Eli Hill

Moving Violations

6:30pm, October 25th, 2019

I’m two hours into my Greyhound ride from New York to Boston. Though this bus ride is only four hours long, it will take me a total of 9 hours to travel from my original departure point, New Brunswick, New Jersey to my final destination, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The amount of time I have set aside to make this trip is exorbitant––one could even consider it an act of self destruction.

On paper, the purpose of my trip is to visit The Moving Violations’ archive at Harvard’s Arthur & Elizabeth Schlesinger Library; The collection houses paraphernalia, photographs, t-shirts, pins, financial records, and more from the all-wymen’s motorcycle group. For the past three months, I have developed a practice of visiting archives to retrieve content on lesbian motorcycle groups, with which I return to my studio and make collages and paintings from. So on the surface, this trip is like any other––an academic journey into history to aid my artistic making.

But somewhere deep inside my clenched stomach, I know my passion for the archives is more complicated than that. 

I found out about this archive while researching the ryder “Rockin’ Robin”, a long-time active member of The Moving Violations. After googling, “Moving Violations Jacket” I encountered a blog post from Harvard’s archive that featured a denim jacket, emblazoned with the wymen’s fiery logo and, as a result, the archive and I were introduced.

Soon after, I submitted a research request to view the collection in person, and within three days, a librarian responded with an approval notification. Once I was given consent to visit, the archive became the only thing I could think about.

Will the metal tip of the pins be rusted? Will I find a string of letters illuminating a romance or feud in the group? Imagine my fingertips tracing the various weights of paper; the computer paper used for club agreement drafts, the heavier paper used for official letters, the cardstock with indentations of their insignia used as business cards. How wonderfully thick and voluptuous the acid-free folders and boxes will fit in my hands, as if these materials were left specifically for me to handle. How many photographs of denim and leather clad butches will I find? How will the legs of these wymn wrap around the bike? How will the stomachs of the femmes press into the backs of the butches in the midst of riding, and vice versa? Will any of them closely resemble me––as if I am their progeny?

After I book my bus tickets, I begin canceling my plans to see friends and email my colleagues that I will have to leave our class a few hours early, in order to make it to Boston at a reasonable hour. Every time I tell someone that I can’t do something because I am going to Boston, a nervous feeling flickers in my chest. I am exposing a vulnerable truth––that I am going on an irresponsible romantic weekend getaway with my crush.

12:00pm, October 27th, 2019

I am in the terminal, waiting for my train to arrive. I am glowing and tired. I am thinking about all of the complicated intimacies that occurred yesterday. After I arrived to Boston, I took a car to the apartment where I stayed with a friend of a friend. He came down to let me in––it was late, around midnight. We chatted briefly in the living room about our mutual friend before separating into our sleeping quarters.

I woke up around 7am, showered, groomed and dressed. It was a similar routine to the one I perform before going dancing or on a date. A bit of extra attention to my eyebrows, a tight bind around my chest, a conditioner sifted through my hair, and an orange cuticle lotion spread over my nails. Around 7:45am I leave the apartment to catch the bus to Harvard. On my walk over to the library, I drink a coffee and observe the quaint atmosphere; I feel fortunate to visit the Ivy in Fall––in its most cliche, romantic form. 

At the library, I sign in with a security guard, place my belongings into a locker on the basement level and take the elevator up to Floor 2: Special Research. I approach the librarian that sits in front of the reading room and tell her my name. She proceeds to set me up at a table and runs through basic handling procedures for unprocessed material: if you take a folder out of a box, hold your place with another folder; do not reach or stand over the materials; all materials must be kept entirely on the table; you must flip through folders’ contents as you would a book; a librarian must assist you with all handling of textiles; you may only use pencil and paper to take notes, or a laptop; you may image anything you’d like, as long as it is not marked with a permission label.

And so it begins. The first two boxes are full of papers: club agreements, letters from potential members, awards, financial documents, Chrome Rose magazines, fliers and newspapers. In the following box I find what interests me most: photographs.

In these images, wymn pose together for group pictures; their limbs weave in and out of each other’s torsos, napes, and hips. In some images, they pose with an aggressive masculinity–– leaning back on their bike, legs kicked up on the handle bars, arms crossed against their chest––while in others they allow the photograph to capture them in a vulnerable moment: a kiss, a bend on the side of a mountain, lounging in a hotel bed, exchanging a gift, fixing a tie, repairing the belly of a bike, holding another ryder’s child, smiling with the arms of a lover wrapped around them.

As my eyes notice mustaches, muscle, and thickened skin on many ryders, they begin beading a necklace of disjointed terms––butch, dyke, trans––and as my fingers flip through the 5 x 7 prints, I begin to feel the wymn’s hands reaching around my neck to do the clasp. I can feel their history hanging on me, denoting that I also belong to them.

As I photograph their T-shirts, cards, poems, plaques, and photographs, my thoughts begin slipping to someone who has been frequenting my mind. They have recently started orbiting in and out of my life. I guess you could say they are my crush; They make me feel similar to how the archive does. As I toss and turn through archival boxes and crisp blue folders, my mind inserts their image in-between the photographs of the Ryders’. Stills of them smiling by their bikes at Pride parades begin morphing in and out of the image of my crush; A supercut of past and present, real and fictional, imaged and imagined is strewn together in my head.

After a few hours, I step outside to take a break. I walk for about twenty minutes, drink another coffee, and finally land in the library’s courtyard, where I decide to lay down. Like the nearby piles of leaves, my body occupies a small fragment of the large, green lawn. I close my eyes and soon I am watching the film back.

It opens with a scene of a ryder gracefully rounding a road that hugs the lip of a cliff. She arrives to her destination and shortly afterwards, her lover pulls in behind her. They smile at one another as they remove their helmets and black leather gloves. The first ryder sticks her gloves into the back pocket of her jeans, and the fingers flop over onto the face of the denim. Her lover nears her and pushes her right hand into the other pocket of the jeans. To the first ryder, the gloves and her lover’s hand feel about the same. The film cuts to a shot of her ass, where the gloves and hand make taught lines in the fabric. The first ryder wraps her hands around her lover’s waist and they kiss. At this point the shot widens; The lovers stand in the center of the frame with their bikes spooning the sides of the shot. A tall wall of uncut rock towers above them.

The film cuts to the ryders in bed with one another––specifically a hotel bed that they are sharing on one of the Moving Violations’ charity trips. They spent all day riding with the wind whipping against them and their bodies sweating beneath their leather. This tenseness melts away in the scene; The first ryder is wearing a Moving Violations T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and is straddling the other ryder. On the t-shirt is an image of a winding road; When they lean back, the shirt billows down below her and deflates against the chest of her lover. The road is pressed between their bodies.

I slowly flicker my eyes open and am met with the sight of fall leaves gripping the branches above me. I gather myself and re-enter the archive to finish imaging anything I missed. I text my crush back. I take notes on my laptop and keep everything in order. I feel passion deep in my chest––an arousal spurred by the archive’s orderliness; texts from my crush that bring my narrative into the archives’; the hands of a librarian unraveling a muscle tank covered in long, brown hairs; thoughts of the archivist who spent tens of years organizing these materials. I feel profound waves of pleasure at being able to look through the archive without wondering whether or not the ryders were lesbian, trans, and/or queer. I feel an overwhelming warmth at being able to study, touch, and fantasize about their lives, and in doing so, show myself that I can have one like theirs too.

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