Mary Ann Thomas & The Gift of Queerness

Mary Ann Thomas & The Gift of Queerness

In 2014, Mary Ann Thomas bicycled solo across the US and Canada. In 2017, She peddled across India with a travel partner and connected with local bike communities in cities across the nation. Accessing these cycling havens in India provided examples of community that she, a brown queer daughter of Indian immigrants, had only rarely seen in the US bike world. On September 15, 2018 her remarkable experience is the subject of a most compelling evening of community story sharing in Madison, Wisconsin at Café Domestique and the Cargo Bike Shop hosted by The Joy Trip Project and The Woods Products.

Mary Ann and I met in the modern way. That is to say that we connected via Instagram when a mutual acquaintance sent up a shout out for listener to stream in to a popular podcast. “Give the latest episode of The Ethical Traveler Podcast some love, y’all,” the  message read. “After an amazing class discussion about the joys & challenges of traveling while black / brown / queer / female, three of my VONA travel writing students recorded a podcast & talked about who inspires them (Spoiler Alert: it’s @brownpeoplecamping @melaninbasecamp @nativewomenswilderness @joytripproject & @doctuhruth ).”

It should be said that like Esteban Vihaio in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 “I am susceptible to flattery.” In her interview with host Jeff Greenwald, Mary Ann had very kind things to say about my work on the Expedition Denali project and my book The Adventure Gap. But frankly I was more interested in learning more about her work as a cyclist, writer and queer woman of color. In my efforts to make outdoor recreation and international adventure travel more accessible to under represented segments of the population, I am constantly looking for narratives that include the perspectives of those we too infrequently see on the roads and trails of the great out yonder.  

Mary Ann is one of those courageous souls who venture out into the world to create new experiences on their own terms. Often alone, with limited moral support or even role models, they journey boldly into the unknown to discover people and places most of us have never even imagined. With just the innate desire to seek distant horizons Mary Ann is forging a path adventure for herself that will likely inspire others to do the same.

“I had literally no skills to pull off what I’ve been doing. I had never published a thing, marketed myself, or cold-called stores to ask if I could talk. I’d never spoken in front of an audience. I’d never made a powerpoint. I’d never worked with an illustrator or read my work aloud,” she recently wrote on Facebook. “But I have the gift of queerness. As an immigrant-descent queer woman, I have never had a model for anything. I’m making it up as I go along. I build worlds every time I exist. I get to try a little harder, do a little better, and every time I put any effort in, I create new possibilities, new worlds, for myself.”

The gift of queerness seems far less about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity than it is the willingness to be different. Much of our world is stringently defined by the the expectations what we are “supposed” to do or be according to rather arbitrary criteria of behavior. It takes a great deal of courage to defy to dictates of tradition and cultural mores to become not what society demands of us but rather who we truly are.

Mary Ann recently attended the first WTF Bikexplorers Summit (for women, trans, and femme people), where she presented her story on a panel of Queer People of Color. Before and since this event she’s been traveling to bike communities around the country. Her goal throughout this tour is to contribute to a more inclusive and expansive bicycling and outdoors community. The purpose of her presentation is to share stories of her most recent bike tour in India, demystify some of the logistics and stressors of planning a small or large tour, and provide resources for people to engage with bike touring or bike-packing on their own. Despite the multiple barriers to her outdoor participation, like parents who assume she’ll die while on an adventure, a family system and culture that doesn’t embrace the outdoors, a desire for queer community that is based, primarily, in cities, and the possibility of increased risk that comes with being a brown woman, she has found ways to get outside, defy impossibilities, and thrive.

Mary Ann Thomas describes herself as the queer brown daughter of Indian immigrant parents, a travel nurse, bike tourist, and writer. She has lived and worked in Washington DC, NYC, Anchorage, San Francisco, San Diego, and Cooperstown. She has bicycled over 10,000 miles in the last five years: in 2014, she bicycled solo from San Diego to Montreal; in 2017, she biked across India from the Himalayas to Kerala, the state at the tip of the subcontinent where her family is from. Her writing has been featured in numerous literary and travel platforms, and her bike travel has been featured on several podcasts, including the Dirtbag Diaries, Musafir Stories, and The Ethical Traveler.

As a writer, she has attended the VONA Travel Writing Workshop in 2015 and 2017. Since 2015, her work has been published in numerous literary journals and travel platforms, which include Autostraddle, She Explores, Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, The Rumpus, and On She Goes.

As part of an ongoing series of live speaking events, the Joy Trip Project is thrilled to welcome Mary Ann to our home community in Madison, Wisconsin. This free event from 6 to 8 PM on Saturday September 15, 2018  is co-produced by Audrey Buchanan of The Woods Productions and hosted by Café Domestique and The Cargo Bike Shop. Visit our Facebook event page to let us know you’re coming Seating is limited, so please arrive promptly. We look forward to seeing you!