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At a rally and street performance in Hillcrest Saturday, a San Diego man got one step closer to earning his full-fledged membership into a convent of colorful “nuns” whose mission is to look fabulous while spreading joy and absolving guilt.
Gaining entry into the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence isn’t easy. Organizing a rally is just one step in the months-long pledge process.
The organization is something like an LGBTQ fraternity. It started in San Francisco in 1979 with a small group of gay men and has grown to include hundreds of chapters across the world. Sisters, who are mostly LGBTQ men and women, show up at public events and bars and clubs in nun garb, makeup and other flamboyant flourishes to preach love and acceptance. Most chapters also raise money for AIDS research and other LGBTQ charities.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have become known for their memorable public appearances. They use performance art and street theater tactics to entertain their unsuspecting audiences and engage them in conversations about issues like gay rights and restrictive societal norms.
The group has a certain reputation and image to uphold, which is why becoming an official sister is such a long process.
Jeremy Davies, who goes by Novice Sister Rita Booke when he’s with the sisters, planned every detail of Saturday’s Hillcrest rally – from the signs to the speeches. Now that he’s successfully pulled off his first public event, his next step is to ask the ordained sisters to review how the rally went, then vote on his admission. If the majority of the sisters thinks he did a good job, he’s in. It’s the last step on Davis’ path to sisterhood, which has taken him nearly two years.
The pledge process typically starts when people like Davies see the sisters out in public and want in on the fun.
“Everyone, when they see us out there with all the makeup and the outfits, they’re always like, ‘Oh my god, that’s great, I want to do what you do,'” said AJ Turner, who goes by Sister Amanda Reckinwith when he’s working as a sister. “But becoming a sister takes a lot of time and comitment.”
Turner acts as the gatekeeper to membership for the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. His official title is “mistress of novices,” and it’s his job to pair prospective members with ordained sisters and walk them through the process.
The first step is what the sisters call the “aspirancy period.” It’s about six months of just showing up at meetings and events and watching what the sisters do. From there, the pledges enter the “postulancy period” and are allowed to start participating but always in the background and while following the lead of a more experienced sister.
“Some people just aren’t wired to do the work we do,” Turner said. “You have to be tolerant and open and forgiving about everything else that’s going on. … And when we step out dressed like this, the reaction – there’s a spectrum from shock to glee – and you have to learn how to process all of those various reactions. Some people can’t do it.”
Turner said being a sister is an act of political performance art. And sometimes the sisters have to perform in highly charged situations.
Every year at the Earth Fair event in Balboa Park, for example, Christian protestors show up with gory anti-abortion signs. Some use bullhorns to preach radical messages encouraging gay people and other “sinners” to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. The sisters show up at Earth Fair to stand directly in front of the protesters and help shepherd people past them. Many of the sisters hold large umbrellas to block the signs.
Turner said it takes the right personality to be able to stay in character and continue spreading joy and fun in that kind of scenario.
Davies said his protest performance on Saturday addressed the “near-daily avalanche of revelations of human rights abuses, racism, misogyny, hatred toward the LGBTQ population, family separation and more.” He said he made the speeches and the signs slightly absurd and funny so passersby could laugh instead of wallow in despair.
“Community members who are feeling despondent can hopefully walk away having had a little chuckle and will feel refreshed to continue resisting,” Davies said.
Catch many of the San Diego Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence this week as they march in the San Diego Pride parade, or at the entrance of the pride festival where they’ll be serving tea.
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
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• Community members in southeastern San Diego held the fifth annual Four Corners of Life celebration over the weekend. The event works to instill community pride and rebrand the intersection of Euclid and Imperial avenues, which has long been referred to as the Four Corners of Death. (Union-Tribune)
• Tijuana’s popular Opera en la Calle festival, which is happening Saturday, brings free outdoor opera performances to a neighborhood that butts the international border fence. (Union-Tribune)
• The county’s news department did a handy little roundup of water/splash parks.
• Bosko Hrnjak is a big deal in the tiki world, where followers celebrate the island lifestyle and Polynesian art and culture. The Escondido artist is the now the subject of a new film. (Union-Tribune)
• Here’s a new Q-and-A with Miki Iwasaki, a San Diego artist and designer who’s been focusing on public art lately. (SDVoyager)
• On Saturday at the Bernardo Winery, the president of the San Diego Rock Art Association will discuss what he’s discovered by using new technology to study Native American rock art found on boulders on private property in Rancho Bernardo. (Union-Tribune)
• Check out these free dance workshops happening in North Park.
• The La Jolla Music Society’s upcoming 50th anniversary 2018-19 season is star-packed and “will also usher in the debut of the nonprofit arts organization’s new La Jolla home, the $78.5 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center,” reports the Union-Tribune.
• Some of the local artists who lost their studios when the city shut down The Glashaus space in Barrio Logan due to fire safety concerns are celebrating the grand opening of their new studio space inside Bread & Salt in Logan Heights.
• The upcoming lecture with contemporary artist Nancy Lorenz will likely sell out soon.
• The San Diego Museum of Art announced a new board president and five other new board members.
• Comic-Con is next week, which means the listicles of must-attend parties and things to do and see have started to appear. Your best bet for staying on top of it all is following this blog or joining this Facebook group.
• At first, people criticized a sculpture of a surfer in Encinitas. Then they started dressing it up and calling it the “Cardiff Kook.” Over the years, the artistic additions people have added to the statue have been good, but the latest one might be the best yet.
• I’m a big fan of Imperial Beach. It feels like a down-to-earth beach community with the exact right amount of grit and quirk. Every year, I try to go to IB for its annual sandcastle festival and parade. Parking can be hard, but the sand sculptures are always stellar.
• Perhaps you’ve passed by a camel farm on your way out to Julian and wondered, WTF? I know I did. But then one fateful day we drove by and noticed that the farm was hosting a public event like the one it’s hosting this weekend. We stopped. We rode camels and bought some camel milk chocolate, too. Sadly, you cannot drink camel milk (my husband asked).
• The San Diego Symphony is hosting a fun day of activities and live music on Sunday. It’s free, but you have you reserve your tickets here.
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• The 65th annual World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament is happening this weekend at Fiesta Island. This year, the event even has its own beer. (SDNews)
• The U-T says y’all should try these three new restaurants right now.
• Here’s what designer Zandra Rhodes eats and drinks when she’s in San Diego. (Evening Standard)
• San Diego’s highly anticipated Little Italy Food Hall opens Thursday. (Eater)
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jeremy Davies.
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with arts and culture news and tips, or submit your question about San Diego arts and culture here. Want to recommend the Culture Report to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts.