Order. Marveling at her habit, I gushed, “I would love to be a Sister!” To my surprise, she replied, “You could totally be a Sister. You should come to our next meeting.”
Elated, I ran back to my friends and confessed my love for the Sisters and my intention to join. “Do they know you’re straight?” they asked. I was taken aback. What if my sexual orientation was an issue? What if they wouldn’t let me join? I wasn’t prepared to lie about my identity. “Maybe, if I don’t say anything, they won’t ask,” I thought. “It’s not like it’s something I have any control over. It’s not my fault I’m straight!” My mind was spinning.
Thankfully, I discovered that my sexual orientation was in fact not a barrier to entry, and I started my journey with the Order in June of last year. (It takes about a year and a half to two years to become a full Sister.) I felt such a rush of joy. I finally understood the “calling” that the Catholic nuns had told us about when I was in high school. Taking my vows as a Novice with the Portland Sisters was a very emotional and meaningful event for me.
There have been a lot of adjustments involved in moving, but the most significant has been the reaction from the community. I attended numerous events in Portland after joining, and not once did someone remark on my gender. In Los Angeles, on the other hand, I have yet to attend an event where someone hasn’t commented on it. Repeatedly.
To be sure, the reaction has been positive. Most commonly, the response is, “You’re really a girl!” But still. Now that I have been here for several months and certain regulars have seen and met me, they still introduce me to shock and amaze their friends. Most of the time, their remarks strike me as funny, something akin to, “Look! A two-headed calf!”
But whenever I am tempted to roll my eyes, I remind myself this is part of my ministry. What if I hadn‘t encountered Sr. Ohna and assumed, like all these people meeting me, that the Sisters were only gay men? Moreover, and much more importantly, I have been reminded time and again that there are so many people who are starved for acceptance. The fact that I am there for them and am making that commitment to being a Sister has a big impact.
I am excited to continue my journey as a Sister in Los Angeles, and one day soon, take vows as a Fully Professed Sister. With so many members, there are a plethora of opportunities to go out and do the good work: raising money for underfunded charities, leaving joy and glitter in our wake, and sometimes raising a little hell as a voice for the LGBT community. There's something going on almost every weekend, often with multiple events to choose from.
I'm also expanding my own horizons. I went to my first leather bar, where I served as "Tally Mistress" for the Mr. Sister Leather competition. In addition, I’ve joined the Sisters’ team for next year's AIDS/LifeCycle, riding from San Francisco to L.A. I'm also ridiculously excited about our largest fundraiser of the year, Project Nunway LA, on November 8. This year, the city of West Hollywood is sponsoring the event, so hopefully we'll be able to top our fundraising goals from past events. I can't wait to see my Sisters stomp the runway in outfits made just for them by local designers and design students.
As I prepare for the long, fabulous catwalk of Sisterhood ahead, I will continue to spread the word that anyone can be a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. You only need to have the drive and desire. And if you don't have that, feel free to support us with love and money. We'll put it to good use.