(This is the first in a series of posts highlighting the members of the Sirens who graciously sat down with me for interviews as I was preparing to write Everything In Its Place.)
I interviewed Juanita Kirton in December of 2018.
Juanita and I talked about the changes she’s seen in women ridership over the years.
When I used to go to motorcycle rallies, [you’d see] the men, and the women on the back [of their bikes]. I was one of the few women riding my own motorcycle. And now, more and more women are riding.
Juanita pointed out that the increase in women ridership has brought many changes, like the availability of gear tailored to women’s bodies.
When I first started [riding] you couldn’t even get clothes for women. They only had men’s clothes. Men’s jackets. Men’s boots, helmets, gloves. Everything fit you terribly. It’s only in the past 10 years or so that they’re making women’s clothes, helmets, etc.
Juanita also told me that seat height has traditionally been a challenge for women riders. She said that women used to have to wear shoes with high heels to reach the pedals, or pay a mechanic to lower the seat on their bike. Now, though, manufacturers are making bikes that have a shorter seat height.
I interviewed Andrea Sears in December 2018.
Andrea got her start with motorcycles as the result of her friendship with Cheryl Stewart, one of the founders of the Sirens. Although Andrea had been an avid bicycle rider as a kid, she’d never contemplated owning a motorcycle until she met Cheryl. But once she tried it, Andrea found the same freedom on a motorcycle that she’d experienced as a kid on a bike.
[Cheryl] didn’t have a car at the time, she only had a motorcycle, and so she rode it every day of the year, through winter snowstorms and all kinds of stuff. And it was, just, the idea that I could have something that was two wheels and relatively inexpensive compared to a car, get me where I wanted to go, give me that kind of freedom that I had as a kid on a bicycle, I thought, this is the solution I’ve been looking for. That it wasn’t just a possibility, it was a reality.
Andrea said that she felt “immediately welcomed and accepted” by the Sirens. In fact, a year after she joined, she was elected president of the club (and went on to serve three times as president and twice as vice president). But it was more than just membership into a club—it was the formation of a chosen family.
It happens with a lot of queer people. You have a family of choice who fill in almost all the gaps. So that’s what the Sirens are.
I was incredibly moved by the stories Andrea shared with me about various times members of the Sirens needed help, whether due to injury, illness, etc. Each time, members of the Sirens rallied to their side--not just one or two people, but often the entire club, looking out for their Sirens sisters. As Andrea said:
We’re very supportive of each other, very protective of each other in that respect. We try to see to each other’s needs and keep people safe, so that’s what we do.... Motorcycling is a dangerous activity, so there is a risk. That’s why we have the emphasis on safety, and it’s why when something goes wrong we are there for each other.
I interviewed Jen Baquial in December 2018.
Jen and I talked about what it was that attracted her to motorcycle riding. At the age of 25, she’d already ridden on dirt bikes and scooters when a coworker invited her to ride on the back of his motorcycle.
At the moment I was on the back of his [bike], I was like, nah, I gotta get my own. It was immediate…. It was a feeling of no, I don’t want to ride on the back of anyone’s bike. I want to be in control of my own bike.
Once she started riding, Jen was hooked.
It was a rush. I think it was just a thrill of the sense of danger, but also the sense of control, and the sense of freedom that I as an individual have on this machine. It’s so different than a car…. [B]eing on a bike, it’s like an extension of you. You know that every move you make is going to affect what happens to you and that bike on the road. You feel like you are part of that machine.
At first, Jen was a solo rider—well, solo except for her dog, Mojo, who accompanied her on a 3 month cross-country trip! But once she moved to NYC, Jen decided she wanted to ride in the annual gay pride parade, which the Sirens always lead. So she tracked them down and joined the club.
Jen talked about the difference between riding alone vs. in a group:
I was always kind of a solo rider because I didn’t know any other women that rode… I love riding individually, out on the open road is great, but it’s different when you’re with [a group]—I equate it to church. Everyone in one space having a feeling or elevating your spirit, all by yourself but in a room with everybody else, there’s something different. Same thing on a bike. It elevates your spirit, elevates your soul.…
Jen talked about her love of the Sirens, not just as a group of fellow riders, but as an institution that has a special history in the LGBTQ community. Jen made it her mission to increase the visibility of the club, especially on social media, and other members I interviewed credited her with the expansion of the group in recent years.