The very fine recent history of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Queer Nuns; Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody, will switch around your view of satire, religious activism, and the modern sacred clown. Working with a strong theoretical base in queer theory, Wilcox uses this history to think about religion, sexuality, gender, embodied spirituality, and activism, and to provide an entertaining history of the Sisters.

The Sisters began as a parody of Catholic nuns by a group of cis-gendered gay men, but rapidly evolved into a community service organization of queer nuns with a genuine spiritual calling to ‘promulgate universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt’, specifically around minority sexualities and sexual identities. Tempered by the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s and their continuing community service to celebrate sex and promote safer sex in the LGBTQ communities, the Sisters mock and parody the Religious (Christian) Right in their attacks on the LGBTQ communities, but with a strong sense of community service underlying the activism. The Sisters are a genuine order of nuns, whose service as comforters and confessors, in nurturing and selfless service, is explicitly the same as that of female-only orders in other religious contexts. 

The blend of parody and serious community and spiritual service is demonstrated in the Mass Against Papal Bigotry and the Condom Savior Mass, with the Condom Savior Vow and consecration of condoms as the Host for distribution to the worshippers. No wonder that the assimilationist forces in the LGBTQ community like the Metropolitan Community Church did not like them!

Wilcox develops some very interesting ideas through this history – taking the notion of genderfuck drag, such as the Sisters practice, which overturns and subverts gender conventions and extending it to ‘religionfuck’, overturning conventions of religious embodiment and authority. Both queer sacrilege and queer sacralization go hand-in-hand in the Sisters.

~ review by Samuel Wagar

Author: Melissa M. Wilcox
New York University Press, 2018
231 pg. Paperback £24 / $40 Can / $31 US