From Issue 3.5 - June 1997
Few people can say that they have attended many queer events in San Francisco and not seen some people dressed in the interesting, provocative, and sometimes strange guise -- resembling Catholic nuns on LSD -- of our own beloved Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Any event, whether serious or festive, is enriched by the Sisters' presence.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. -- a registered California non-profit organization -- add an eye-catching element to the diverse world of community service organizations. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Sister DiManda Tension, coordinator of the Sisters' Protest Committee, about the organization and its activities.
Brett: How long have the Sisters been in existence?
Sr DiManda: Since 1979; we are in our 19th year.
Brett: That's all? So "Tales of the City" was a little off in it's historical accuracy?
Sr D: Actually, Armistead Maupin never included the Sisters in the story by name. When the "Tales of the City" articles were published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were pretty well know. Maupin only wrote about guys in nun habits on roller skates. People have just made the assumption that he was referring to us.
Brett: In terms of how the members of the order view themselves; do they think of nun drag as a fetish?
Sr D: Not really. Actually, some of the Sisters take their participation very seriously and treat it as a vocation. We think of ourselves as an order of nuns, with more creative habits than traditional orders, of course. In reality, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence do many of the things that nuns have been responsible for historically, such as education, fund raising, and caring for the sick.
Brett: I imagine that some of the Sisters are into fetish as individuals, though.
Sr D: Of course, and they will incorporate their interests into the habits they wear. For example, a Sister from San Diego joined us for Folsom Street Fair last year in a full latex habit.
Brett: The Sisters are always flirting and are very sexual in the way they interact with secular crowds, but at events like the Folsom Street or Dore Alley fairs, is there much seriousness to this?
Sr D: Let's just say it is fun being the center of attention from hunky boys, but actually the majority of the Sisters don't really cruise while in white face.
Brett: Some of the traditional activities of the Sisters -- such as organizing Halloween in the Castro and engaging in protests -- seem to be changing. Can you comment on this?
Sr D: We are still very active in protests, and have taken an interest in some local issues such as the Hilton Hotel hair incident, the Muni driver arbitration decision, and United Airlines' domestic partners lawsuit. It's true that right now there is not a large issue we are speaking out on, but you never know what might happen. As for Halloween, it just got too big and scary; and since the city refused to police the event, we decided not to participate anymore.
Brett: So what's down the road?
Sr D: We normally don't plan more than a few months ahead, but the Sisters will be sponsoring some future events that will be fun for everyone. We are planning to do something for Folsom Street Fair.
Brett: Care to give a sneak preview?
Sr D: Not yet, but it will be fun.
Brett: So we can expect to see the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence around for a long time?
Sr D: Absolutely, all the Sisters are very committed to the order.
If you think you'd like to find a new way to express your
individuality that's fun and creative and would also be of service to
the community, please contact the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,
Inc. at 415-552-0220, or talk to the next nun you see on Castro