Mother Inferior – Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
(Alter ego of Fabian LoSchiavo)
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence began in San Francisco in 1979 as a small group of gay men who protested against and drew attention to social problems (such as prejudice against gay people) by wearing nuns’ habits when protesting. In the 80s the order spread around the world and was enthusiastically taken up in Sydney, where the Sisters achieved significant media coverage through their humorous and highly entertaining presentations – which included singing satirical lyrics in Gregorian chant. Mother Inferior (his full title is The Most Wholly Irrelevant Mother Inferior) was an influential founding member of the order whose Sisterly contributions included sewing costumes, making props, writing songs and spiritedly playing her piano accordion in their performances.
What were you doing in the 1980s (your job/where you were living, etc)?
My job was as an archivist in government archives. I had completed my Diploma in Archives Admin in 1980 and started work in 1981.
What are your strongest impressions of the 1980s?
My strongest impression of the 1980s were of a time of big changes in my life, away from feeling vaguely guilty about being gay or apologetic at the least to a stance of being quite assertive and ‘out’. These were the years when I was on the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s Synod, and being radicalised by the homophobia I saw there, and the moving away from being a well-behaved discreet homosexual to a public homosexual.
There was AngGays, the Anglican gay group, and then the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the Gay Liberation Choir, and the Mardi Gras ….. all combining to push me away from invisibility.
Also the experience of being bashed up by homophobic thugs …. but matched to the extraordinary experience of being the focus of an ‘Encounters’ programme (like ‘Compass’ – ABC-TV religion dept) in 1985 .… And the focus if the ‘Monsignor Porcamadonna’ affair when Don Dunstan resigned after a book launch I attended ‘in persona’ – which was even reported in the European media.
Getting arrested for demonstrating against the visit of Pope John Paul II. Going to court and getting convicted. And the beginning of the Safe Sex teaching which the Sisters initiated in Sydney.
The 90s and after have been sleepy times indeed after all this 80s stuff!
Duration: 5 minutes
A longer video is available below.
What historical event of the 1980s has most resonance for you? Why?
Ordination of women in the Anglican Church and the first women bishops (it said so much about the Church moving towards inclusion and the future it would hold for the inclusion of gay people. And the decriminalisation and anti-discrimination legislation affecting gay people in 1985. The fall of the Iron Curtain. Lockerbie bombing and shooting down of KAL by Russians.
What was an event/party/pub session/nightclub of the 80s that stands out?
The rally against Jerry Falwell at Top Ryde in 1983.
Any memories (fond or foul) of what you were wearing in the 1980s?
Putting on the habit for the first time in public…that was THE clothing of the 80s for me!
What music/movies/TV engaged you in the 1980s and now?
E M Forster’s gay novel, ‘Maurice’, which he wouldn’t allow to be published until after his death. It was an early gay novel with a happy ending, and the film version was excellent!!! There was also a book, ‘The youngest director’, which was an 80s British book …. a coming out story with a HAPPY ending.
What were you listening to – and was it on a Walkman?
When not listening to myself singing in the parish choir, I was listening to gregorian chant and byzantine chant and bagpipes and country folk and ethnic. I was learning belly dance for three years in the 80s.
What did you do for entertainment/leisure then and now? (Did it include computer games or the Rubik’s Cube?)
I did a hell of a lot of sewing: banner, flags and habits.
What do you think are the main differences between the 80s and how the world and/or your life is today?
Now I don’t care to go out a lot…. I like to stay at home, sewing, reading, listening to music, watching TV. I will go to rallies and even go on my own to make a political statement…. like walking the whole length of Oxford Street and Elizabeth Street from Taylors Sq. to the Rocks at afternoon peak hour in my habit as Mother Inferior with a big sign ‘ANNOYING’ because the government was going to pass laws making it illegal to ‘annoy’ pilgrims to the World Youth Day…. that made me sooooo angry. I thought, ‘I can’t let THIS pass’. Otherwise I have a very quiet, anonymous, peaceful life now…. not like the 80s.
What was a prized object you owned then (and do you still have it)?
The pink triangle flag I was carrying when I was arrested at Sydney Uni for telling the Pope: ‘Anti woman, anti gay, fascist Pope go away’. It’s ripped, but the police gave it back to me in the court room.
In the following video, Mother Inferior and Fabian LoSchiavo reminisce the 1980s
(This is an extended version of the video above.)
Duration: 13 minutes 24 seconds
What event (personal or public) in the 1980s would you either revisit or undo if you could?
The first live safe sex demonstration at Ken’s Karate Klub at Kensington in 1985…. that was great fun for old Mother Inferior. Although the habit was hot inside the sauna, I felt very satisfied with my presentation and commentary (I don’t know about the two poor ‘performers’!!). I could revisit it with pleasure. I would like to undo some of the media coverage around the ‘Monsignor Porcamadonna’ affair, but I suppose even that had some good outcomes. It certainly put our poor parish on the map!! (whether they liked it or not). And it made sure the book ‘Being Different’ (an anthology of Australian gay men’s stories) was widely publicised and sold out its first edition!
My 1980s were a time of big change…. I think I had had enough of trying to convince the Diocese to be kinder to gays…. life was short enough, especially with people dropping dead from AIDS…. I would have liked to continue to irritate them (the homophobes in the churches) but.… well…. there is more to life!