The Order of Perpetual Indulgence is an international Order and many of the Houses throughout the world have their own modes of dress, manners, traditions, customs, and level of community involvement. The Sydney House of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence is the second oldest House in the Universe, and was founded in 1981 by members returning from the Mother House in San Francisco.
Sisters and Brothers, despite their ecclesiastical garb, do get to enjoy themselves and, depending on the occasion, can dress in the most glamorous of habits, all the while taking our mission to expiate stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy as a most serious trust.
Active throughout the year providing blessings, opening events, and assisting in community activities, the Sydney House nevertheless has a number of more or less fixed activities. These have included the annual Blessing of the Fleet, the blessing of the Dykes on Bikes motorcycles, and participation in the Leather Pride events. Around Mardi Gras these annual events include a presence at Fair Day, an annual History Walk and Zoo Walk as part of the pre Mardi Gras festivities, culminating in our presence in the Parade itself, often accompanied by nuns and brothers from other Australian Houses and from overseas.
Though many people think we’re some loony religious group in some kind of ecclesiastical “drag” we are, in fact, cross dressing for a profound political purpose, reaffirming the right of every member of our diverse communities to own and affirm their spiritual authority without interference or domination by any religious institution. The taking back and revival of rituals and ceremonies appropriated by the church is part of the promulgation of universal joy, as is the expiation of the stigmatic guilt used by such institutions as a medium of control. We’re not in drag, we’re gay male nuns!!
The Order of Perpetual Indulgence - Sydney House - is always welcoming toward members of the gathered faithful and others who receive the call and would like to join the Order here in Sydney.
Contact should be made by means of the web address or by direct approach to one or another of the members of the House. Initial contact is only the first step in a process of assessment, by us of you, and by you of us. The assessment is aimed at finding out whether you have a vocation or not, and whether you are the kind of person who will be able to make an ongoing commitment to the Sydney House, its customs and manners, as well as to the world-wide Order of Perpetual Indulgence and the community at large. This will take some time and depends very much on your level of commitment and what you actually want to do. If you feel the call to wear the Habit you may elect to become a member of the House and the Order through a number of different kinds of involvement. As with any of the more traditional Orders of nuns and brothers, there is a period during which you will be mentored and coached, a period which may lead gradually to full profession.
Some people elect to be amongst our much valued “laity” - people who, whilst they do not feel motivated to wear the Habit, nevertheless give of their time and effort to help the Sisters and Brothers in their work. Assistance may take multitudinous forms, helping out with sewing, working with Sisters on World Aids Day, assisting with blessings, pouring drinks, driving ageing old nuns about – virtually anything. The level of commitment is less than that required of the Sisters, Brothers and those moving towards profession. Often ad hoc, the role of helper nevertheless provides an insight into the work of the House and the Order, and may be a satisfying way to enjoy the glamorous presence of the Sisters and Brothers whilst enjoying some hot gossip and fabulous opportunities to meet new friends.
All who ultimately wish to become a Sister or a Brother in the House begin as an aspirant. This is a preliminary feeling out period before taking the step to become a Postulant. The purpose of initial contacts is to set up opportunities for us to get to know you, meet you and talk with you. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know us, how we operate and look at what is expected of you. Obviously we’ll want to hear what attracts you to the Order, and to make an assessment about how best to help you become comfortable with the various things we do in the public arena.
There are as yet no Guards in the Sydney House. The rôle has not been created, nor has any aspirant yet desired to take it up. There are no guidelines established for it in Australia as yet, though the position of Guard is common in European Houses and in some places in the United States. Adelaide is once again at the forefront being the first House to have a Guard join the Order in Australia.
This is a stage that many members go through as they come to grips with the philosophy and practice of being a member of the Order. A “trying out” period during which you can assess your readiness to become a Novice and commit to the process of transformation into a nun or brother.
A Novice is a Sister or Brother in training. Sort of like riding with training wheels, it is a period when you will get to wear the full habit with a white veil or hood. Currently in the Sydney House only men are Sisters and only women may become Brothers [though, in general, women in the Order in Australia ultimately become Cardinals]. This is the point of cross dressing in the first place.
With the assistance of other members of the House, the Novice is expected to make their own habit at a festive occasion known as “Habit Forming”. The first habit will generally be an all black habit with a white veil or, in the case of novice Brothers, a version of a friar’s clerical garb with a black hood or cap. The Sydney House, taking its cue from the Adelaide House, has adopted an optional second all white formal summer habit as well, and many of the Sisters who regularly manifest during summer have resorted to this more comfortable attire rather than swelter in Sydney’s heat and humidity in the all black habit.
It is not usual for Sisters or Brothers in Australia to use “whiteface” as is commonly done in Europe and the United States.
Novices usually take a special name in the Order, often risqué, ribald or an appalling pun, but which they may, from time to time, change to reflect their growing awareness and burgeoning life in the Order.
Novitiates [the state of being a Novice] vary in duration, sometimes relatively short, occasionally of very long duration – depending very much on the particular circumstances of the individual Novice. Much depends on the number of opportunities for manifestation, the commitment to regular involvement with the business of running the affairs of the House through attendance at monthly “nuncheons” as well as doing all the other things the Sisters and Brothers are called upon to do. Individual Houses around Australia vary in their requirements for the Novitiate, and much depends upon the level of involvement demonstrated by the Novice.
Ultimately, and with the approval of the professed members of the House, the Novice is advanced to fully professed Sister or Brother. Again, the various Houses around Australia have distinctive traditions about this, but in general the Novice will be required to decide upon a time, day and place for the profession to occur.
This will, of necessity, be a public occasion when the House is manifesting at some organised event, or a public occasion specially designed for the purpose of professing one or more Sisters or Brothers.
It is usual in the Sydney House for the Novice to make vows and then to be given the black veil or hood of a fully professed Sister or Brother. This will usually be accompanied by much festivity and feasting – organised by the Novice, but with support and assistance from the House and other Sisters and Brothers.
For those who have shown extraordinary valour, or have in some unique way distinguished themselves within the GLBTQI community, or have contributed much of their time to the ongoing struggle to end homophobia and achieve full equality for all of us, there is a special form of recognition offered by the Order of Perpetual Indulgence. Such people have frequently been given the title of “Saint”. Several people are currently Saints in Sydney and Melbourne in recognition for their outstanding contributions in many of the areas mentioned above.