“Ovaries so big, we don’t need no fucking balls.”
That’s the motto of the Ovarian Psychos Bicycle Brigade, a Los Angeles-based, all-women-of-color collective fighting overt and insidious violence through bike rides. Also known as the Ovas, the Ovarian Psychos are the subject of a new documentary of the same name that premiered Saturday (March 12) at Austin’s South by Southwest festival.
A new piece from LA’s KCET digs deep into the Ovas’ MO. It’s well worth reading in full, but a few excerpts about this exhilarating and devoutly progressive group showcase exactly why this documentary is important.
Writer Myriam Gurba opens with a description of La Concha, the Ovas’ HQ in the gentrifying and iconic Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights:
Even a travelling sisterhood needs a headquarters. That’s the purpose La Concha, a Boyle Heights community center covered by a rocky façade and guarded by a scarlet gate, serves for Ovarian Psycos bicycle brigade. La Concha is an apt name for the Ovas’ ground zero. The word means shell in Spanish. It’s also a briny euphemism for what’s between a woman’s legs, and the Ovas encourage the women of East Los Angeles and beyond to slide their conchas onto bike seats and go. Onlookers watch the pack coast down First Street, fly across tagged bridges and sail past auto repair shops with hand-painted signs. Motorists and pedestrians watch the full moon bathe the army of sisters, moms, rebel daughters and wives wearing helmets, braids and pigtails. On beach cruisers, road bikes and wrecks, the Ovas undo. They are decolonizing their neighborhoods one pedal pump at a time.
The Ovas do this, in part, through group bike rides that protest violence, whether embodied in women murdered in public spaces or gentrification that threatens to erase East LA’s working-class, immigrant backbone:
By describing their pack as a brigade, the Ovas become infantry. They cast themselves as warriors reclaiming public space from those who fail to share it or engage in transactional respect. Those fiercely in need of schooling include catcallers shouting, “Hey, mami!” gentrifiers shilling artisanal stupidity and motorists panicking at the sight of brown women flexing in the passing lane. The Ovas core membership numbers fourteen, and Joss, a core member, describes the danger her community feels by simply stepping onto East LA sidewalks, “This year, two girls were found murdered in Debs Park. It’s getting intense for us in the streets. These types of things are happening all hours of the day. Our community is feeling the pressure and taking a stand.”
While the Ovas dedicate rides to cultural and political themes, they also dedicate rides to people. This autumn, they dedicated a ride to Briana Nicole Gallegos and Gabriela Calzada, the teens killed in Debs Park. Their rides aren’t only a sight to behold. They translate spectacle into sound. Ovas, some wearing bandanas outlaw-style, only allowing a peek at their eyes, chant, “Whose streets? Our streets” and, in 2012, this dynamism and bravado grabbed the attention of two feminist filmmakers.
The article also describes the Ovas’ relentless progressivism, with Gurba saying the following about their work to fully address trans members’ concerns:
When it comes to their politics, the Ovas value being checked. Trans women have pressed the Ovas to think critically about the gender politics of their rides and language. [Ovas member] A stresses, “As folks who check others’ privilege, check ours, too. As cisgender women, we have the privilege of not being questioned. Check us. This is a collective effort.” [Fellow Ovas member] Joss adds, “Trans women brought it to our attention that we were being exclusive…with the word ovarian. So, we made a conscious decision to create a safe space for trans women and other female identified energies.” To underscore that womanhood transcends biology, Joan adds, “We’re not checking for ovaries at the rides.”