Material Sacramentality | The Nun and the Priest

When Petra Carlsson was questioned by Josef Gustafsson on the Freestyle Christianity podcast about the role of the priest (in the eucharist), she responded that more than an authority figure, she is a relic of what was once a powerhouse of influence; the church. But today the priest, in the eucharist (perhaps always) is a simulacrum, a representation, dressed up in funny clothes, but which actually holds little sway over people’s lives.

In a somewhat similar fashion, we can approach The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Originally a Bay-area movement, the sisters now have chapters all over the US, and beyond its borders. Although consisting of various people of LGBTQ affiliation, the sisters were founded by, and still is a predominantly male gay sisterhood. Dressed in all or some of the attire of catholic nuns, they too are simulacra. Religious Studies scholar Melissa Wilcox, predominantly working on gender and sexuality related research questions, speak of the sisters as a post-secular type of religious organisation. To some degree, to talk of post-secular religion, as Wilcox does, seems to be a misnomer, as it suggests that religion was at some point secular. Leaving that discussion aside however, it is clear that the sisterhood engage in various forms of (dis-)organized spiritual practices mixed with social work. Taking (partly) the attire of nuns, shows a continuum of sorts with the type of social work that nuns historically have been administering.

At the same time, sisters Irma Geddon and Poly Amorous of the Portland house and their fellow indulgers, can be viewed in a different light. It is not only the sisters who dress up in symbolic attire, so does Petra Carlsson (who is a minster in the Church of Sweden). The similarity to a large degree, I would argue can be found in offering something in terms of continuing a legacy, but without the stronghold of old. Differently put, what Petra, Irma and Poly all share, is that they dress up in the attire of people who we can discard.

Although I’m sure some would construe the sisters choice of clothing a provocation, I would suggest another reading. In the words of Ru Paul: ”You’re born naked, the rest is drag”. In other words, there are no innocent clothes, but they communicate and construct meaning in and around ourselves.

When the sister sides with the nuns, they are situated in a societal context where those who listen does not do so out of compulsion. Those who listen to the sisters do so out of benevolence. 2015, no one needs to listen to a nun, she has no authority. And as such it seems only appropriate that the sisters of perpetual indulgence appropriate the symbolism of an Other, that also holds little sway over their fellow human beings.

In addition, we may also revisit our notions of abstinence along the same lines. Those who think that perpetual indulgence comes at no cost should consider the options readily available to men who dress in (what is generally perceived as) male clothing. The choice to enter the sisterhood thus comes at a price, one where abstinence is practiced through the drastic reduction that occurs as one withdraws from society. Or perhaps rather, when society withdraws from oneself.


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