It’s Official. After a 25-year hiatus the most famous drag nuns in history have returned to Canada. With the recent unanimous endorsement of their North American Sisters, Vancouver’s homegrown Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe now becomes the newest official Mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Founded over thirty years ago by gay activists in San Francisco, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI) re-invent the image of the nun — going beyond the convent walls and the constraints of gender and adding a distinctly queer mix of ministry and activism that embraces those most in need of compassion, sex positive education, spiritual awakening and a good laugh! Hundreds of Sisters are now active in over 40 houses on every continent and members include not only gay men but folks of every orientation and gender. The one constant is the vow every Sister takes to raise joy and rid the world of guilt and shame.
“Most Canadians don’t realize that the second SPI House founded after San Francisco was in Toronto and that the Sisters played a pivotal role galvanizing the response to the famous 1981 Bathhouse Raids that ignited the gay rights movement in this country,” says Sister Merry Peter, a nun for twenty years now living in San Francisco who led missionary efforts in Toronto throughout the 1990s. “But their unique blend of drag, activism and spirituality was ahead of its time and faded from memory as organizations like Act Up, the Metropolitan Community Church and others became more prominent,” continues Sr. Merry Peter. “Missionaries continued to work in Canada,” she states, “but without a strong convent in a prominent city, most Canadians thought the Sisters were an import from the US.”
“The Sisters have a unique role to play in Canada,” states Novice Sister Merry Q. Contrary, the Reverend Mother of the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe. “Even with all the legal rights for gays and lesbians, Canada is still rather straight. With our wimples, whiteface makeup and facial hair, we’re doing our best to make Vancouver more queer, to embrace the beauty of a being a freak, and to make it alright to be different.”
Vancouver is about to see a whole lot more of the Sisters. Next steps for the Vancouver Mission are to work toward becoming a fully professed house, a process that involves registering with Revenue Canada as a religious charitable organization and hosting six major events, among other requirements. In the meantime, these local queer nuns are busy producing their next fundraiser called Tenting for Homelessness in November and a very special project with a hot, local artist (details to come).