The Ovarian Psycos are the bike brigade fighting back against the bad guys of America’s sunshine state
You might not have heard of the Ovarian Psycos, but if you’ve been out in east LA during a full moon, you’ve almost definitely seen them. The all-female brigade have been holding non-violent, organised bike rides through the streets of Boyle Heights every month since 2010 – offering a new kind of salvation to the “punks” and “fuck-ups” of their community. “(We are) a refuge for the runaway, for the throwaway,” explains the group’s founder, Xela de la X. “We are an all womxn of colour bicycling brigade cycling for the purpose of healing our communities physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
In LA – where women only make up one in five of the city’s cyclists – an army of feminist bikers is a loud statement. Out in the eastern suburbs, though, it gets even more amplified. These are neighbourhoods that have suffered through years of violence, neglect and economic misery, leaving many female residents stifled by their lack of freedom. Because of this, the Ovas have become a beacon of hope – empowering their communities by linking peaceful feminist ideals with an “indigena” understanding and an “urban/hood” mentality. “We fight back against femicide, rape, the normalisation of our disposability, and the war being played out upon our spaces,” Xela shares. “(Biking) literally feels like we can win the war, the war played out upon our bodies.”
“Being an at-risk youth, now an adult... I'm still an at-risk adult, you know what I'm saying? That doesn’t go away. So where are they spaces for us?” – Xela de la X
Their vital message, teamed with their fallopian tube bandanas and punchy sloganeering (“ovaries so big we don’t need no fucking balls”) have seen their success reach far beyond the boundaries of Boyle Heights. A new documentary film, presented at SXSW this weekend, saw the Ovas go national; with The Hollywood Reporter likening their so-called ‘Clitorial Mass’ bike patrols to “compelling” acts of “guerrilla theatre”.
“We were just so incredibly moved by their ‘in your face’ feminism, that we just fell in love,” remembers Kate Trumbull-LaValle, one of the film’s directors. Joanna Sokolowski, the other, nods in agreement. “They have amazing grabbing and iconic imagery. They’re a lot like Pussy Riot, a lot like riot grrrl, a lot like other groups that are really able to capture the imagination quickly.”
The feature follows three of the Ovas as they navigate through LA, and delves deep into their complex everyday lives. This includes Xela, the “incredibly passionate” founder of group, who balances her spirited activism with her life as a single working mother. “She’s sort of the leader of the Ovas, even though it’s a collective,” says Kate. She adds that the film also “touches on one of the main characters personal experiences with sexual abuse.”
“(They’ve created a) space where they can share, discuss and not be isolated by their experiences,” she explains, with admiration. “Where they are so often shamed, and so often not spoken about. These are communities where there’s a fear about speaking out against sexual violence.”
Despite the candid nature of the film, it took a while for Kate and Joanna to be trusted by the Ovas – with production taking over four years to complete. Apparently, there were (and still are) worries that the movement’s message will get distorted under the gaze of white feminism, or misconstrued by biased press, who have a habit of painting “gangs” of POC women in a less than flattering light. And, with two white women at the helm, there’s also the fear that a genuinely life-changing movement like this could be dismissed as a novelty, or gravely misunderstood.
For Kate, this scepticism makes sense. “When we were filming there were seven women that were found killed,” she says. “Lots of young women experience this in east LA, it’s a very real threat. Riding on the street, as a group or with just their sisters, might not sound much to some people that haven’t experienced the feeling of being scared in your neighbourhood, but for them it’s very empowering to be in places that were considered dangerous and alone, with only women to protect them.”
“We are an all womxn of colour bicycling brigade cycling for the purpose of healing our communities physically, emotionally and spiritually” – Xela de la X
“The bike, it’s a metaphor: for getting out and changing things with physical movement,” she adds. “The mission of the group is to try and heal the community of which they share their experience, and try to really come together as a group and form a really deep bonds of sisterhood.”
That apprehension has also seen the group shy away from being labelled as a ‘gang’ – with fear that it might lead people to assume they condone violence, or are enforcing tired racial stereotypes. Despite playing with this kind of imagery, in reality the Ovas are a complete rebuttal of that lifestyle – campaigning peacefully (and powerfully) against the murderers, rapists and abusers that have long been intimidating the women of the sunshine state. Besides, considering the Chicana roots of many of the members, this kind of take-no-shit feminism is in their blood.
Luckily, though, the Ovas are thrilled with the finished product – with Xela apparently tearing up after watching the final cut. “We were scared shitless because they are not afraid to tell us if they don’t like it,” says Joanna, with a sigh of relief. “But they really liked it. Now we know they approve, we know they are pleased, and we feel like it represents their work. So we’re happy.”
Ovarian Psycos is currently showing at SXSW festival. Read more about the film here