One of the first things you'll notice about the Sisters is our clown-like appearance. While there are many stories of how it all got started, we won't bore you with the details and will say that whatever it's original use, the whiteface makeup and nun's habits (more or less) have become iconic and hallmarks of the Sisters, worldwide (with a few notable exceptions).
There are several reasons we use the whiteface and here are the few that resonate with our members:
Anonymity (For Safety's Sake) - In a time when men and women can be fired from a job, kicked out of school, or lose their housing due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression, our members utilize the whiteface to protect their identities in an attempt to mitigate any "hazards" of doing the work we do.
Anonymity (For Altruistic Reasons) - If one of our members does something exceptionally good, they can't be easily singled out for recognition. This is also true for those actions which others may not think are good. Our whiteface keeps us unified, even if only in appearance and much like the Three Musketeers, it's "all for one and one for all." Some of our members take great lengths to compartmentalize their secular life (when not wearing makeup and habit) from their Sister life and do not want to be recognized for their charitable contributions.
Empowerment - Some of our members feel that the whiteface is a form of "war paint" and that much like warriors of various backgrounds and traditions, the makeup empowers, emboldens, and even protects them while others feel that it is a uniform. All of our members feel a transformative effect of manifesting (applying the makeup, habit, and accessories) that can change one's headspace. Often times we do not feel lazy, ill, or simply do not want to manifest, but once the makeup begins, the energy changes and our calling is reinforced.
A Tool - Let's face it, most people wouldn't know who The Sisters were if they hadn't had their curiosity piqued by the weird clowns. And that is precisely the point; we use it as a tool to grab the public's attention, to make them curious, and to initiate conversation. Our outrageous appearance is our calling card, one that is usually too enticing to ignore.
Fun - There is no other way to put it... it's fun.
We are outrageous, ridiculous, fabulous, sometimes obscene, but always entertaining.
Another distinctive feature of Sisters worldwide, is our coronets or headpieces. Every city's Sisters choose a unique design for their coronet, often based on an architectural or geographic landmark of that city or region. The Los Angeles Sisters take inspiration from the Hollywood Bowl, The Phoenix Sisters borrow from the mountains on the desert horizon; there are some that are very literal and others... not so much, but all are unique and speak to the communities they serve.
When we started, we followed the tradition and settled on Liberty Bridge, straddling the Reedy River, as the most iconic landmark in the region. We took our idea to a hat maker and much to our chagrin, were told our design would be cost prohibitive and time-consuming to create. Being poor nuns, we decided to improvise and utilizing a hot glue gun, upholstery foam and lots of coffee, we "accidentally" stumbled upon our design.
The upright design is reminiscent of the support towers of Liberty Bridge, but also a bit Middle Ages princess. Some members have said it looks like lipstick when viewed from the side. Whatever they were, they were cost-effective, easy to wear, easy to launder, and completely unlike any Sisters's anywhere else, so... they were ours. We slapped our white satin veils on them and away we went.
And immediately we were confronted by a reality none of us had realized. Wrapped in white satin, and especially when viewed from behind or in a crowd, our new coronets looked alarmingly like the robes of the Ku Klux Klan. So much so, in fact, that we were confronted by angry members of the community who were equally angry and confused by the juxtaposition of glittery beards, false eyelashes, rhinestones and porcelain faces, wearing headgear eerily similar to those of the most notorious hate group in America.
It was a learning experience for us and provided us an unexpected opportunity for clarification, education and ministry. We quickly realized that we were co-opting and re-appropriating an iconic look from a group whose mission was diametrically opposed to our own.
We embraced the fact and it became part of our ministry.