PHOTOS | HELEANA GENAUS
Anyone who has lived in a city that celebrates Mardi Gras would know the Dykes on Bikes as the bare chested, bondage wearing, Harley Davidson riding lesbians who head the parade with pride. What few realise (including myself) is that they are the longest running all-female motorcycle club known to the Western world. The DoB have remained active since their San Fransisco founders patrolled the area around Stonewall during the early 1970's to protect their lgbt brothers and sisters at a time when it was OK to assault someone for their sexual orientation.
Police and civilians at the time would happily assault gay men, but apparently were not likely to ever hit a woman, so with that (and a journalist coining the phrase Dykes on Bikes as a dig to describe these women) the club was born. Founded on an image of intimidation, toughness, protection and a staunch resolve to claim back the derogatory term "dyke" as their own (a process of registration that took over 20 years and a supreme court in the US).
Today, the Dykes on Bikes is a community support for lesbian women who love riding motorcycles. Despite being such a niche community, the numbers and support are strong! I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with the Queensland chapter while they were in Sydney for Mardi Gras. I met them at their holiday apartment relaxing by the pool after a huge weekend of parties, parades and press... even after a huge weekend, they were all enthusiastic about sharing their story.
Despite their history, image and public perception, these women are warm, thoughtful, friendly and just want everyone to know how much better life is when you ride surrounded by support. They're really happy together and behave like family. The President, Julz, is clearly proud of the community she heads (and a total gasoline nut!) because of the positive attitude perpetuated by the ethos she's instilled with the help of the VP and ride leader.
While the numbers are on the increase, women are still a minority within the motorcycle scene. I know from my own experience, riding with other women is wonderful, I feel connected and supported in ways that seem easy. We all like to be around people who are like minded, and when we do, we find home. Being a lesbian and "coming out" is a big deal for most, so to get to the point where you're not only "out", but riding proudly is no small achievement and the DoB are there to show there is support. These ladies are comfortable in their skin really open, welcoming and so incredibly supportive without an ounce of competition.
They really want to create a safe-haven for all lesbian women, at whatever level their riding is at, to support them to continue to progress, gain confidence on the road and feel empowered in their new found support. Having been on many group rides I have never seen support like this. I left these women feeling really proud of being a woman, secretly wishing I was gay so I could ride with them, and utterly inspired.
Earning a patch in this club is not a given, Julz was adamant to point out that members don't automatically get patched after three years, they have to earn it by contributing, being proactively supportive and perpetuating a positive attitude, which for her is the display of kindness, manners and support.
This chapter have shown me what it looks like when the world tries to tell you what they think you "should" be and you politely tell them to fuck off (not before giving them a smile and bear hug). They have every reason to continue to live up to the intimidating image they once perpetuated (I'd argue, out of necessity), but they don't because quite frankly, it's doesn't suit them anymore. Under Julz's reign, they've claimed back the Dykes on Bikes initial mantra to protect each other, create a safe haven for women to be themselves and understand how strong and powerful they can be when they live their lives unapologetically.
Back from left: Mandy, Kylie, Reeghan, Karen, Julz, Emily and Tanya.
Front from left: Kerrie and Naydene (centre).
Heleana is a force of nature. The founder of In Venus Veritas and The Petrolette, and a co-founder of Rising Sun Workshop. Heleana shares her love of vintage cars, riding motorcycles, and (not-so-secretly) dreams of flying planes and piloting a riva aquariva (a la Sophia Loren) very fast through the canals of Venice. Supportive and connected, community is her lifeblood, and she is as real as they come.