Imagine waking up every day and living in a state of constant fear. Not because you are under any immediate threat of physical bodily harm, but instead, the fear of anyone finding out who you really are. Over the last 10 years, the LGBTQ fight for equality has made tremendous progress, which shouldn’t be taken for granted nor is the fight over.
For some historical perspective, I’ll be writing a three-part series about the struggles that once were and the reasons why it’s important to continue fighting for our right to exist. The first part begins with a well-known advocate in the Phoenix community, a Grand Canyon Sister of Perpetual Indulgence Sister Sur Mon Visage.
Sister Mon Visage is one of the many dedicated community members that represent the Grand Canyon Sisters of Perceptual Indulgence. For those who would like to know the history, importance of this organization and how they represent our history more than any other organization, feel free to visit their website here:
Over the last several months, I’ve taken the initiative to engage the Sisters. As I continue to spend time with them, I’m coming to admire them personally and their mission more and more.
Sister Mon Visage certainly has lived life to the fullest. From Toledo, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona, Beverly Hills, California and back to Phoenix. Let’s start at the beginning.
Born in Toledo to parents that lived with the same worldview as everyone else decades ago, closed minded. His mother was a manipulative and spiteful and, as he describes her, “scary” and his father was basically just absent most of his adolescence. During his time in high school, he had a girlfriend (who later turned out to be a lesbian), and his daily struggle revolved around how to hide his sexuality rather than how to live life to the fullest. Each and every moment of his early life was dedicated to just keeping it from everyone, trying to fix it, and trying to make sure nobody ever found out. It was during his sophomore year in high school that he met his first male crush. They spent time together nearly every day for several months, hiding the relationship they started to build and concealing from everyone around them the true meaning of freedom. There comes the point where most people reach a level of frustration in life, determined to make a change and willing to sacrifice whatever it takes. Realizing just how frustrating living in the shadows was, he finally just said to his lover at the time, “either I’m moving in or leaving, which one is it?” His lover wanted him to move in.
He went home, broke the news to his parents, and all hell broke loose. His father was crying on the chair in the living room, his mother was throwing him and his belongings out the window while screaming at the top of her lungs. It was at this moment that he realized life is too short to live under someone else’s rules, and that it was time to make his own. After the tremendous blow up at his parents’ home, he rejoined with his partner for a short period of time, before hitting the road to become part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show!
Taboo is the best way to describe this production team that spent nearly every day together for several years. They lived life the way it should be lived, as who they really are. He was finally at a point in life where hiding wasn’t constant. It was still necessary for anyone else outside of the production team, but at least there was some comfort in knowing he could be himself with them. He ran off with the production team and finally let it out, he was proud, he was gay, and he loved every moment of it.
Diana owned a local bar that he frequented. It had neon legs that would kick up and down, a vintage feeling and environment that let him feel free. In his words “He loved that place!”
Lady Circe, the High Priestess of a coven of witches, was his mentor, friend, and trustworthy advocate. She showed him the path forward to being free-spirited and full of life with no shame.
Moving on to the next stage of his life, and the adventure that came with it, his partner had the opportunity to be transferred to Phoenix, and they quickly decided to move! Living in Phoenix for only a few months an opportunity was presented and of he went to Beverly Hills California. It was there that he learned that getting what you ask for isn’t always what you want. Although his talent for doing women’s hair was lucrative, he still hated every last second of it. His desire to stay was strictly motivated by financial rather than environmental elements. After several months of living in pure, utter misery, he decided it was time for a change. “Hello, Phoenix, Arizona! He came to his partner with a new “here I come and here I am!” attitude. In the early 1980’s he saw the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and said to himself, “I’m going to do that!” Sure enough, later on, he did and still does strut his stuff, fundraise for the community and reflect the history of our ongoing fight for equality.
Coming to Phoenix wasn’t all roses and rainbows. After a rough patch with substance abuse, he realized that wasn’t the life he wanted to live. Overcoming this period was one of struggle that taught him a lot of valuable lessons. The biggest one being that drugs are expensive.
Although his repression from Ohio had slightly subsided, he still couldn’t really express himself in a manner that reflected who he really was. We take for granted the gift of freedom we currently enjoy today and must be cognizant of the fact that it can quickly be taken away at any moment. Rights and freedoms are sacred, fragile and something each of us has a responsibility to continuously fight for. We as individuals have specific capabilities, the biggest one being to get off your ass and vote.
As I continue to write about Sister Mon Visage, just remember how things once were. Parents that expelled him, a life of near total secret, and until relatively recently, living mostly in the shadows of the taboo underground of gay life.
The next series will focus on his artistic talent as a hairdresser who styled former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher. Stay tuned….
Ryan A. Starzyk, CIPM
Director at Large
Chair, Education & Outreach Committee