Ovarian Psycos: The Cycling Brigade Advancing Its Own Form of Activism
By Stephanie Garcia
Ovarian Psycos. A cycling brigade also known as the “Ovas”—and, as Xela De La X (the founder of the crew) puts it—is “…a refuge for the run away, for the throw away.” This not only scratches the surface of the foundation that lies underneath the group’s overall purpose, but also reveals one experience all the women who are a part of this brigade share in common: They’ve all been through some sort of trauma in their lives.
What’s so unique about the documentary by the same name is that it explores the multifaceted meaning and intention of a group like Ovarian Psycos. What directors Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle have done here is expand on the space that was originally created by Xela, who sought out a way to negotiate her “at-risk” status transitioning from youth to adulthood. And, in the production of this documentary, the directors give a microphone to the women of this brigade so that their voices are amplified and heard by a much larger audience. Not only does the film peel back the deeper social, political, and historical message of the group, but it also incorporates personal narrative as another vital aspect of understanding what it means to be an Ova.
The film follows the methods in which Ovarian Psycos go about membership, organizing bicycle rides, and promoting what their tenets are, while also focusing on three women who are at different stages in their lives. In following Xela (the more seasoned member of the three), Andi (the soft-spoken member who is faced with taking over when Xela quits), and Evie (the newest member finding her voice), the film takes on a very intergenerational role. Not only do we see the three members evolve in their position within the Ovas throughout the filming process, but there is also a connection made to how this influences their roles outside the group as mothers, daughters, women of color, victims of sexual assault, etc.
An important takeaway from this film is the recognition that not everything is what it seems on the surface. For example, take the wide shot of the Ovarian Psycos riding their bicycles towards the camera with bandanas over their mouths and Rebel Diaz’s song “Revolution Has Come” playing in the background. If we didn’t know any better, we’d assume that these women are just angry, rebellious, and criminal. The fact that this image would be criminalized and that their anger would be mistaken as superficial and unnecessary speaks to the important work the Ovarian Psycos are striving to do.
It’s through the creation of Ovarian Psycos that the brigade is able to reclaim an environment like East LA as a space where a community of women of color, otherwise seen as being part of a “chain gang” (a label courtesy of the LA Times), are able to engage in a serious dialogue around the deeply rooted personal and historical trauma they face, on their own terms, and without their superficial anger and “hood” mentality being taken as negative. The transformation that’s happening in this situation is what author Maylei Blackwell mentions in the film as “co-opting gang culture.” These women of color are finding empowerment and agency in what would otherwise be misconstrued as criminal and threatening.
One of the members, Joss the Boss, sees the group as being for “the uneducated woman, it’s for the knucklehead girls, for the punk rockers, for the cholas, for the sisters of the neighborhood that just live that hard life.” This “hard life” not only conceptualizes the challenges that these women in particular are facing everyday in East LA, but also extends further towards a reflection on what remnants remain of colonization, and how this translates into the criminalization of a Latinx population, of people who feel like they have no roots. Historical movements like the Chicano civil rights movement have been written out of history or silenced, and the hardships faced by women of color in society have been suppressed.
And this is where it may be said the “psyco” part of the group name stems from; this is where the anger comes from. It all contributes to the group holding a greater sense of purpose—of serving as a form of activism. Ovarian Psycos as a group and a documentary promotes the power of community in riding together, and it is within this group that women of color find that they’re understood. From the images we see in Xela’s home that promote female empowerment, to the symbol of fallopian tubes on the bandanas, we’re able to gain a deeper understanding about what women are shamed for while also comprehending how one is able to reclaim power and heal.
But of course, none of this comes easy for the women in the film, especially for Xela, who quits midway through filming. While she fights for a cause greater than herself, it’s through her vulnerability and turmoil that we as an audience observe what it means to struggle with various identities and discover how exactly to find the balance among them.