Mary Ann Thomas is the queer brown daughter of Indian immigrant parents, an ICU nurse, bike tourist, and writer. They have bicycled over 10,000 miles across Turtle Island and India. They are working on their travel memoir about biking across India towards homeland, queerness, and sobriety.
Why do you write? What compels you to write? Care is at the heart of everything I do: as an ICU nurse, as a switch whose greatest erotic fulfilment is caring for others in both sexual and non-sexual ways, as a friend, and as a writer. Writing is a profound act of care in that I can care for younger versions of myself by writing through traumatic, and joyous, life experiences, I can create a new world by speaking it into existence, and I can document my own survival and the communities I am apart of, along the lines of Mia Mingus's words on Leaving Evidence.
What upcoming writing projects are you working on? I've written a travel memoir about bicycling across India towards homeland, sobriety, and queerness, and am currently seeking publication. Writing this manuscript required I step into my ancestral wounds - around migration, sexual trauma, and relationship to land - and truly led me into my purpose, which I now see as healing relationship with the land and creating community around the healing land trauma, as defined as the multiple ways in which humans are severed from land. This can include indigenous genocide, migration, physical traumas humans enact on land like deforestation and mining, and the traumas humans experience from the land, like earthquakes and hurricanes.
This year, I'm offering a course called "Intro to Land Trauma," which serves as a beginning point for someone to interrogate their own land trauma, heal through body- and land-based practices, and cultivate a reciprocal relationship with the earth. It's going on right now and will be offered again in May, and then again in September. I'm also running the Land as Pleasure Workshop Series, which will feature conversations and workshops with close friends who have been healing the land trauma in their bodies and their lineage.
I'm also excited about a smaller-scale, more intimate project, which is writing about my nursing life. I've always been scared to write about nursing - for ethical and legal issues at the bare minimum - but this pandemic has taught me to honor myself and the care work I provide in a way that I hadn't before. I'm sending out a monthly newsletter which will include unpolished writing from my nurse life, in a somewhat genreless form.
What are some of your artistic influences/inspirations? Around care work and healing land trauma, I look to the work of Amber Hollibaugh, Che Che Luna, Staci Haines, Resmaa Menakem, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Dr. Kim Tallbear, and Dr. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. My artistic work is always inspired by, and in conversation with, disability justice organizers, indigenous creators, immigrant artists, and both my queer and trans ancestors and the blood ancestors I am descended from.
excerpt from Seeing the Wind: How It Feels To Be A COVID Nurse
(originally published by Autostraddle)
...the first time I took care of COVID patients, I felt helpless. I’d lost access to my purpose, to my spiritual practice that lives within deeply connecting to my patients and their bodily processes. I felt undeserving of human connection. I’d become a “dirty” nurse. I cancelled plans with people because I didn’t want to put them at risk, even a little bit. I was cancelled on by people who I’d thought would pull through for me. It was only other nurses who physically showed up, who said, “We understand the risks, but COVID mamis need love too!” It was other nurses who also knew how important care is to both give and receive, and who saw me struggling with being able to receive care when I felt like I was so unprepared to give it. It was my nurse-friend Claire who cooked for me, took me to her lake, gifted me salmon she’d caught herself, and even gave me a masked head massage.
The week after caring for COVID patients, I developed hives with no discernible cause—hives which kept me up all night scratching, hives which made me scared to go to bed, hives which made it hard to even walk down the hall at work without tearing my skin off. Hives etched scars, built thick callouses onto my inner elbows and thighs. Hives made me turn the A/C to 63 degrees because it seemed like cold could help. Hives pushed me to the edge and made it hard to imagine living like this.
I woke up every night scratching and, in this space of unconsciously hurting myself, when I was simply trying to rest, I felt so, deeply unworthy of being around other people. I couldn’t think about anything other than the hives. For almost two months, I stayed away from friends, cancelled plans, or straight up didn’t respond.
The hives consumed my entire life and then, required I restructure everything. I’d had hives before in college, when I was trying to fit into a new vegan friend group and tried soy milk. I kept drinking soy milk and eating tofu, despite my obvious allergy, and waited for my body to acclimate to my desire to be liked. Now, as a COVID nurse in a pandemic, I was working harder than I ever had. Grief and despair and helplessness were bursting through my skin as I worked to save lives, but I gained a new understanding: I should not have to do anything to fit in; the world should be catering to me. I don’t deserve to be treated like shit anymore; I don’t deserve to spend my nights scratching so someone else can live; I deserve to be catered to.
What do we do when we’re in crisis? When the challenge of caring for COVID patients is compounded by a physical crisis of raging skin? These last eighteen months of personal crisis—leaving an abusive partner, caring for a dying family member, helping my family completely restructure, confronting my own codependent tendencies, tearing everything away so that I might live anew—alongside the global pandemic and the Uprising for Black lives have made me somewhat of an expert in my own coping mechanisms.
A couple years ago, I would have spent my time at bars, gotten drunk and adventured on mountaintops, and pretended nothing was wrong. Now, four months into Pleasure Coaching with Che Che Luna, I turned inward. Pleasure felt so out of reach, but my skin was calling my attention. I foraged for wild medicines on Dena’ina Land. I looked at my own pussy every day. I drove myself to the ocean, so my skin might feel a blast of cool salt air. When I felt myself itching, I placed a hand over the spot and breathed deeply—sometimes grunting with each exhale—until the itch went away. I massaged poultices and salves and ointments and lotions on in half hour intervals. I drank lemon water. I slept with an ice pack at my bed so that, when I inevitably woke up scratching my broken skin, I could cool it until I fell asleep.