In a city where the police chief shows up for a party honoring hookers, where a giant ice sculpture of a gonorrhea germ is displayed in a public park and where a man awaiting a sex-change operation is allowed to use a public ladies room, people are not easy to shock. San Franciscans have seen it all. And now there’s Sister Boom Boom, the perfect embodiment of their jaded town. The star of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a drag theater group), Sister Boom Boom strolls through the streets, his black nun’s habit billowing in the breeze. In 1982, Boom Boom ran as “Nun of the above” for the city’s Board of Supervisors, finishing ninth among 24 candidates. The following year Mayor Dianne Feinstein passed the Sister Boom Boom Ordinance preventing a candidate from running for city office under an assumed name.
But even San Franciscans were surprised recently when the 30-year-old drag queen announced that he’s getting married. This doesn’t mean he plans to give up his yen for men. Nor does his bride-to-be care. Says Boom Boom’s fiancée, Mystie Grey, a 32-year-old self-proclaimed psychodramatist, “He loves all of my boyfriends and I love all of his.”
Boom Boom and Mystie have yet to set a wedding date. “We can’t get married until Jupiter’s in Pisces, and that won’t be until sometime in 1986,” says Boom Boom solemnly. Meanwhile the happy couple is already bickering over who gets to wear the wedding gown. “I want to be the bride. You got to be it last time,” Boom Boom complains to Grey, a divorcée. Whether congratulations or condolences are in order is a matter of dispute. Boom Boom’s mother, Ann Englar, a civil rights and peace activist, regards the marriage as an unmixed blessing. “I hope they have a wonderfully funny life together,” she says. When Grey’s mother found out about the engagement, she reportedly said, “Not again,” while her father, a landscape architect, muttered, “Fabulous. I’ve got a nun for a son-in-law.”
Take away Sister Boom Boom’s black-and-white mini-habit, black gloves, black fishnet stockings and black veil, and you have her creator and alter ego, Jack Fertig. Fertig joined the 10-member Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 1980. The troupe, which is dedicated to “the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt,” is a kind of theater of gay and feminist rights. The Sisters drew some notice during last year’s Democratic National Convention by staging an “exorcism” of Moral Majority “demons” they claimed had invaded their city. During the ritual performed in Union Square the Sisters mocked Phyllis Schlafly and Jerry Falwell.
Fertig’s childhood in Washington, D.C. prepared him well for an unconventional life. As a baby he went to civil rights demonstrations with his mother and his father, then a social worker. At 15 he told his parents he was gay. His father reacted by buying him a subscription to Playboy. Says Fertig, “He was trying to promote what he thought were healthy desires.” After his parents divorced in 1966, Fertig attended five different high schools, an experience that reinforced his feelings of being an outsider. “I was a fat, unathletic, bookish sissy,” he recalls. “You know how oafs hang around and choose one kid to call a fag? I was that kid.”
In 1980 Fertig began performing in Sluts-a-Go-Go, a San Francisco drag revue. “I played a Russian Olympic go-go dancer named Dunya Kolmiabitch,” he says. Fertig, who once studied Slavic languages at the University of California, stole the show singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” in flawless Russian.
That same year Fertig saw an ad in a San Francisco newspaper recruiting new members for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He joined immediately. Dressing in drag, he says, has definitely raised his consciousness: “It’s taught me more about the oppression of women than any polemic. If every legislator had to wear high heels, fake eyelashes and a zipper up the back, we’d have the E.R.A. passed by Thursday.”
Now that he understands something of what it means to be a woman, Fertig has decided to live with one. His choice is a 5’2″, 110-pound redhead with long violet fingernails. Mystie Grey grew up in Pittsburgh, where at 24 she married a truck driver whom she’s since divorced. She fled to Los Angeles and got a job as a receptionist before moving to San Francisco in 1983. While hanging out at the Stud, a gay disco, she met Sister Marquessa De Sade, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who introduced her to Fertig. Grey so endeared herself to the Sisters that they invited her to join their order, making her the group’s first female member. “I was thrilled,” says Grey, who’s taken the name Sister Mysteria of the Holy Order of the Broken Hymen. “I’ve always considered myself a gay man trapped inside a woman’s body.”
These days Fertig and Grey share a $530-a-month apartment in San Francisco’s up-and-coming South of Market district. Their roommates include two cats, Leather and Latex. Fertig, who is a volunteer at the San Francisco AIDS foundation, pays the rent by working in the locker room at the Jewish Community Center and doing astrology readings. The couple sleep in separate bedrooms, all the better to entertain their respective male lovers.
San Franciscans may be in a fog over this spiritual union, but Sister Boom Boom is in bliss. “Our marriage will be a way of affirming our commitment to each other,” he says. “It’s so easy for people to split up. We’re getting married so that we don’t just take off when a better man comes along….A better man will just have to join us.”