Amelia J. Michael: Accidental Activist

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Amelia J. Michael

Amelia J. Michael is a woman of many talents. In addition to running two successful businesses — Polycute.com, an LGBTQ and polyamory greeting card and gift business, and Aikotek, a technology consultancy — Michael has been certified as a crisis and domestic abuse counselor. In her off time she practices yoga and meditation, and oh yeah, she’s also the lead singer in a band. 

Where are you from?

I am a Philly girl through and through. My mom actually still lives in the house I grew up in, up in the Northeast. 

Only child or siblings?

I am an only child, I’m an only grandchild, I’m an only niece, I’m an only great grandchild…

Do you have only child syndrome? 

No, and I swore up and down that I was going to have a million children but I have one. 

I used to call one of my good friends a SPOC, Single Parent, Only Child. 

Ha, I refer to myself as a one and done. 

What were your interests early on?

I was always really, really into music. Being the only of everything, we had a very small family; my mother had one brother and he was 13 years older than me. I used to sit in his room and listen to music with him. I grew up on ‘70s music and was completely enthralled with it. I would sing every single day, but never told a living soul that I could sing until about 5 years ago. It was the thing I did all the time but secretly. 

What happened 5 years ago to make you burst forth?

That is one of my very favorite stories. I had a child 18 years ago, and when I first had my kidlet, I had really bad postpartum depression and I didn’t know what to do about it except for singing to my kid. So I sang every single day and my kid grew up thinking I was a singer. One day when my child was 5, they heard me say to someone that I couldn’t carry a tune, and they asked me why I lied. I used it as an opportunity to explain what a phobia was. I told them that I was too scared to sing to anyone else and my kid decided that they were going to help me confront my fears. Two days later, I came home from work and they had lined up all of their stuffed animals with a little microphone set in front of them and told me, “I’m going to help you face your fears.” I thought it was cute, but ‘never gonna happen.’ Then when my child was 10, it was time to plan for the whole bar mitzvah thing; you schedule them years ahead of time, but when the time came, my kid didn’t want to do it. I had to say, “We’re kind of stuck, it’s a pretty big thing and grandma needs it, blah, blah, blah,” and my kid said, “I’ll make you a deal, if you sing one song to me at the party, just you, singing directly to me in front of everybody, I’ll do everything you ask for the next 3 years, no questions asked.” I said okay, figuring that by the time it came around, they would forget. But about 8 months before the big day, they asked, “So did you pick your song yet?” After going to music seminars and a million song choices, I ended up singing “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees. Somebody taped it and put it on YouTube and a local musician saw it and the result is that I’m now the lead singer in a band. 

Cool! What was a favorite family tradition?

I have two. My mom and I lived on our own for a long time before she remarried, and as a single parent, things were often harried, so as often as she could my mother would take me to Burholme Park and we would have a picnic under a weeping willow tree. To this day there’s a special place in my heart for Willow trees. The other tradition was going to my grandparents house. We’re Jewish, and I spent every single Friday of my life with them until the day they died.

What kind of extracurricular things did you do in high school?

I am one of those kids who absolutely hated high school and couldn’t wait for it to be over, so nothing comes to mind. 

But you made up for it in college.

Yeah, I went to Temple and they let me write my own major, which was American Post Modern Culture and it was amazing. It included everything from Art History to Women’s Studies. 

What did you have in mind to do with that?

I always thought that your undergrad degree was supposed to be for something that fascinated you and the masters was for your career. It didn’t go quite that way for me. I wanted to own my own EAP firm, which was a new concept back then. It stands for Employee Assistance Program. Basically you work as a short term therapist for a company. I wanted to work in psychology, I was certified as a rape counselor and have been dedicated to working on gender issues for as long as I can remember.

What turned your path?

My life turned when I got married. My then husband had a very small IT business that he ran out of a bedroom in his apartment. His business partner quit right before a huge upgrade for a big client, a large law firm. We could have lost our home that we’d just bought, and we didn’t know what we were going to do. I was getting my masters degree and I quit school to help. I wrote a word perfect training manual, in word perfect, to teach it to myself. Turned out, I was really good at learning software and went on to work for several large firms throughout the city. I lost the husband but kept the business. Because I’m a psychology person, I took us in the ‘people over technology’ direction. I currently own a technology training and consulting business called Aikotek. I do tech training and efficiency improvements. Basically, I’m who you call when you think, there’s just got to be a better way to do what I’m doing. 

I don’t imagine there were many women in IT back then. 

No, it was sooo hard to find women in IT, especially women with any kind of power. I couldn’t find a mentor. There are a lot of women in the development space today but I still don’t find many who do what I do.

What are some examples of misogyny that you’ve experienced?

It was all the time, people assuming that I didn’t know what I was doing and trying to teach me something when it’s what I do for a living. Or sometimes you get that person who wants to speak to somebody else, someone who knows more, yet we haven’t even spoken yet. You don’t know what I know or don’t know. Sometimes I’d have to have my husband step in because I knew they just weren’t going to talk to me because I was a woman. And sometimes the guys that worked for me would say, “But that client was so nice, I don’t understand the problem.” Yeah, to you he was nice…

I’m sure. Tell me about your second passion, Polycute. 

It’s a business that I co-own with my girlfriend, she’s the artistic force behind it. We specialize in LGBTQ and Polyamory products. We carry shirts and hats and tote bags, masks, all sorts of things. 

Just in time for Valentine’s day!

Yes, one of the things that makes us unique are our greeting cards which acknowledge all different genders and relationships, for example, we have towels that are “His, hers and theirs.” That’s my favorite! I like anything that takes the traditional and makes it more inclusive. Most wedding gifts are His and Hers and sometimes you might see His & His or Hers & Hers, but what about non-binary people? It bugged me, so we started a company. My girlfriend is a graphic design artist so she designs everything. 

How long have you been together?

We just celebrated our 5th anniversary. She is the coolest. She’s a lighting design expert and runs a theater in New Jersey. 

What’s the origin story for Polycute?

I’m part of a triad. I’ve been in a 5 year relationship with my girlfriend and my boyfriend, and they are both married to each other. I also have another boyfriend, and the business started when we wanted to buy cards for each other on our first anniversary and couldn’t find anything that reflected our situation. There was nothing for healthy non-monogamous relationships. We’d get cards and have to change the “I” to “We.” I was further motivated by my child. There are no cards to say, “I’m proud of you for coming out.” I actually went into a Hallmark Store to ask for one, and the saleswoman said, “We don’t have those kinds of people here.” My kid is also non-binary and there was definitely nothing that acknowledged that. So I took it upon myself to fix that. 

Sounds like you’re a proud Mama. 

Oh yeah, my kid is the most amazing person. They just went to the University of Oregon. They are majoring in Linguistics and they are a Conlanger, which is super interesting. It stands for constructed language, like Klingon and Navi, which are actual full languages created for film and books. Because of Covid, we rented an RV and drove across the country, which was an incredible experience. Driving cross country with a queer kid, I also identify as queer, but I don’t ‘look queer’ in a way that would make people take note. So it was interesting to see peoples reactions to us in different parts of the country. 

When did they come out to you as trans or non-binary?

You know, I don’t like to think of it that way. We’ve always just been who we are to each other. Just like you wouldn’t come out as straight, I don’t like to make it a story, or a thing for us. 

Valid philosophy. Speaking of it, tell me your description of PTSD?

Ha ha, you saw my blog! That is my Post Trump Stress Disorder. On inauguration day, everyone was calling and texting me saying, “Isn’t this great! Aren’t you excited!?!” but I wasn’t feeling that. Especially after what happened at the Capitol, I was still scared and thinking, “Do we really think it just ends?” I actually called every person that I loved and asked them not to go outside on Inauguration Day because I was afraid of what might go down. So I wrote a blog about it, thinking maybe I’m not the only one suffering from post Trump anxiety. 

And I would guess traveling across the country in this atmosphere with a trans child must be scary. Especially if someone is identifiably different. 

Yes, though I think for many trans people, whether you “pass” or not in other people’s eyes, how you feel inside is all that matters, but you still have that fear of… for instance, we stayed at a lot of RV parks, and when people would hear we were going to Oregon, they’d say, “Oh, be careful, there are a lot of liberals that way” and I’d see my kid start to get uncomfortable and slide their hands into their pockets to hide the beautiful painted fingernails. It was interesting, my boyfriend, who is a 65 year old, cis, straight white guy, flew out to help me drive back. The experience of driving out there with my kidlet and diving back with my boyfriend were two completely different Americas. 

That is interesting. Let’s hit on your music before we wrap up, the band is called The ‘Rents correct?

Yes, we play rock, blues and R&B.

What was a favorite moment with them?

I call myself the ‘accidental lead singer with a band’ because after my Bar Mitzvah song was put on YouTube, a friend asked if I wanted to go to a rehearsal with his band. I’d only ever sung that one song, but I went along and had a great time sitting in with the band singing songs. As I left, I told them, “Thank you so much! This is the most fun I’ve ever had, thank you so much for letting me sing with you!” They asked me to come back the next week, and I did, and at the end I thanked them profusely again. Same thing the following week, until finally, my friend — who was the keyboard player — was giving me a ride home and said, “You know that you’re part of the band right?” It was great news, I thought he was going to tell me to stop coming to rehearsals! My best moment on stage was the first time we were on stage and we were trying to figure out what song to do next. One of the guys said, “Hey, do you want to sing that song that you did at your kid’s party?” It was an incredible feeling being up there with my guys. Instead of singing by myself being terrified, I was with a full band doing harmonies, and grooving together. It was one of the most emotional moments performing that I’ve ever had. 

You have so many talents and interests, tell me about some of the other things you do.

I also do coaching for alternative relationships for couples who want or are in non-monogamous relationships and I work with parents of kids coming out to help them have a safe supportive space to talk and learn about what’s happening without necessarily having the kid be the only resource. I also teach gender inclusion to businesses, mostly law firms and non-profits. I make sure that your software is gender neutral. 

Give me an example of that.

I just wrote a blog about this too. As an example, Congress just put out their latest rules package and it’s the first that I know of that’s gender neutral. They use the pronoun they, in the singular form, words like father or mother will be replaced with parent, son or daughter will now be child, etc. It’s pretty impressive. And that’s what I do, clean up the language to make it more inclusive, no more he/she on documents and forms. 

I love it. 

A lot of the reason that I do what I do, the workshops, PolyCute, etc. and my focus on gender inclusion is all because I want the world to be nicer to my kid, you know. I want to live in a world where that’s not a thing. Where everyone can just be themselves. 

For more information go to: www.aikotekusa.com and www.polycute.com