One of the best-known personalities in the international gay fetish world is also one of the most recognisable Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SOPI), the incredible ‘Sister Roma’. Together with her fellow SOPI, Sister Roma has selflessly raised massive sums for gay charities. The classy first lady of gay sleaze spoke exclusively to Paul Stag for Alphatribe in the second part of our tribute to the SOPI which celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.
How long have you been a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence?
2019 marks 32 years that I’ve been Sister Roma! It’s feels like it’s gone so fast, but at the same time, I’ve dedicated more than half my life to community service, activism, and fundraising. Time flies when you’re having fun.
What is the process for someone wishing to become an SOPI?
I always say that Sisters are born, not made. If someone feels the calling, the best way to get involved is to find the chapter nearest you and reach out to their Mistress of Novices (MON). They will help you begin the process which can take up to two years to complete.
What is the basic purpose of the SOPI?
The Sisters started on Easter weekend 1979 in San Francisco when a bunch of guys threw on old nun’s habits and went out to fuck with people. That was it. But the reaction they got was so incredible they realised they were onto something. A few of their friends joined them and they came up with the name: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or SOPI. They also defined our vows which are ‘to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt’.
Soon after the SOPI were formed, HIV/AIDS hit our community and the Sisters found their purpose. They were the first group to produce a safer sex pamphlet. It was called ‘Play Fair’ and we continue to update and distribute it free of charge to this day. They were also the first group ever to hold a fundraiser for people with HIV/AIDS, and we have remained at the forefront of the war against the disease ever since.
Tell us how you have developed your look and style over the years.
When I first met the Sisters, I had never done drag in my life. I started to volunteer as a boy and was soon indoctrinated into the group and encouraged to join. My dearest friend and sponsor, Sister Luscious Lashes (RIP), put me in front of a mirror and said, “Just paint whatever comes to mind.” Well I had a background in graphic design, so my first face was very geometric and looked like war paint (fitting for where our community was in 1987). I thought I was the most amazing and gorgeous thing alive!
Looking back on it now, I see how it was rough. But I can also see how it’s progressed over the years. I’ve softened it up a bit and made it more glamorous. And I still think I’m the most gorgeous thing alive!
As the ‘Most Photographed Nun in the World’ what have been your high points?
People laugh when I say that I am the Most Photographed Nun in the World™ – and they should because it’s funny. Of course, I made it up. But it’s a self-fulling prophecy that came true! (Google it if you don’t believe!)
The whole thing started after one extremely hot and gruelling day at the Folsom Street Fair. I was the emcee on the main stage with Heklina (a San Francisco legend) – a job I did for 15 years. That day, my duties were over and I was trying to leave the Fair, but people kept stopping me and asking for photos. It was about 90 degrees. I was sweaty, my feet hurt, and all I wanted to do was get out of there.
I finally made it to my friend Jay’s place and immediately began complaining: “If one more person asks me for a photo I’m going to scream. Ugh! It’s so annoying.” Jay looked at me and said, “You better enjoy it because one day, no one will.” I was gobsmacked. I was ashamed. I sounded like an ungrateful cunt. And I was. From that day forward I vowed to never refuse a photo – and I never do. So, after 32 years, I may very well be the most photographed nun in the world!
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you whilst in the service of the SOPI?
I was honoured to be voted San Francisco Community Grand Marshal in the 2012 Pride Parade. When you are Grand Marshal, they make you feel like a QUEEN for the entire week. It was press conferences, galas, receptions, dinners… and the day of the parade I had about 25 of my hottest male friends (porn stars many of you know, and others) carrying my photos on giant sticks and marching with me.
They provide you with a car that has a huge magnetic sign attached which read “SISTER ROMA COMMUNITY GRAND MARSHAL”. The crowd was cheering, and it was all about me. They gave me the magnetic sign, which I dropped off at home after the parade before going back out to party.
When I finally got back (much later that night!) I walked into my apartment to find that sign, emblazoned with my name, on the floor of my apartment with a GIANT puddle of cat puke in the middle. I laughed my ass off! Once again it was the universe (and my cat Patrick) reminding me to stay humble. It was purrrfect.
You are tremendous friends with some of the world’s most famous drag queens – feel free to name drop!
Just so you and your readers know, some of the most successful RuGirls (queens who have appeared on Drag Race) are also some of the humblest. They are authentic, hardworking, and amazing human beings. Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Trixie Mattel, Shangela, to name just a few. Famous queens like Heklina, Peaches Christ, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat, and my BFF Chi Chi LaRue are all hateful sows. And I love them so, so much. Honestly, I’ve never met a drag queen I didn’t like.
What do you think are your biggest achievement in your time as a Sister?
I came to San Francisco straight out of college in 1985. I was living the life of a gay kid in a gay candy store. I had grown up white, privileged, and was very self-absorbed. Prior to meeting the Sisters, I had never done anything spiritual or civic minded. So, the minute I joined the Order in 1987 it was like my head (and heart) exploded.
I realised that I care about other people, my community, human rights, and I was ready to fight for them. One of the first projects I created in the early 90s (which still exists to this day) was ‘Stop the Violence.’ It was a window placard and whistle distribution campaign designed to raise awareness of hate crimes against the queer community.
I’ve also remained vigilant in the fight against HIV/AIDS, lending my time and energy to countless fundraiser and ad campaigns for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other important organisations. In 2014, I gained international attention as the creator of the #MyNameIs which protested against Facebook’s ‘real’ name policy.
Over the decades I’ve also been privileged to visit colleges and universities to speak about LGBT rights, HIV/AIDS, and the politics of drag. I’ve supported everything from feeding the homeless to Black Lives Matter, from gun control to LGBT asylum… To be honest, I can’t remember every cause, organisation, or marginalised group that I’ve supported, but it has been my sincere privilege and honour to do so. It has always been my deepest desire to make the Sisters that came before me proud and to set an example for the Sisters to follow. Cheers to 40 more years! •