When Xela de la X was five, she went against her parents’ wishes and taught herself to ride her brother’s bike. The only daughter in a “traditional Mexican home” in which girls were not “allowed to do anything the boys did,” Xela, who goes by an assumed name, said bicycling gave her a sense of freedom and allowed her to overcome the sense of oppression she faced as a woman of color.
“You are autonomous on your bicycle. You don’t need gas, it’s basically your own will, your motivation and you, pedaling,” she said.
Xela and her all-women bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos, now hope to inspire this same feeling of freedom in women from similarly “oppressed households” by hosting Los Angeles’s first ever Clitoral Mass, a takeover of the streets for and by female bike riders, on Aug. 31.
According to Xela, a Clitoral Mass is a large, exclusively female gathering of bike riders similar to the co-ed Critical Mass bike rides of Los Angeles that promote bike-friendly streets. Clitoral Masses have already happened in cities like Seattle, Washington and San Francisco, but none had ever taken place in Los Angeles, Xela said.
The Ovarian Psycos plan to change that. Last Wednesday night the group held a fundraising event for the ride that included an open mic event and a bike ride from Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles to Corazon del Pueblo, a community art space in Boyle Heights where the group got its start and now houses some of the group’s bi-monthly meetings. They raised $500 for walkie-talkies and safety gear, with a portion going toward the community art space.
Formed in 2010, the Ovarian Psycos attract women in their early twenties to late thirties from across the country. It creates a safe, healing space exclusively for women of color because “historically women of color have not had our own space,” Xela said, though Caucasian women and all men can be allies. They also collaborate with Iron Unicorns, a sister brigade in Highland Park, in volunteering at a East Los Angeles community garden called Proyecto Jardín, located in a plot behind White Memorial Hospital.
The group’s philosophy combines feminism with a connection to the indigenous culture that they have dubbed an “urbanhood mentality,” Xela said. During their “lunar rides,” night-time bike rides under full moons, they explore topics ranging from female Zapatista movements to sexual health. They often end the night with a bonding event that sometimes takes the form of an indigenous moon ceremony in which they use sage to cleanse the body.
“As a person who’s really connected to my indigenous roots and my indigenous culture, I really loved that it was a mesh of ’hood and indigenous culture one night under the full moon,” Claudia Lara, the Ovarian Psycos’ Clitoral Mass planning committee leader, said.
Both Xela and Lara said women young and old from their neighborhoods support their efforts to make the streets safe, but the group’s strong feminist message, and its name, can sometimes ruffle the feathers of both women and men in their communities.
Some women are offended by their use of the word “psycho” to refer to women, but Xela explained they have reclaimed the term and made it their own, which historically relates to the stigma of women suffering from hysteria and psychosis.
Men sometimes call them sexist for excluding male members from their group, but Xela said that “men cannot deny the fact that even in bike culture itself all critical masses have been primarily male dominated” and that there is a need to create a safe space for and by women.
Karen Conde, a member of Iron Unicorns, said that often she hears women say they don’t ride bikes because they are afraid of riding on the streets or they think it’s all male-dominated. But she said that groups like Iron Unicorns and Ovarian Psycos can help dispel those fears and inspire more women to take part.
“Even if you don’t see us ride everyday we still have a bike, and we still ride,” Conde said. “We own it and we are strong.”
Registration for the Los Angeles Clitoral Mass includes options for housing and loan bikes. For more information on how to register and other fundraising events visit http://ovarianPsycos.com.