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February 8, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Jen Baquial

Kate Hart
My fiancée (KT Ballantine, current Sirens Vice President) and I during the moment of silence before NYC Pride March 2016, Orlando was at the front of all of our minds during that time."
Remember that article that went viral a few months ago, about the motorcycle gang that delivers breast milk in NYC? Everyone from the New York Post to the New York Times covered the Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club of New York City -- and it just so happens that their president, Jen Baquial, is an Arkansas native and a friend of another Badass Lady, actress Ashley Atkinson.

One Facebook connection later and I get the honor of sharing this in-depth look at how Jen went from life in Little Rock to leading such a badass group.

Group club shot out at Floyd Bennett Field where we practice before riding season officially kicks off, Mojo present that day

Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Jen:  The job that pays the bills is industrial automation and electrical engineering.  My mother would describe me as the kid who always took things apart to see how they work, and that curiosity definitely led me to my engineering career today.

My greatest passion in life right now, though, and what I am most proud of is being president of the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of New York City, an organization that has a 30 year herstory in New York City leading the NYC Pride March.  It has been my goal to grow the club’s membership and focus on community service.  I really believe that even though we are a small group, every little bit of service we can do is totally worth it.  I always try to stress that we should help in the areas that we care about the most, and so any member or pledge that notices a need somewhere can bring it to the club and we do whatever we can to help.  Whether it’s delivering donor breast milk from the New York Milk Bank to a NICU or collecting clothing for local people in need or mentoring a woman who wants to learn to ride a motorcycle, the Sirens will try to find ways to support and strengthen women in our community.  Riding our motorcycles together gives us immense joy, but doing service in the community together gives us greater purpose.

"My friend and current Sirens Treasurer, Kim Wetzel, and I at NYC Pride March"
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Jen:  Professionally, my biggest challenge has always been “sitting at the table” with men and having to skillfully be assertive without being perceived as pushy or bossy.  I’ve had many encounters with men in the field and in the office where my knowledge or skillset has been questioned or challenged for no other reason, at least that I feel, other than the fact that I am a woman.  I’m not afraid of admitting that my own insecurity can play a part in this, but I often think how I would be perceived if I were a man or a more feminine presenting woman.  Being an assertive woman doesn’t play out in the same way that being an assertive man does, and I work hard to navigate professional confrontations so as not to jeopardize project success.

I think this is why I cherish my work with the Sirens so much.  I never have to feel that sort of pressure in the club.  We are a family, and we empower each other in a way that isn’t full of gendered expectations or insecurities.  We do interact with male motorcyclists in the community and also have moments where we are challenged in the community at large, but as a group we strengthen and empower each other.  That fuels our confidence in the way we ride, the way we carry ourselves, and ultimately the way we are respected by other motorcyclists in general.

Sirens colors
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Jen:  Life in my early twenties was particularly difficult for me. That internal struggle I was talking about gripped me so hard that I dropped out of college and fell into a drug addiction.  There were so many times I would think, this would all be easier if I just floated away.  One morning after a long night of not sleeping, I looked in the mirror at myself and said, “Okay, not today.  I won’t let myself go like this.”  I left town and got clean on my own cold turkey.  Five years after being sober, I had enough strength to finally come out to my parents.  It was the hardest moment of my life, but it felt like I had suddenly gotten rid of 10 tons of bricks I had been carrying on my back since I was a kid.  In that moment, I knew I had to be prepared for however my parents would react.  I’m not going to say it was beautiful and amazing, but I am lucky it wasn’t as bad as I know it has been for others.  I love my parents, and I know they love me.  I respect them enough to give them the time they need to figure out their feelings.  Will they attend my wedding?  I’m not 100% sure they are ready for that, and I’m okay with it.  It’s hard to say what they have a harder time with, me being a lesbian or me riding a motorcycle, haha!

"My funny attempt at a pinup shot on my motorcycle.  See how I coquettishly hide my face behind my helmet?  Hahah!"
Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? Or Tell us something that makes you proud.

Jen:  I think I’m pretty normal, like most people, and find compliments hard to take and respond to.  Honestly, my favorite compliments come from little girls.  When a child sees me and says things like, “Wow, you ride that motorcycle?” and look at me like they are logging in their mind that they can do it too someday, that makes me so happy.  I have a niece that said to me one time, “Aunt Jen, I like you because you wear whatever you like and you don’t care if it’s supposed to be boys’ clothes.”  I explained to her that the idea of boys and girls clothes don’t make a whole lot of sense to me and that people should wear whatever makes them feel good.  The smile on her face as I handed her a child size leather motorcycle vest for her birthday was totally priceless.

Group club shot from Babes Ride Out East Coast, an all women motorcycle camping event
Kate: What's your best experience on a motorcycle?

Jen: In June of 2010 I got laid off of my job at Anheuser-Busch.  I figured I needed a little life reset, so I took 3 months on the road with my dog Mojo (he has a special seat he rides in) and traveled back and forth across the country on my Harley.  It was the ultimate freedom.  I stopped all over the country and visited friends from every time in my life.  Being alone, well aside from Mojo, on the open road gave me time to reflect on what’s important in life and breathe knowing that everything I experienced up to that point just made me who I am and I love that woman.  I ended up making Brooklyn my landing point at the end of my journey, and I knew at that I had found home.  I have so many stories from that trip.  If I was a writer, I’d have a book.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Jen:  Mentor, employ, and engage.

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Jen:  All of my Siren sisters are badass ladies!


US only

Jen's bio:
I grew up in Little Rock, AR, the daughter of Filipino immigrants.  My parents taught me that hard work and respect would get me far.  I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith and internally struggled with my identity throughout my entire childhood.  It’s not an easy thing to be indirectly told by all of your adult influences that who you are inside is wrong.  It fueled a lot of low self-esteem issues for me as a child, so it made sense that all I could do was bury myself in academics and sports to find other ways to gain approval and hide who I knew I was inside.  If the child I was then knew that I could be a part of a group like the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of New York City, my days and nights would have been a whole lot easier.  I am proud of all of my academic and professional accomplishments, but I am most proud of having finally found a way to be comfortable in my own skin and love who I am inside and out.  That was a 35 year project, haha!  Anyway, I’ve been in the engineering industry for 10 years and have been motorcycling, at least legally, for about that long.

Sirens website  //  Sirens Facebook

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