When you first meet Alan Zimmerman, it’s impossible not to get drawn into a conversation with him. Immediately gregarious, he starts talking to you right away as if you’ve known each other for years. His energy is infectious, and it feels like he can solve all of your problems over a few drinks. He doesn’t hold back.
But the Alan I met is not the same person he was a few months ago. And that all changed thanks to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of queer and trans nuns who preach “the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt.”
The people who make Palm Springs
like no place else
The Sisters emerged out of the Castro District’s drag and theater scene on Easter Sunday, 1979. Three gay men obtained habits from Iowa, saying they were going to do a production of The Sound of Music. Instead, they donned the garb and walked through the district to the nude beach. With their love of spectacle and dramatics, their success was almost immediate.
Since then, “houses” began to spring up worldwide, including right here in Palm Springs in 2006.
Their work marked some of the first activism for people with AIDS. Their website says they held the world’s first fundraiser to benefit an AIDS organization and created the first safer sex pamphlet using “plain sex-positive” language. One of their members, Bobbi Campbell, helped raise the national profile of the crisis by appearing on the cover of Newsweek and writing regular syndicated columns.
The Sisters were some of the first people to go into the AIDS wards, “Because they knew if they didn’t go in, no one would.”
Alan had “messed around” with drag in the ‘80s, but said he was never heavily involved. It’s because of his husband’s love for RuPaul’s Drag Race that Alan got involved with the Sisters.
“We went to DragCon in 2019, and one of the Sisters there offered to do a blessing for me. Then I started asking questions, and something just clicked. I knew everything about it was right in my wheelhouse.”
He knew right away what he wanted his name to be — “Sister GoldiePearlnecklace.” Goldie Pearl is the name of his paternal grandmother. The racier part of the name adheres to the proud naming tradition among the Sisters. “All our names are kind of double entendres.”
The Sisters don’t just get all dolled up for nothing. To be a Sister means a dedication to fundraising and community outreach. Through their bingo night fundraisers, they raise money for local organizations.
“After operating expenses, 100% of what we bring in goes back out to the local community,” Alan said. “And we’re very selective about the organizations we pick. Usually, it’s groups that don’t already have large corporate sponsors.”
He found the Sisters at just the right time in his life. He had been suffering from depression, as well as chronic illnesses, and eight years ago was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I immediately lost my job because I was in the hospital for months,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends because when you’re chronically ill, people tend to distance themselves.”
He also broke his back in a major car accident and is still in constant pain. “By the end of bingo night, I’m usually at a level 10 pain,” he explained.
But Sister Goldie offers a break from those physical and mental struggles.
“When I’m Goldie Pearl, I’m not that sick person. I don’t have a broken back. I don’t have MS. I’m just Goldie Pearl, and I’m going to help you have a good time.”
As Sister Goldie grows more confident, so does Alan.
“I’ve never been popular,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “You know, people compliment me now. I’m growing to love myself.”
He wants nothing more than to share this feeling with everyone, and he hopes more people will sign up to be a Sister at the Palm Springs house.
“It’s always been a small house. We’re actually really struggling right now. I’ll take anybody, but we really need younger people who know how to communicate and who will bring in new ideas and help the Sisters change with the times.”
His sense of gratitude toward the organization fuels his dream to see the traditions started in 1979 continue. “I think being Goldie has saved my life. I don’t know where I would have been without her. It would have been a dark place.”
More information: Alan and the rest of the the Sisters will be at One Eleven Bar this evening for bingo at 7 p.m. Find more information about that event here. Interested in joining the order? Check out their website at https://www.pssisters.org/.
Get to know Alan below …
Neighborhood: Cathedral City/La Pasada
How long have you lived in the desert? I have lived in the desert for 21 years.
What brought you here? Love brought me here.
What keeps you here? Love keeps me here. That and being a member of the Palm Springs Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Do you have family here? I don’t have any blood family here, but I have a few friends that I consider my chosen family.
What is your favorite time of the year here? Spring is absolutely my favorite time of year.
How do you beat the heat? I beat the heat by staying in the AC as much as possible. I have MS and heat is usually hard on us but I’ve lived here so long I think I’ve built up a tolerance to it.
Do you have a personal philosophy by which you live? I recently reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in probably 25 years and she shared her personal philosophy with me and it’s extremely simple — just asking yourself “Does it bring you joy?”
What’s your favorite place to eat? My favorite place to eat is Blue Coyote. My husband took me there on our first date and it’s become our go-to place. Thomas Roberts sat on the front patio at the back corner table.
What’s the biggest issue facing our community? The biggest issue facing our community is a tossup between the homeless and the corporations destroying neighborhoods either by buying up the inventory or the STVRs. One is the actual homeless people and no matter what anyone says they aren’t just going to go away. The solution isn’t just a city issue, it’s a statewide issue and that costs money and that adds yet another obstacle and is a whole story in itself. The other or the corporations make buying up homes make homeownership in a preferred neighborhood sometimes impossible.
What’s your favorite thing to do or place to go in the desert? My favorite thing to do in the desert is Sister Bingo, every 2nd, and 4th Sunday, 7-9 pm at One Eleven Bar. Honestly, I have more fun walking around talking and joking with our players. Our group’s mission is to “Promulgate Universal Joy and Expiate Stigmatic Guilt.” It’s an amazing gift to give or help make someone happy helping them play and watching them win. But what we get in return — this feeling of real love, real trust that we get back — is humbling.
What would you tell people about Palm Springs that they might not already know? I would first tell people about Sisters Bingo, LOL. Then I would tell them to be sure to take a Red Jeep tour. The staff are outstanding and you will learn and see things about our beautiful valley that will surprise you.
What’s your guilty pleasure? My guilty pleasure is shopping. Especially thrift shops and swap meets. My husband has had to use the phone tracker at more than one outlet mall!
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