(This is the second 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 Alyssa Marko in December 2018.
Alyssa talked with me about the way riding motorcycles connects her with kids. As a member of the Sirens, Alyssa has volunteered at Camp Simcha, a Jewish camp for kids with cancer in upstate New York. Members of the Sirens spend time at the girls part of the camp, giving the campers rides on their bikes.
It’s so much fun! Part of it is the subversive nature of giving “good Jewish girls” a ride on a motorcycle which is not something a “good Jewish girl” would do. Yet they enjoy it. And part of it is… letting the girls see women who look different from them, because we are a multi-ethnic club, and we express femininity in all ways, from high femme to super butch, and we’re all women and we’re all accepted as women, as long as we walk in as women, and [we] show that women come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. And we can do things. We can be strong. We can ride motorcycles. Some of the kids are really sick. [Riding gives] them a chance to be kids. And some of the kids are really scared. Watching them overcome their fear of getting on the motorcycle and then really enjoying it [is really moving]. The kids really enjoy it. We as riders probably enjoy it more.
Alyssa has connected with kids through motorcycling in other ways, too—like the time she was riding in a rally with hundreds of other motorcyclists, and a kid saw her and then turned, wide-eyed, to his mom, saying: “Mom, there are girls!”
Alyssa also talked about the bonds that form between members of the Sirens, and the way they all support one another, sometimes more than people’s own biological families. As Alyssa put it, “sometimes oil is thicker than blood.”
I interviewed Jerry Foster-Julian in December 2018.
In addition to being a member of the Sirens, Jerry is a motorcycle instructor. She’s seen the number of women in her classes change over time, though it’s still far from 50/50. “In a class of 12, if we get two women, that’s a lot,” she said.
As an instructor, safety is really important to Jerry. She talked about the commitment Sirens riders had to safe riding: “no drinking or any kind of drug use when you’re on your motorcycle, period.” And while she acknowledged how fun it can be to ride fast, she said “if you really want speed, go to a track.”
Jerry also talked about how empowering it was to ride a motorcycle.
You get on your motorcycle, you’ve got that bike under your seat, that power between your legs, I mean it’s really sexual, you feel you can do anything. You just have a whole different attitude. People look at you differently. When a bunch of women all walk in all carrying motorcycle helmets and all bikes parked outside, people just react to you differently.
I interviewed Renee Askew in December 2018.
Renee recalled her early exposure to motorcycles: an Evel Knievel motorcycle, which was one of her favorite toys. That and her Ken Bronco truck were much more fun to play with than the (pink, of course!) Barbie Bronco that she also had, and foreshadowed not only her interest in riding but also her rejection of female stereotypes.
When she started looking into joining a motorcycling club, she was initially put off by the gender roles she saw playing out in them.
In the motorcycle community women have a place. There’s a stereotype [of] what a woman is supposed to look like. I don’t fit that stereotype. I don’t do the heels. I don’t do the frilly stuff. I don’t do the tight pants, I don’t do the girly jacket. When it comes to motorcycling there’s a clothing disparity where the females’ gear is not as protective, it’s more fashion. So I looked at these women in these clubs and I said, that’s not me.
Renee kept looking, and eventually found her way to the Sirens.
I went to the meeting and liked the feeling I got. These people looked like me. And it’s not that they looked like people in the LGBT community, just [that they looked like] women. They’re not trying to be something that they aren’t…. They respected women as powerful, strong individuals.
Renee said that she’s often approached by people who see her on her bike and say, “I wish I could do that” or “I’ve always wanted to ride.” Renee’s answer is, “What’s stopping you?”
Save your money, get your schooling, get a permit, pick your bike, pick a place to start, commit to a decision and follow through with it…. [A] lot of people will try to talk you out of something that is unfamiliar to them (and this goes for things beyond motorcycling) that they think are dangerous or scary or you could risk their life or something like that if they’ve never done it before. You’ve never ridden a motorcycle, you don’t know how dangerous it is. There’s this absence of knowledge and a lot of people who try to tell me or other people what to do. So it’s uneducated advice is what I call it.
Renee also loves solo riding and has a goal of hitting all 50 states on her motorcycle.
I interviewed Annam Hussaini in December 2018.
Annam didn’t see any motorcycles in her Brooklyn neighborhood growing up, which was populated with many conservative Muslim families. When she visited relatives in Pakistan each year, though, she saw lots of them. And by the time she was a teenager visiting Pakistan, all of her male cousins had motorcycles and used them as their main form of transportation.
“That’s why I got one, initially,” said Annam, “because I wanted to ride with them.” So when Annam was eighteen, she got her motorcycle license. “I still lived at my parents’ house and I had to sneak out to take my exam because my mom did not want me to do it,” Annam told me. Annam’s mother had wanted to ride a motorcycle when she was younger, but felt constrained by the more-conservative environment in which she’d grown up. So when Annam started riding a motorcycle, she said that “[my mother’s] job, in her eyes, was to tell me this was wrong. But inside she was really excited.”
At the time I interviewed Annam, she had a two year old niece who she was already introducing to motorcycles by letting her sit on her parked bike. “She loves the motorcycle,” Annam said. “She goes crazy. She’ll sit there and not want to get off for like 20 minutes.”