“If you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs!”
If you’re even a casual user of TikTok, you’ve probably heard this line before. It’s from a speech by Cynthia Smock, a campus evangelist who has spent 40 years touring southern US campuses to preach against drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and homosexuality. On TikTok, she’s better known as Sister Cindy.
Sister Cindy isn’t your typical sidewalk preacher. She eschews conventional religious commentary for wildly vulgar and over-the-top rants, winning her a devoted (and mostly ironic) fanbase of zoomers on TikTok. In 2014, she marked her time at Colorado State University by comparing sin to a chocolate-covered bloody tampon. Other notable examples include a sign with the words “Hell is hot, don’t be a T.H.O.T.,” and the cheer, “Welcome to the Sister Cindy slut-shaming show.”
With “One Margarita,” a fan-made remix of a Sister Cindy speech warning against promiscuity that has 11 million views on TikTok, her audience has grown even bigger. But social media experts and students tell Rolling Stone there are larger issues coming out of Sister Cindy’s viral moment. If all of the fame, ironic or not, keeps the more harmful aspects of Smock’s message not just alive, but thriving — who is the joke really on?
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Smock is clear about her mission: it’s to get college students to repent and leave premarital sex behind, which she calls a “Ho No Mo’” revolution. She says she only started using vulgar language in her proselytizing in the last dozen years, following the popularity of anti-rape-culture protests like the Slut Walk, and has only kept it up in an attempt to reach new generations of college students.
“Women would write ‘slut’ on their chest and strip down, often topless,” Smock says. “And I thought, ‘Wow, if they can call themselves sluts, I can do it, too.’ I don’t want to preach to the birds and the squirrels. I want to preach to Gen-Z. So I’m going to talk their language.”
Smock’s speeches are often met with thunderous applause from scores of enraptured college students, who are drawn to the shock value of hearing an elderly woman spew extreme profanity. Take the infamous margarita speech, a sermon at Louisiana State University that warned boys about taking “sluts” on dates to Mexican restaurants. In a TikTok video of her speech, Sister Cindy warns that if you buy a girl two margaritas, “she will pounce right on your penis”; after three, “she will grab your penis and put it in her mouth.” She also says that four margaritas will lead to sex, five will lead to anal, and six will lead to pegging, to the delight of the crowd watching in the video.
Among zoomers, Sister Cindy has become something of an ironic hero figure, and her speeches often get enthusiastic responses from crowds. They also provide an opportunity for students to try their hand at social media virality: they show up to cheer her, film queer couples kissing in front of her, or shoot down some of her more biting phrases with off-the-cuff jokes. Her rallies have become live shows, protests, and amateur comedy hours all at once.
But Sister Cindy isn’t necessarily laughing with her audience. In fact, her packaging as a harmless elderly grandmother hides the more sinister aspects of her rhetoric. She frequently tells audiences that homosexuality leads to hell, telling students, “If you’re gay, you need Sister Cindy to pray the gay away,” or asking passersby “Are you a homo?” She cheers herself on for being a gay icon, all while telling students to their faces that hell is waiting for them. “Being gay is a choice,” she says in one video with a fan. “Turn or burn.”
Sister Cindy pushes back against the idea that any of her rhetoric is hateful or anti-LGBTQ. “I am not anti-gay. I am a gay icon. Are you kidding me?” she says. “Gay students love me. They come up, they’re hugging me, giving me selfies. I tell every student, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. You need to repent of your sins.”
But at least one fan has taken Sister Cindy’s homophobic messaging and tried to turn it into something more positive, or even empowering. Comedian and actress Angel Laketa Moore recently went viral for remaking Smock’s margarita speech into a song celebrating sexual freedom. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Moore explains that when she first saw the clip of Smock preaching, she was instantly thrown back to her childhood growing up in a conservative Christian household in Kentucky, where hearing “fired-up” ministers in public places was the norm. She says that these memories inspired her to turn Smock’s hateful words into a sexually charged freestyle, giving the female subject of Sister Cindy’s speech her power back.
“As a grown woman, I personally want to celebrate my sexual freedoms. I don’t ever want to be a part of making other people feel like they can’t be themselves,” Moore tells Rolling Stone. “Even when I created [the ‘One Margarita’ song], it wasn’t to poke fun at Sister Cindy. I was just inspired.”
On a May episode of her podcast Here’s the Thing, Moore joked with co-host and comedian Kevin Fredricks (KevOnStage) that the entire sermon sounded like a hyped rap song. She asked for a beat and spit a few bars over a rhythm pounded out on a desktop. “Gimme one margarita” / “I’ma open my legs,” Moore spat over the remix, before adding raunchy lyrics that referenced blowjobs, sex, anal, and pegging. It was a hit on TikTok.
Four days and 800,000 views later, Moore and producers Carl Dixon and Steve Terrell turned the clip into a Louisiana bounce-inspired banger. Since its release on June 2, “One Margarita” has racked up 11.8 million views and more than 40,000 videos using the sound. (For her part, Sister Cindy says she enjoys the song, because it has resulted in “hoes from all over the world [exposing] themselves.”)
Even though “One Margarita” has ostensibly flipped Sister Cindy’s messaging on its head, some are still concerned by the fact that she has any platform to begin with. Inari Owens and Ezra B. are executive board members of Spectrum LSU, an on-campus organization and resource for LGBTQ students. (Both use they/them pronouns). It was at LSU where Sister Cindy gave her infamous margarita speech, renaming the school “Louisiana Slut University” during her visit.
Ezra says that in the past two years, as Sister Cindy has become more popular online, other preachers visiting campus have started imitating her methods, including making TikTok accounts and posting their speeches in the hopes of attracting more attention.
“A lot of students show up for ironic support, to watch the spectacle, and hear her say her catchphrases,” Ezra says. “She has a very well-maintained social media presence. She has merch. When she came to campus, she literally had a costume contest and whoever dressed the most like her got an autographed Bible. The college experience now is having Sister Cindy or whatever other preacher that’s trying to go viral come to your campus and try to have their moment.”
Owens is concerned that Sister Cindy’s popularity could easily embolden others to be more brazen about their hatred— at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ views are becoming more mainstream.
“There is a lot of humor in what she does, but it’s also very important to recognize that she’s coming at this from a genuine belief in slut shaming and conservative culture,” Owens says. “The joke is not always going to be funny to people, especially people who have been harmed by hateful speech before. And it’s very important to be aware of that and to make sure you are not harming other people by even jokingly continuing to spread the rhetoric.”
Indeed, Sister Cindy’s popularity has led some to be confused about whether her hateful message is genuine or just trolling for attention, with many commenters asking if her outrageous comments are satire. And that’s exactly the point, says Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of digital platforms and media at the University of Oregon. Phillips tells Rolling Stone that Sister Cindy’s modus operandi is reminiscent of how political and religious figures have begun mimicking internet trolling culture to further their talking points — and give them protection against criticism at the same time.
“You have people utilizing the tactics of trolling, but doing so to further a political cause,” Phillips says. “That’s a unique contour of this particular moment. It creates instant plausible deniability and they benefit from an attention economy that rewards the most sensationalist, incendiary, upsetting or ridiculous claims .”
For the time being, Sister Cindy isn’t planning to clear up any confusion about her intentions, as long as she’s bringing in more viewers. “Even Jesus was very mystical. He didn’t explain everything. I don’t mind keeping them guessing, but if they listen to me, they’ll figure it out,” she says.
Moore recognizes that Smock’s original intent for the “One Margarita” speech was to further her “HO NO MO revolution.” But by turning Sister Cindy’s hateful viral moment into a message of sexual celebration, freedom, and acceptance, Moore tells Rolling Stone she believes she and her collaborators have created a new piece of art that stands on its own.
“One of my main purposes in life is to make people feel good about themselves. I don’t ever want to be a part of making other people feel like they can’t be themselves,” Moore says. “This song comes out of a place of love and joy and I think that’s probably why it has been met with love and joy. That’s what the summer calls for. It calls for having fun. It calls for having a drink with your friends. It calls for not being so serious. I’ve got men, women, mamas, queer people, elderly people: everybody is like ‘Gimme one margarita.’”