The Education of Sister Sweet Epiphany

As a novice sister in the Derby City Sisters, a group of “radical fun-loving nuns whose mission is to raise funds and spread joy throughout the LGBTQ community,” Shawn Wallace was tasked with creating a project that would benefit others. “I have so many names,” Wallace laughs, when asked how to identify him. “You can just call me by my Sister name if you want, Sister Sweet Epiphany.”

“Trans Awareness: United As One” is the event he organized, happening this Friday, July 31 at 7 p.m. at the Mercury Ballroom downtown. “I’m super, super excited about it,” says Wallace.

Wallace has acted as an informal consultant for parents confused about their children who have discussed transitioning. Many have wanted to be supportive but were scared and didn’t know where to start. Wallace is one who knows where they can go to get help and education.

“Of course, once Caitlyn Jenner came out, it really put the spotlight on the trans community,” Wallace says. “People are still uneducated – I was uneducated. There’s a lot of the LGB community that is uneducated, and this is a prime opportunity that’s in our face right now. We need to educate while we can. Because otherwise, the trans community’s going to be pushed to the side again.”

photo courtesy of Shawn Wallace

photo courtesy of Shawn Wallace

“It seems like it’s always been concentrated on the L, the G and the B – now it’s time to bring the T in and unite as one.”

The night will feature Phoenix, a drag queen from Atlanta who competed on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” as well as many local drag performers, speakers – including trans youth from the Louisville Youth Group – and booths for supportive businesses. Based on early positive response, Wallace hopes to make it an annual event.

Wallace, who grew up on a tobacco farm near Elizabethtown, has a close friend, Trista Ray, who transitioned several years ago. She and her wife had a baby in 2009, and Wallace says he acted as “the dad” for a period, visiting doctors with the women sometimes because they were afraid of how they would otherwise be perceived.

We’ve grown in leaps and bounds since then, he says, noting that trans-positive and educated physicians from the University of Louisville will be among the featured guests Friday. But Wallace was inspired to put this night together when he realized that he had never seen an event like this before here.

“Education saves lives. If people aren’t educated, they’re going to continue to hate without realizing that they’re hating…as odd as that sounds, that’s really how it is.”

Wallace has always felt comfortable in his regular performance character, whom he calls a “gay sideshow zombie performer,” testing limits and confusing people gleefully. “At Forecastle, I walked around as Shawna. Everybody – straight, gay, man, woman – when I got that eye contact, they were, like, ‘What is that?’ I’d give them a big hug. ‘You’re scary but you’re beautiful!’ A lot of the straight guys shocked me. They were, like, ‘You know, my girl’s been getting hit on all day long. You’re the first person to tell me I’m beautiful.’ It was a really cool experience.”

But when he was younger, it wasn’t always so cool. Around the time of the Columbine shootings, Wallace found his name on a hit list because he was gay. He and a few others were pulled out of school for a day but then returned. Nothing much came of the incident then, but Wallace says the person he is today would make sure local news organizations were made aware of such a situation.

“This has been an amazing journey for me, to walk around and meet the community and hear stories of what the trans community has gone through…If we don’t get out there and fight for them and tell them how much they’re loved – there’s so much suicide in the trans community right now. They don’t realize that they’re loved. They don’t realize that they’re supported. They’re struggling financially because it’s hard for them to be their selves at jobs. The idea of this event is to bring all of those organizations together that support the trans community, and will educate the rest of the community.” VT