Illustration by Marlowe Dobbe
This article appears in our 2017 Winter issue, Chaos. Subscribe today!
Evelyn is biking alone down the side of the highway that connects East Los Angeles to downtown Los Angeles, wondering why people stare at her when she rides. “Is it because I’m a big girl? Is it because I’m a girl? Is it because they don’t see any girls, at all, riding?” If big brown girls on bikes are antithetical to Los Angeles, and America before it, that may explain why groups like the Ovarian Psycos have been so effective at pissing people off. Founded in the summer of 2010 in Southeast Los Angeles, the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade is a group of Latinas who make it their mission to take up space where they aren’t supposed to. In Ovarian Psycos, directed and produced by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, we hear these women’s stories, see their struggles, and learn how their experiences brought them to bike culture.
Ovarian Psycos provides an intimate look inside contemporary East Los Angeles, where, in the late 1960s, the Xicanx civil rights movement was born. Now, the young feminist inheritors of the movement are struggling to make ends meet and are taking care of their families while organizing within their communities. Ovarian Psycos founder Xela de la X explains how she formed the brigade while raising a young daughter and combating the ghosts of an abusive past. The group was formed to provide space and community for other people like her. “I understood that being an at-risk youth, now an adult, I’m still an at-risk adult,” she says. “So where are the spaces for us?”
The documentary follows newcomer Evie as she quarrels with her mother over joining the Ovarian Psycos. To dissuade Evie from joining the group, Evie’s mother recounts her journey from dodging bullets in her youth during the civil war in El Salvador to dodging bullets from cholos in their adopted barrio in Los Angeles. She presses her daughter to become a lawyer so she won’t have to experience the same struggles. For the children of immigrants, there is immense pressure to pay back the emotional debt our parents paid so we could live “better lives,” and we witness this as Evie folds into herself in response.
The film focuses on the micro and macro violences the young, radical Latinas and Xicanx face, and surviving these traumas seems to be the core of what brings them together. Throughout the film, we watch the Psycos react to the murders of local girls and women at the hands of men, transforming their pain into more action, such as their full moon Luna rides and the indigenous rituals they organize to honor the dead. Maylei Blackwell, author of ¡Chicana Power!, testifies onscreen, saying, “What I love about the work that Ovarian Psycos are doing is that they’re tapping into a long legacy of women of color organizing that links intimate forms of violence that happens [not just] in their homes but in the streets.”
Though the group has badass, in-your-face politics and aesthetics—they often pose with their fingers forming ovaries like a gang sign—the film is stylistically natural and intimate, which is unexpected and refreshing given the subject matter. It keeps a lively pace throughout, and nothing feels staged or forced. The use of graphics, showing group texts between the Psycos onscreen, is visually engaging and helps drive the narrative while giving viewers a breath between interviews and political history lessons.
At the end of a montage of critiques of the Psycos, mostly from mothers who feel they should femme up to racist misogynists who leave harassing messages on their social media pages, one Psyco, Maryann, says, “Haters gonna hate, and ovaries is gonna ovulate, and that’s that!” Unfortunately, this sentiment encapsulates the group’s—and this film’s—biggest flaw: Gender essentialist and transphobic language permeates every facet of their work, and the film does not address this issue in the slightest. From their name, which falsely equates sex with gender, to the titles given to individual members—SLIT, for Sister Leader in Training, given to new recruits; Clit Rubber, a human resources position; and LRO, for Left and Right Ovary, given to the coleaders—the Ovarian Psycos sustain a tradition of trans-exclusionary feminism in the name of bodily reclamation for cis women. One Psyco insisted in an interview not included in the documentary that they’re “not checking for ovaries at the rides,” as if to shrug off accountability without addressing transmisogyny within the group. This suggests the organizational structure of the Psycos is likely entirely cis, and refusing to engage with the specific, heightened violence that trans women—particularly trans Latinas in the hood—experience reveals incomplete analyses of violence against women.
We do witness friction in the group—members leave, and Evie becomes frustrated when challenging the others to widen the scope of their work to meet the needs of the local community. But there is power in the film’s depiction of Evie as she transforms into a member who eventually leads her own Luna ride, directing traffic and delegating responsibilities to other members, a role not suited to the meek. She stands tall and confident, speaks loud and clear, and takes up space unapologetically. Evie’s evolution shows what the Ovarian Psycos are all about. “I have the ability and the power to do whatever I fucking want,” she says, “and nothing will hold me back.”