An Interview with Sister Indica
Sister Indica (@sisterindica) is a Drag Nun, liberator, glamor-puss and Your Homegurl for Life©. She is also the supreme leader of @ElloDrag and runs the LGBTQ podcast JOY BOMB!.
Interviewer Mark Gelband (@markgelband) is Ello’s Chief Marketing Officer, an expert in container home construction, a long-time writer, and a local everywhere he goes.
Mark: Can you start by telling us the history of the Sisters? What exactly is a "Drag Nun"? Is there some process to become an official "Sister"?
Sister Indica: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence began as a lark - a fit of boredom - during Easter weekend in 1979 in San Francisco. A few guys were sitting around and had the itch to go out into the streets and make a scene. They just so happened to possess actual nun's habits (which is a story in itself) so they threw them on and make a scene they DID. The response from the community was so powerful and strong that they knew there was something there...the way that people responded and they eventually put a name to it, became a non-profit and the rest is SISTORY. Over these 37 years, the Sisters can be found all over the United States and the world! We're like gremlins - you throw some glitter and booze at us and we multiply!
To join the Sisters, there is a lengthy screening process and various stages of progression - much like the Catholic Church (minus the pedophilia). Each convent operates by their own rules so it does vary but we all have a process of some kind. It can take well over a year to take your vows and become a Sister. It's hard work - but nothing worthwhile is easy.
What is a drag nun? A drag nun is someone who embodies the glamor and camp of a drag queen while doing the work of a nun (service to the community, raising money for charity, etc). The great thing about being a drag nun (at least, as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence) is that ANYONE can do it. While most think of us as strictly gay men, we actually have people of all gender-identities and sexual orientations as part of our Order. Yes, EVEN YOU could become a Sister.
Mark: You've been doing JOY BOMB, your weekly podcast for years - 175 episodes now. Your moniker is Your Homegurl for Life©? What does that mean to you?
Sister Indica: Thank you SO much for bringing up my podcast and saving me the embarrassment of shamelessly plugging it! It truly is my pride and joy (no pun intended) and I cannot express how much it means to me - and how flattered I am that the audience has grown as it has over the last couple years. But know this: I'd do the show even if I was the only one who listened to it. I'm compelled to complain and overshare!
Do you remember those Jesus is My Homeboy tee shirts? They were so popular in the 90's and I always got a kick out of them. As I mentioned above, Sisters take vows and they are lifelong vows. Ever the marketing genius, I put my own creative spin on that and made my tagline Your Homegurl for Life™. If Jesus is your Homeboy, then Sister Indica is your homegurl - and not just for today, but for always because I took my vows seriously.
Mark: Tell us more about JOY BOMB - the importance of humor and humanity in sharing a world many might not understand or accept?
Sister Indica: I've always been the kind of person that made my own opportunities in life. There was a podcast I REALLY wanted to be a guest on and they totally snubbed me. Rather than let it get me down, I decided to start my OWN damn show because, frankly, I have a lot to say...about EVERYTHING. I'm very opinionated, I have no filter and I'm not afraid to put it all out there.
At this point, I'm so much more interested - and comfortable - "being" the media and giving a platform to others that may not get the spotlight as much. I love to have a good conversation and that's what my show is - when I have a guest on. I don't always have people on and when I'm alone, it usually shifts to a more confessional-style episode where I just overshare about my life, complain, talk shit, discuss my insecurities, you name it. I do so because we all struggle with things and if someone can hear me be open about it, they won't feel alone. That's a common theme in my life - it's why I'm a Sister...it's why I do my show. It's all about connecting with others and showing them they aren't the only one who feels a certain way or is dealing with a specific issue. Especially when you are as DROP-DEAD gorgeous as me, people can think "oh, she has it all!" NO I DON'T. I'm a mess - just like you.
I'm not concerned at all about whether or not who I am or what I do is accepted either. To be frank, I could give a fuck less what people think. Being a Sister really is kind of a "fuck you" to society and even though we are people with real lives and real jobs outside of our habits and makeup (and I, outside my show), it does take that attitude to slap on that warpaint and hit the town...or pick up a microphone and blab all your deepest and darkest secrets to the underworld. I HIGHLY recommend subscribing on iTunes before Trump strips us of all our rights and we can no longer speak our minds freely (I'm so fun at parties).
Mark: Two years ago for my wife's X-mas party we went as Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese (not my first time in a dress or fishnets). The artist who did our makeup said: "It takes a whole lot of paint to make a man what he ain't." Can you talk a little about the creative process, the art of transformation?
Sister Indica: It's worth noting that when the Sisters began, only ONE Sister wore makeup...the rest did not. It wasn't until years later that doing the whiteface makeup became our calling card. In fact, there are convents where makeup is NOT worn and is not the norm as it is here in the US. I don't think I would have been as called to becoming a Sister had the makeup NOT been part of it because I DO love the art of transformation. Especially with how I do my makeup.
I enjoy my life as a man and I like moving through the world 'unseen'. When I become Sister Indica, I'm able to do the work anonymously. I become otherworldly - beyond gender, beyond drag, beyond a nun… As someone very much into marketing and branding, I don't stray too far away from my "look" because when you see Sister Indica across the room, I want to be instantly recognizable. And when I take off all that paint, I want to fade into the background and do the mundane things in life we all do. Go to Starbucks. Do my grocery shopping. Walk my dog. I'm actually very much an introvert so not only does the makeup and habit transform my appearance, it also transforms my personality. I allow other parts of me to come to the surface that might otherwise stay locked away. I'm sure you had a similar experience when you were all dolled up!
As far as the process itself goes, it takes me about two hours to paint this mug and get all dressed up. I actually have videos showing the process on my website. I'm such a giver!
Mark: What is the most important issue for you in today's political climate?
Sister Indica: Um, staying alive. I mean...fuck! Shit's about to get REAL so hang on and pray we all get through in one piece.
Mark: Ello got a bunch of attention early on in relationship to Facebook's controversial "real name" policy. When you think about a term like "real name" and how it impacts your community, what do you feel?
Sister Indica: I think we all know why Facebook has that policy - and it's to make money via advertising and data selling. As a wise friend once told me: "If you are not paying for a product, YOU are the product." (Ello, of course, being an exception to that rule). I appreciate the work the Sisters, drag queens and activists put in with Facebook, trying to resolve the issue - which I'll note has NOT been resolved, it was all lip-service as I suspected, but whatever. It's a great platform but it's not the end-all-be-all for me (I've always been more of a Twitter gurl). But everyone isn't me. And I think it's really shitty for them to focus on punishing identify rather than behavior. But it's their site and if they want to run it like a bunch of assholes, that's their right. Personally, I'd rather people abandoned it like a sinking ship.
I don't need Facebook or anyone else to tell me the name I perform community service under is "real" (and I'm sure every other Sister or drag queen or anyone else using a name not given at birth to communicate with the world that Facebook punished would say the exact same thing). The impact I make as a Sister, as an entertainer, is REAL. They do not validate me. They probably don't even validate parking, the bastards.
Mark: While data privacy & personal privacy are cornerstones of our value differentiation, Ello is first and foremost a community for creators. What is it about a creative community that you find appealing?
Sister Indica: Most social networking sites are full of fake news articles, stupid selfies, pleas for sympathy and bad Minion memes. A space that is more focused on creators means higher-quality content and networking in general. I am also the Grand High Bitch of @ellodrag and I LOVE sharing great drag-related images and videos to the thousands of people (and growing) who follow it.
All images by photographer Sarah Biggart.
You can follow Sister Indica on Ello, Twitter, iTunes and YouTube.