Easter Sunday brought more than just new underwear and a giant chocolate bunny for me this year. This Easter I got 200 giant Nuns in exquisitely adorned costumes and spectacular Kabuki-style face paint, their crimson lips grinning wildly with irreverence and good will. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of mindful, cross-dressing men who don nun’s habits and celebrate Easter in Dolores Park each year, are one of San Francisco’s most cherished, and certainly most colorful, institutions. The Sisters, who raised more than $150,000 for charity organizations last year alone, celebrated their 30th anniversary this Easter Sunday and reaffirmed their mission statement: “To promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and serve the community.”
The motley participants ranged from stunning trannies drenched in pleather and pink polyester to babies in bunny suits and little girls in matching sundresses. Some were balancing handmade flower bonnets the size of VW Bugs on their heads in preparation for the Easter-Bonnet Contest, and others were drinking sparkling rosé and eating strawberries while basking in the sun and absorbing the spectacle. Set to the live music of GLBT divas such as Beach Blanket Babylon, Suppositori Spelling, and a man-tastic Ethel Merman impersonator, the celebration culminated in the annual Hunky Jesus contest. While I admit to always having thought Jesus to be slightly sexy, “Brokeback Jesus”, complete with stigmata and ass-less chaps, took the cake, although I have a feeling that I wasn’t really his type.
Throughout the entire day, I couldn’t help but feel a blissful wave of acceptance, immense love and a profound sense of community. At an event in which men in bedazzled spring gowns frolicked with white-picket-fence families of four, I felt more in touch than ever with the REAL meaning of Easter; with love that knows no boundaries; love that supercedes gender, race, and even death. It’s all about tolerance, forgiveness, redemption, and, evidently, a love for Aquanet. Who knew?
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There’s no doubt that The Sisters have created their fair share of controversy since their inception in 1979. (When Pope John Paul II visited SF in 1987, he declared The Sisters “papal heretics” following their canonization of the late Harvey Milk). Yet they continue to wield their influence to raise money and awareness for social causes around the world. The Sisters have triumphed over great resistance throughout their 30 years, and they still aren’t afraid to use humor to navigate the tough issues that others won’t touch. In 1982, they spearheaded (no pun intended) the Play-Fair Initiative in San Francisco, and distributed the first ever safer-sex pamphlet adopting sex-positive language.
Cheeky and unapologetically decadent, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have created a unique Easter tradition celebrating their own version of the redemption story. And as the closing “Rebirth Processional Parade” took to the streets, and people whooped and hollered from balconies and hillsides, I was certain that I had never experienced such an honest and joyful celebration of Easter in my life. Amen.
(If you missed the Easter Celebration, be sure to catch The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at The Yerba Buena Center For the Arts on April 29th!)
Rachel Znerold is an artist and independent fashion designer living the good life in San Francisco, CA. www.rachelzart.com