Truly, (S)he Has Risen
In Collingwood Park, a harsh drizzle assaults a motley band of pious scalawags, who are assembled for the Stations of the Cross, an annual Easter celebration hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The ad hoc congregation folds dripping umbrellas and presses under the protective eaves of a gymnasium. Cigarettes and ribald laughter spring up in the darkness, then expire in the evening damp.
"Our Messiah is fashionably late," says Sister Kitty Catalyst, a charming drag queen with a beard, a floral Easter dress, and an "Eat Fuck Kill" button pinned neatly to her nun's habit. "We'll wait a bit longer, then elect a stand-in Jesus."
A box of wine emerges from the crowd and Dusty "Barbaras" Sombrero -- a garish "lass" in a platinum wig and a cowboy hat -- carries it from lip to lip. Someone passes out Marshmallow Peeps and saltwater taffy. DJ Toph1, purveyor of the rare grooves laid down at the "Funk Side" on Saturday nights, passes out valerian extract, convincing the Virgin Mother that it is all-natural.
A little wine and a little valerian, and everyone's feeling fine. Sister Kitty turns on the electric megaphone strapped to her waist.
"Quiet, children. We are about to take off," she announces. "Please bring your seats to an upright position. We are gathered here, on this hallowed and horny ground, to celebrate the 19th birthday of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence." Sister Dana Van Iquity, draped in crosses and a garland of speckled Easter eggs, lights the symbolic birthday cake -- a Marshmallow Peep skewered by a burning cigarette -- and passes it around. The Peep is smoked, and a surrogate Jesus is chosen.
Toph -- with his lean frame, short beard, and furry buckskin cowboy hat -- is the natural choice.
According to Castro tradition, the 14 Stations of the Cross -- Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus bears his cross, Jesus falls the first time, Jesus is nailed to the cross, and so on -- are arranged along the municipal crossroads of 18th Street and Castro. Undaunted by rain and armed with a sacred duty, the Sisters and their flock press forward through the heart of the Castro District, conferring Easter greetings upon one and all.
At the first station, an erotic video store called Le Salon, Jesus is "condomed" to death much to the amusement of passers-by, who are offered packages of Sheiks with nonoxynal 9 to hurl at the cowering Toph. A call-and-response prayer, which is to become the standard at every station, ensues: "We adore thee Christ." "Love ya. Mean it. Let's do brunch." "Hail Father." "Go Daddy!" "Hail Mary." "Go girl!" "A-men!" "A-women!" "Pick up your cross and follow us."
During the second stop, at Castro Station, the flock is fortified with beer, wine, and the addition of the glamorous Parisian Sister GiGi Fa' Q, the supersassy Sister Risque and her entourage of curly-haired nymphets, as well as a man in bunny ears, a square-jawed Roman soldier with gold armor, and a second Jesus visiting from Minneapolis. As Sister Kitty constructs a makeshift cross out of San Francisco Bay Guardians and wood, Sister Dana reflects.
"This is the one day of the year," she says in a voice edged with laughter, "when I, as a bride of Christ, can enjoy my husband's big resurrection."
At Daddy's, biblical history repeats itself and the group is turned away (because its members possess their own "spirits") but not before converts are gained.
"Watching drag queens is a perfect way to end my Easter Sunday," says Tim Davis, a 41-year-old member of the interdenominational church MCC Golden Gate who spent his morning at Grace Cathedral walking the labyrinth. "It has taken a very long time for people to accept a person can be gay and Christian, but the resurrection was for everyone. My spirituality and my sexuality go hand in hand."
At Station 5, the congregation crams into the French toilet on the corner of Castro and Market, and "Simon," aka Sexpot Tom, helps Jesus, taking his cross and replacing it with a bottle of wine. Jesus is pleased with the trade. On the way, members of the congregation approach a truck stopped in traffic. The driver, apparently an incognito Sister, whips out a bottle of nail polish and quickly paints a number of proffered nails.
Under the glowing marquee of the Castro Theater, the believers take communion: a piece of Hershey's chocolate and a slug of lip-curling sweet vermouth. Miz Jewelz, playing the part of Mary Magdalene, tenderly wipes our mouths, then it's on to Station 7, Moby Dicks, where Jesus falls for the second time; Dusty and Sister Risque do a pole dance; and Greg Leon, a handsome 27-year-old Jewish man, inquires as to our Roman soldier's sexual predilection. Infamous drag performer Musty Chiffon -- a Massachusetts native who looks ravishing in a wispy frock and rhinestones -- says that she feels less homesick for having seen the Sisters, and she is pleased that "he has risen again."
At Station 10, outside the adult bookstore Jaguar, Jesus is stripped of his garments, which brings a few of the faithful out of their drinking holes. He is pushed in a shopping cart to Skin Zone, the site of Harvey Milk's photo shop, which became the first campaign headquarters to actively recruit the gay vote.