Popped Culture: Tommie Starchild
By: Robert Stinson
In 1979, 66 Americans were taken hostage in Iran; Dan White got a slap on the wrist with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for killing Harvey Milk and George Mascone; Blondieâ€™s â€œHeart of Glassâ€ was taking over the airwaves; and three men took to the streets of San Francisco fully clad in nunâ€™s outfits, the garb that became the definitive look for The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
In subsequent years, the organization grew into an internationally recognized advocacy group whose projects included everything from orchestrating protests against social injustices, to fundraising for various community associations while spreading their philosophy of love, acceptance and the repudiation of guilt. Blending their unique fashion sensibilities with public service, The Sisters have left an indelible mark on the LGBT community.
NUG caught up with Tommie Starchild, a.k.a. Sistaâ€™ Kali Vagilistic X.P. Aladocious, a local member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Tommie is the creator of My Authentic Self where he works as a medium, blending his knowledge of Blue Fire Reiki and his experience as a practitioner of Anderson Faerie Witchcraft to create an atmosphere of spiritual rejuvenation for his clients.Â My Authentic Self is a part of The Happenstance Tribe in Hillcrest, which offers a barrage of services stemming from tattooing and piercing to a full scale salon.Â Tommie gave us a peak behind the habit and gobs of white facial paint, revealing a man who has made it his lifeâ€™s mission to spread a message of joy and hope to those victimized by intolerance.
How has your involvement with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence colored the rest of your life?
It has colored my life with white grease paint (chuckling). The mission of The Sisters is to promulgate universal joy perpetually, and expiate stigmatic guilt. What that means is that we go out into the community and promote joy to help lift the guilt that has been heaped on gay people from outside sources. I try to reflect the beauty of the community back on itself by helping people explore their genuine nature. That is the foundation of all my work. Iâ€™m trying to create a space where people can reflect on who they truly are. Not that we come into this world in sin or damaged in some way, or that we have to be constantly forgiven or purified, but I believe that weâ€™re all born of perfection.
What recent charity events have The Sisters hosted?
We recently hosted Laughter Yoga at The Center, and some of the money went to the Laughter Yoga Program. We do an annual distribution of funds to organizations such as the San Diego Youth and Community Services, specifically the Store Front, which is here in Hillcrest. I just love them! They do so much for homeless youth. Some other charities that we contribute to are POZabilities, which is a social ground for HIV+ individuals, The Queen Eddie Fund, and a womanâ€™s health fund that is associated with The Center. We do try to spread our focus, and each individual within The Sisters has their own focus that they relate to. My focus has always been on the alternative aspects of the gay community because thatâ€™s where I come from. I used to do HIV prevention education before I became a Sister, and one of the things that I discovered is that most of us are well educated on the topic of HIV and STDs, so why are people still getting infected? What I discovered through the retreats and curriculum I helped develop was that the main issue was self-esteem. Due to this, I decided to focus my attention on the gay community because of my experiences of being raised Baptist and growing up with a lot of stigmatic guilt. I try to go out into the community and notice people, so I can tell them they are beautiful and that I value their presence.
How long does it take you to transform into Sistaâ€™ Kali? Could you talk about the genesis of your name?
Ooooh (laughing)â€¦We started in 2005, and what Sistaâ€™ Kali looked like then and what she looks like now has been quite a journey. I generally like to take about two hours to put the make-up on and get dressed. I donâ€™t have an acting background, but it helps me to have that time to get into that head space because as soon as I leave the door of my house, Iâ€™m on. I need to be happy, I need to be smiling, and sometimes Iâ€™m not feeling it because Iâ€™m a little shy socially. The name Sistaâ€™ Kali Vagilistic X.P. Aladocious came about when I was in a belting circle, a ritual where we celebrate the Spring Solstice and fertility. We were having a potluck, sitting around talking, when a transgendered (female to male) friend of mine said, â€œIf things that are penis-like are phallic, what do you call things that look like vaginas?â€ And I replied, â€œVagilisticâ€. Then, my partner chimed in and said, â€œVagilistic X.P. Aladocious!â€ Bells rang and I knew I had the name.
What services do you offer at My Authentic Self?Â What is your affiliation with The Happenstance Tribe?
Everyone around here lovingly calls me the local witch doctor. I do Reiki, which is a form of touch healing. I direct energy back into the body reminding it that it knows how to heal itself. I take a more shamanic approach, so itâ€™s not a standard Reiki. I use my intuitive process to see what each individual needs and where I feel directed. Iâ€™m a medium, so I do psychic readings where I combine talking stones and tarot cards. My readings are more like counseling sessions where we focus on life patterns, and I have a special emphasis on relationships.
What are your spiritual beliefs?Â How do they factor into your profession?
As I mentioned earlier, I was raised Baptist, which was a religion that never spoke to me. Iâ€™m a witch of the Anderson Faerie tradition and a pagan, so thatâ€™s the lens from which I view the world. There are a lot of scary misconceptions about witches. As a practitioner, Iâ€™m not here to tell people what their spiritual beliefs should be. Iâ€™m here to provide a safe space where people can discover that for themselves. There are various different types of witchcraft; Wicca being one and Anderson Faerie another. They donâ€™t relate to one another, but they may have a few similarities. Anderson Faerie is an ecstatic based faith as opposed to fertility and earth based, which is predominately Wicca.
Do you believe the hostile environment among the ranks will change as a result of the repeal of â€œDonâ€™t Ask Donâ€™t Tellâ€?
First of all, Iâ€™m thrilled that it was repealed. I think that a lot of the violence perpetrated against gays in the military has stemmed from DADT. At 18, I knew I was gay, so I knew there was no way in hell the military would take me. I would never want to go into a situation where I knew from the get go that I wasnâ€™t welcome, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for gays and lesbians who have served in silence. With this repeal, gay men and women can enter the armed services with a sense of pride, and in the end, our nation is more secure because of it.