Ovarian Psycos Bike Brigade on Calling Out the Directors’ White Privilege While Filming Their Doc

'Ovarian Psycos' Courtesy of the Human Rights Watch Festival

The Ovarian Psycos are a group of women based out of East Los Angeles who are looking to nurture an oft-forgotten image of sisterhood within their community. In their own words, they “are womyn of color, sisters, mothers, overgrown knuckleheads, riders, writers, students, wage slaves, hustlers, artists, MCs, poets, intellectuals, radical scholars, passionate womyn, environmentalists, urban farmers, medicine womyn, militants, feminists, renaissance womyn, fearless fierro riders and modern-day charras on steel horses!”

A new documentary on this badass brigade (please don’t call them a “gang” — they know the type of rhetorical dog whistling that expression entails) hopes to spread the mission of this group of brown and black sisters who, in addition to cycling, have it in their mission to help heal their community by supporting projects like Proyecto Jardín and Defend Boyle Heights. They also organize rides like the annual Clitoral Mass, the “largest bike ride in Los Angeles to date organized by and for womxn of color, trans-womxn, womxn identified, two-spirited and gender nonconforming folx” which takes place later this summer.

Directed by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, the documentary was screened in New York as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. After its New York premiere, a very pregnant Joanna sat down alongside two of the OG Ovas, Xela de la X and Andi Xoch. The post-screening Q&A was particularly lively and touched on the perils of having two white women tell the story of a collective so devoted to championing women of color. Xela, for example, made it clear that she found questions about how Kate and Joanna “discovered” the Ovarian Psycos deeply problematic, echoing, as she put it, colonial language: “White people didn’t discover America!”

Throughout the Q&A, Xela didn’t mince any words and offered candid and refreshing commentary on what she sees as the role of women of color right now, what gentrification means for the Ovas, and what it takes to redefine womanhood in a postcolonial world. Find some highlights of the chat below.

On How the Doc Came to Be

“There’s this group of women, I don’t know anything about them but they have the coolest name I’ve ever heard.”

Joanna: My co-director Kate, who can’t be here — we’re both pregnant but she’s about to pop! — I’m sorry that she’s not here. She was working on another film called No más bebés and she was looking for outreach partners and the Ovarian Psycos came up. Kate and I went to graduate school [together] and we were looking for a film to work on together. I believe she just heard about Ovarian Psycos and called me immediately afterwards: “There’s this group of women, I don’t know anything about them but they have the coolest name I’ve ever heard.” We basically just pored over information about them — there were a few local articles written about the Ovas online, they had a Facebook page and we looked over it. And we approached them with a lot of enthusiasm. And they said… “No, thank you. Please do not make a documentary about us.” And we said, “Okay.”

Andi: It took a lot of time for us to build trust, more than anything. Ideally we wanted someone of color to make the documentary. But no one was stepping to do it. We built the trust over the time and it took a while to say yes.

On the Sometimes Contentious Collaborative Process

Joanna: We filmed together for four years and it was an ongoing process the entire time. The Ovarian Psycos are obviously really strategic in their organizing strategies. And like they said, they weren’t looking to have a documentary made about them but I think once the opportunity arose and we talked more about it. They were interested in having a platform to share a lot of their mission and vision with a larger audience. We were really interested in doing that and thinking about the motivation behind the work. Not just a puff piece about the Ovarian Psycos. It has really been an ongoing trust-building process but that’s how it started.

On the Film’s Greatest Challenge

Xela: They were white. We were brown. Basically. Bottom line.

Andi: That was a very large part of it, but I think none of us really wanted the attention. A lot of the girls hesitated to be in front of the camera. My personal experience is that a lot of women didn’t want to share their stories because [they thought] their stories weren’t worthy enough to share.

Xela: And should they be shared, at what point will they be considered as some sort of rockstar platform? That’s always been in our minds in our community. What happens when you get this much attention? What does it mean?

Joanna: Since we approached them as fans and didn’t know much about them, we didn’t think much of it at the beginning. But throughout the filmmaking process, the ability to be checked and have open dialogue about what that means, about the white gaze, about what it means to bring a camera into a room, about documentary filmmaking in general — most documentary filmmakers, whether they’re white or not, are outsiders to the community they’re filming. And so being able to have those conversations was really important and it builds the trust that allowed us to film the film we wanted to. I think that ultimately made the film what it is. It would have been really different without those conversations. I think it would’ve suffered a lot without them.

Xela: It wouldn’t have happened without those conversations.

On Celebrating Womanhood

Andi: Being in Ovarian Psycos we carry a very big responsibility as to how to be the perfect sister, a good female role model. My relationship with my mother is not… well, you’ve seen [the film]. It took a documentary for her to acknowledge what I was doing. She finally was like, “Oh, what you’re doing is not a joke and it’s worth [it.]”

Joanna: I think when we saw Xela with Yoli, her daughter who’s in the film, that was the moment when it clicked. Oh, that is why they’re doing the work they do. This is why Xela does the work she does. This is why Ovarian Psycos exist. Once we saw that moment and that clicked for us, it really led the entire filmmaking process. And it made us want to know more about their lives and their relationships with their moms.

On How They Hope the Doc Will Inspire Women of Color

“If you’re a film student, whatever it is that you’re doing, step up to the plate and be there for your community!”

Andi: My view is that the documentary teaches women of color that their stories are worth telling. That we do deserve this platform that we personally think nobody cares about. But there’s a large community — there’s a world out, a world that does care!

Xela: And that basically we need each other on both sides of the camera. Although I appreciate Kate and Joanna for being there — because ultimately at the end of the day had they not been there none of that would’ve been documented — but at the end of the day we still need to be on both ends of the camera. And step up, you all! If you’re a film student, whatever it is that you’re doing, step up to the plate and be there for your community! In every capacity that you can.

On Weathering Criticism From the Trans Community

Xela: We have gotten amazing criticism that we wouldn’t even have taken a time to look at because of our own privilege. And we do recognize that first and foremost. But we’re also in the process of trying to reconcile what does it mean understanding that we come from a privilege of having ovaries meanwhile also coming from super-colonized Mexican households  [where] we didn’t even know the name of our organs until we went into high school. When I got my moon — my period — my mom was like “Figure it out!”

To this day there are people coming from el rancho, because we’re all still migrating this way. So how do we reconcile the fact that these are girls coming with these same exact attitudes of like, shaming this idea that we’re women, that we bleed. Although I understand we come from a privileged place with respect to our trans sisters there still has to come a point where we can come to understand our life experiences. And we fucking love the fact that our trans sisters are also saying “Fuck the script! We will live our lives the way we want to!” So how can we work together for the same reality for the rest of our children coming up? I don’t know. We haven’t figured it out but understand that that conversation exists.

Andi: [Laughter] We’ve also considered changing our name.

Xela: But then we’ve also gained criticism on some mental health issues. Why are you psychos? Don’t I have a say that I’m a psycho? And then we also get some shit on some ableism shit; what about people who can’t ride? These are very real questions so the questions should not stop but it’s about how we can communally address them. It’s not about stopping the work but about propelling the work forward.

On Owning Their Queer Roots

Xela: It’s kind of a given. If you associate as a Psyco, you probably have ventured in some kind of way. You’re on the spectrum of queer — I’m super queer!

Andi: I could go both ways. But, I like dick, y’all. And most of them assume that because I’m not taking selfies with dudes that I’m a lesbian. Because I’m associated with the Ovarian Psycos. You know, we put a disclaimer, “female, female-identified, queer, two-spirit, all that good stuff…”

Xela: But it’s specifically for women that do not accept the script that they were given from birth. It’s basically on some cis- heteronormative white bullshit. So if you don’t accept that, you’re part of our group, automatically.

On Gentrification

Xela: First and foremost, whenever we get asked about some bike mobility bullshit, like “bike lanes” or whatever? We’re super critical about that shit.

Andi: Bike lanes are going to be the key to gentrification. It’s all about “making it safe.” But we were just talking about this…

Xela: We were talking about it yesterday. We have to be critical at whatever point anybody says anything about making your community “safe.” It’s a euphemism for “we’re making it better for white people to move in.” We have to be real about that shit. First of all, our intentions are to make it even more dangerous. If you didn’t get that shit there [in the film], you’re gonna get that shit here: our whole purpose is “Number 1: Do not feel comfortable if you’re white. Number 2: Do not feel comfortable if you’re male.” We are here to combat this shit on every level and by any fucking means. Whatever you see here [in the film] is nice and cute but don’t even try to think that this shit is safe for you now. That’s all I have to say about that. Are you all scared? [Laughter] Because you should be.

Ovarian Psycos played as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York and will play as part of Frameline40 in San Francisco.

Los Angeles 5th annual Clitoral Mass, organized by the Ovas, takes place August 6th.