top of page
Search
  • pillagedbooty

Founding of the First Florida Order

Updated: Jan 5

By Steven Reigns (aka Sister Fister)


(From RFD issue 168 Winter 2016. Reprinted with permission and name edits)


Florida is where people from all over the world go to vacation, residents of Florida have a relaxed demeanor, as if they were on vacation. I moved here when I was eighteen, essentially running away from home. I had a great life in Tampa with a circle of creative friends and lived in a small community on the Hillsborough River with very liberal gay neighbors.


Florida has always been a mix of southern culture, nomadics, new age, and eccentrics. It was those still clinging onto their southern heritage who would drive trucks ornamented with a confederate flag and gun rack. These are the same people who would use articles to describe race, "the blacks" or "the Hispanics.” There were so many egregious things going on politically at that time.


I was always on the dance floor, at an after-hours, going to house parties. It felt as if I knew about everyone. At one point I even worked the door at a club. The gay party scene was alive and well, thriving even. The activist scene was another story. It seemed like there were only a handful of gay political players. I felt as if my phone book was filled with party people and just a couple of the politicos. I was becoming extremely disheartened at what I was seeing around me, how queers were being discriminated against. There were so many inequalities. I spent my days doing HIV testing in the inner city and at predominantly gay black clubs. There were rapidly rising rates of new HIV infections and I was becoming more disheartened. I thought of starting an ACT UP. Wondering whom I might recruit, and thought, "No one I know is angry enough" Then I remembered the Wig Drive and thought, "But I bet I could get them in dresses."


I first heard about the Wig Drive in an article in Time or Newsweek. It was about a group of drag queens dressed as nuns who started a wig collection. I remember a quote, "What do drag queens and cancer patients have in common? Wigs." That story stuck with me for years. It epitomized what I love about my LGBTQ community. We're creative, clever, resourceful, loving, giving, and do things with style. I would retell that story to people numerous times over the years. That memory sparked my idea to start an order in Tampa Bay. I reached out to the SF Order and was connected with Sister Penny who was gracious in guiding me through the process of forming a new SPI Order. I would have been clueless without her.


I started calling friends and telling them my idea. The first call was to my best friend George, he was supportive, "I know them because of Maupin's Tales of the City series. Nuns on skates. Good on you.” I clarified, "I don't think you understand. You're going to be one". George was usually up for an adventure but protested this one, "I am a Queer with a capital Q. I sewed my own curtains and I play the flute for the love of crackers. But I'm not wearing a dress. I do things for the community. I did the AIDS Walk two years ago." I pressed, "And that is all you feel like you can give?"


Two days later over beers, he pulled a list out of his pocket of potential Sister names for himself and settled on one. Jacqueline EatsAsses. The runner-up was Connie Hung, in George's case, this wasn't false advertising. Jessica came from a theater background and was getting her prerequisites to become a Veterinarian. She jumped on board right away, going by Sister Rubber Nun. From my notes at that time, I sent out over fifty emails to people I knew to recruit. I created a four-page handout to educate interested parties about the sisters and what I had in mind for a Tampa Bay Order. Jason, a tall handsome accountant I didn't know well joined for only the first manifestation, becoming Sister Anita Ham. Paul, the most post-punk rock person I knew immediately understood what I proposed and became Sister Lucrecia My Reflection. His ex-boyfriend and roommate Daniel, a redhead who's carpet matched the drapes, signed up and became Agatha Frisky. Michael was studying pre med and loved the idea so much that his rare breaks from studying were to attend our meetings and manifestations. He was Sister Ann VonDetta.


This is how I became the founder and abbess of the first Order in Florida. I had people inspired and excited. One problem for me was that I had never worn a dress before. Not even for Halloween or as a child raiding my mother's closet. This was not out of my comfort zone but definitely out of my wheelhouse.


There were several meetings, prepping and planning for our debut at Pride and I still hadn't come up with a name. Some friends I asked to be a part of the Order had names ready for themselves but never followed through with showing up to meetings or manifesting. I was the opposite. For months I didn't have a name or persona, until I came home one Sunday afternoon and hit the play button on my answering machine. My good friend David, author of The Lavender Scare, and his then boyfriend photographer Todd left a loud windy message, clearly left while driving Todd's Miata convertible. He excitedly explained, while David laughed in the background, "We've got your name for you. We've got it. Sister Fister" I liked it, laughed, and it became my name.


Our first manifestation was at St. Petersburg Pride in June 2004. We roller-skated behind

Dykes on Bikes and distributed over 1,400 condoms. Our fliers had alternate sayings; "Barebacking? Kick the habit," and "Barebacking? Your habit is killing me."


Sr. Penny gave the best advice and we followed it, "You want to be an army" She explained that just one or two nuns at an event doesn't make as much of an impact as a big group. Every event we did we had a group consensus and we coordinated our busy calendars. At the Tampa International LGBT Film Festival we handed out voter registration cards and encouraged people to abstain from having sex with Republicans. Our fliers had slogans like "Take a stand, don't lie down" and "Sexually Boycott Republicans." We had pom-poms and did cheers for the crowd. Next, we went to the Kerry campaign office to encourage all the volunteers and remind them that their hard work was appreciated. We then went to numerous St. Petersburg bars where we handed out more flyers, condoms, and Kerry campaign stickers. About 700 condoms were distributed.


Damon was a graphic designer who donated his services for at least four years and helped us brand ourselves in a city that had mixed feelings about who we were. Sure there were those that stopped us to take photos but there were also the times we were called "freaks" by those in our own community. At one meeting, we even discussed how half of us were like superheroes with secret identities until the 4th or 5th date with a new suitor. Drag was embraced if you were on stage, offstage was another story. Being a drag nun seemed to be worse than a drag queen off stage.


Given our busy schedules, our only mutual meeting time was 9:45pm on Wednesday evenings.

We'd meet at Jacqueline EatsAsses' house where I had typed agendas and ran a very tight meeting. It was fun to be with friends but these meetings were about business and any deviation from the topic would prolong the night and create a great lack of sleep for those in the room who had to get up early the next day. Meetings usually ended around midnight.


Tom Dyer, the publisher of Watermark Magazine gave us great coverage, Brian Feist of The Gazette would print photos of our events. We were becoming a force except one topeline prettying up in our discussions, we weren't feeling pretty.


Sister Rubbernun was the best with makeup given her theater background. The only tutorial received about putting on whiteface was from Sr Penny over the phone. It was trial and error and the early photos of those times show our earnestness. I hasten to say we were ugly when I look back at those early photos because what I see beaming through is our seriousness at wanting better things for our community. We weren't happy with the fast rising HIV rates, the political environment, and we weren't pleased at how horrible some were to our own community members. We were young and bright and fun and funny and deeply loved our community. We were working hard to make a difference and there isn't anything prettier than those qualities. called up Dauphine Ferrero, in a town of pageant queens, she stood out. She had such a glamour look in the evening but lived as a boy during the day—a super cute boy at that. She also had an old-school sense of humor that was beyond her young age. Dauphine came to one of our late night meetings to demonstrate how to put on makeup. We sat enraptured as she showed us how to keep eyebrows down with a glue stick, use playing cards for shading, exaggerate eyes, and helped navigate a hot debate of pencil vs. liguid eyeliner. After her lesson, our looks went to the next level. Jacqueline EatsAsses' neighbor heard about us and became our first guard. In February of 2005, Sister Erotica, from the LA Order, sent me a copy of the DVD Dragnuns in Tinsel Town. We watched it as a group, for 95% of the Order it was the first time they were seeing other sisters in action. We really were quite isolated. Our first domain name was FLSisters.org. It was not Tampa Bay specific. Little did I know that the Order I created would be the motivator for an Orlando order after they saw us at Pride. I've been told there are Orders, or attempted Orders, in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, Tallahassee, and Ft. Lauderdale.


After several manifestations, there seemed to be a new crop of nuns ready to be of service. Sister Mary Widow became my first daughter. Erik was a nurse by day, seamstress at night but also was butch enough to do his own car repairs to his vintage VW bus. Mary Widow, at age twenty two, was the youngest of the group. Damon, the graphic designer, became Sister Jara Crisco and joined the order. Then there was Bud who had shockingly white hair that looked as if Einstein had put his finger in an electrical socket. He became Sister Budda Liscious.


Each time we manifested it was for a specific cause or message. We weren't interested in ornamenting a bar, we wanted to humor, educate, inspire, and enlighten. We saw ourselves as nuns for the LGBTO community.


The club Z109 was commonly referred to as the "tranny chaser" bar. There were gay men there but mostly it was this wonderful club of social outcasts and misfits. It was not uncommon to see someone in a full beard wearing a sparkly dress, tights, and high heels. This wasn't genderfuck. This was this person's best compromise of hiding his work life and dressing the way she felt in the evening. Those in bigger cities might not understand it, those living in a smaller city like Tampa, fully understood the delicate balance to stay employed, alive, and healthy.


Given that the wig drive held a place in my heart and head, I called Sister Penny to see what she thought about our starting one in Florida. She was elated to hear my good memory of it. She was involved in one of the first wig drives. We held our Wig Drive at Z109 in February 2005. One of the Sisters wrapped a large three-sided box with wrapping paper, by the end of the night it was full. All of our friends and supporters were shopping earlier that weekend looking for realistic wigs. The clientele at Z109 brought in numerous of their own wigs. I recruited a hairdresser to volunteer his time that evening to do haircuts to donate to Locks of Love, a charity that accepts human hair to make into wigs for chemo patients. A requirement was the hair had to be ten inches or longer. So many long haired men and women entered the club that night, so many exited with short bobs or tight cuts. Sadly, a few years after that first Wig Drive, our very own Sister Budda Liscious succumbed to cancer, the very cause we were fighting against, and became the Tampa Bay Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's first Nuns of the Above.


After doing several bar gigs we started to think about the sober queer community and participated in Desmond Clarke's Gay Skate in April 2005. We helped promote one of the few non-alcoholic social gay gatherings in the Tampa Bay area. Desmond and his partner, Thaddeus Root, later donated server space for our website.


The Dish had been a helpful resource when I wanted to connect with other Sisters. When visiting Los Angeles in November of 2004, it was a thrill to meet Sister Rhonda and Sister Erotica. Both Sisters were amazing, welcoming, energizing and helpful.


In July, 2005 I moved to Los Angeles, where I became the LA Order's first transter nun. My mothers were Sister Dixie and Sister Erotica. The LA nuns; Candy, Unity, Rhoda, Jezebllle, Titts and Tragedy helped me step up my look and attire. Sister Erotica took me under her wing; outfitting me, going make-up shopping, and escorting me around LA. Sister Agatha Frisky took my place as abbess and has consistently remained in that position. Agatha helped continue the documentation process to help the Tampa Bay Order become officially part of SPI and a non-profit. Shortly after I left, the Order finally landed on an appropriate wimple; inspired by pirate hats. This was fitting for the city with the Buccaneer sports team. I was incredibly honored when my face became the Tampa Bay Order's new logo. The wimple is one that I never worn but the smile is unmistakably mine, from a photo taken at a Sister event where my happiness is evident. My joy in being a Sister, helping others, is captured in that logo.


I felt such a deep sense of mission. I wanted the LGBTO community (and others) to know that LGBTQ people have creativity/skills/energy/ideas/ money to contribute and that they are of worth. I saw the Tampa Order as builders of a table for our community, instead of waiting for a seat at someone else's table. The playfulness and positivity of the Sisters is exactly what that community needed and still needs.


I worked hard to form an Order in Florida; to combat the gross politics, apathy in the gay community, and unhealthy sexual choices. Hellish humidity and hurricanes hadn't stopped me or the Order. I found and organized a dedicated bunch who were willing to be Sisters. I'm grateful for the ones I worked with directly and all those that came after I left. I have so many memories of that time, so many people who helped out, and organizations who donated condoms for distribution. It was a different time in history. So much has changed since then but I look back at our efforts and feel strongly that we contributed in a big way to helping make the world we knew better.


7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Who Are the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (briefly)

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is not a religious order. We are an order of “queer” nuns, comprised of every type of sexual and gender identification. We are dedicated to community service, minis

History and Duties of the Guard

By Guard Ambrosio de Membro Sancto, Sister of the Mother House of Washington and SPI Motherhouse of Heidelberg, Germany, 2009-12-06, revised on 2016-12-07 As you may know, the Guard originated in Pari

Indulging The Sisters-1981

This was written by the San Francisco Examiner newspaper's religion writer (who is Catholic) after letters urged him to condemn the Sisters. This was his reply: October 12, 1981. By Kevin Starr. INDUL

bottom of page