Meet AJ

Intersections include:

  • ND – ÂûDHD, CPTSD, Migraines
  • Little Person/Dwarf 
  • White
  • Genderqueer Woman
  • Queer
  • Fat
  • Nerd
  • Gamer
  • Military Spouse (USMC)
  • Mom (divorced, single parent)
  • College Educated (1st in family)
  • Entrepreneur
  • Previously homeless
  • Recovered addict…

People also get this when they ask for my bio:

  • I am the Founder and Executive Director of Umbrella US, a 501c3 NonProfit Organization working with neurodivergent individuals’ self-advocacy and focused on economic security for our community members. 
  • Affectionately known as the intersectional octopus 🐙 because I always am doing lots of things in different, yet intersecting, arenas and also because I focus on intersectionality and resources for multiply marginalized individuals.
  • I am a
    • wife and mom of disabled Marines
    • professionally licensed teacher and educator (previously taught for WPS and Newman University as well as designed and delivered a range of trainings and workshops online and in person), 
    • Board Certified Coach (work with businesses to create sustainable and inclusive spaces), 
    • Board Certified Clinical Sexologist (work with Neurodivergent, Queer, Transgender, and Military folks),
    • Sensory Environment Strategist (work with individuals, small businesses, and organizations), 
    • Survivor Advocate at WASAC, and 
    • fierce advocate for the economic security of the ND community.
  • When not working, I can be found 
    • speaking on a variety of Podcasts,
    • playing D&D or Amber with my framily, LARPing, virtual zombie hunting, and building Bio-Metal exoskeletons, companions, and advanced weapons to help me fight in the Machine Wars.
AJ Locashio is propped up on her elbows, laying on their stomach with her legs bent up. They are on the floor of the Marine Corps recruiters office in Wichita, KS with a planner in front of them. They are planning events for the local Marine Parents group.
AJ Locashio is propped up on her elbows, laying on their stomach with her legs bent up. They are on the floor of the Marine Corps recruiters office in Wichita, KS with a planner in front of them. They are planning events for the local Marine Parents group.

But if you really want to know me, check this out:

  • Everyone calls me Mama Pistachio, well at least now they do! It all started when my students thought it was hilarious that my name rhymed with a nut. So in true youngling fashion, they began calling me “Ms. Pistachio” and more than a few called me “Mom.” But the story doesn’t end there. When my husband went to boot camp–Rah! Marine Corps!–he was a bit older than the rest of the guys so he was the “Papa” of the group. And so they started calling him “Papa Pistachio”, which obviously started me being called Mama. (Apparently he missed me and talked about me a lot. Sweet, right? I do kinda love him.👾) And so Mama Pistachio stuck–and honestly I love it. Everyday, it reminds me that I am loved by my community, and that they feel loved by me.
  • The more you get to know me, the more you will say, “damn she’s weird”, “That was kinda awkward” and “fuck she’s so wise!”–it’s why my personal tagline is “awkward, weird, & wise.” 
    • Here’s the deal–I’m an autistic, queer, genderqueer woman, fat, asthmatic, little person with migraines + parent and wife of Marines. Suffice it to say, I have a different perspective about life than many others and that comes across in my interactions with them.
    • I don’t always look you in the eye, but I am always listening.
    • I am very intentional with my actions and with my words so I ask clarifying questions or take a pause before responding.
    • Simultaneously, I get very excited about some topics and am perfectly okay with being reminded that everyone around me may not be as excited about it as I am.
    • Finally, I educate through nerdom, because seriously everything just makes more sense outside of reality.
    • Overall, I’m just unapologetically me—this means that while I will genuinely apologize if an action of mine hurts or harms someone, I will never apologize for the human who I am.
  • Things you will often hear me say: 
    • “Self-care is bullshit.” This is an oppressive, capitalistic societal construct that benefits wealthy individuals and harms everyone else. The premise of self-care as it is presented on good ol’ “White Woman’s Instagram” (thank you, Bo Burnham) is: if you have the money, you have access to wellness—aka, you deserve to be well. If you do not have money, then wellness is not something that you have access to—aka, you don’t deserve it. The answer is not self-care, it is care (Nagoski & Nagoski, 2019)
    • “[Work-life] Balance is bullshit.” It is literally impossible for you—or anyone else for that matter—to hold a plank (the exercise) forever. And you can’t balance your life 24-7, either. But multitudes of wellness and business coaches under the sun are screaming ““BALANCE”—I know, I used to be one of them. This is just more of that White Woman IG bs (Thank you Bo Burnham! PS, if this offends you, please understand that I have a dry sense of humor and go check out Bo’s film, “Inside” for context). 
      • You CAN, however, achieve harmony. Rather than being rigid and trying to hold this perfect balance, what if you have the skills and ability—which can absolutely be learned—to proverbially weather the storm?
      • Being resilient doesn’t mean that you struggle and sweat and force yourself to make it through a situation. Instead, it means: 
        • that you have supports in place to help you navigate situations when they arise
        • that you are working with and being supported by others when necessary and that all of you are in it together.
      • If others are helping you with balance, it means that you are expected to build your strength to do it all on your own and, as I said before, self-care is not the way to go. With care comes resilience. We work together in harmony to support one another. Each person may shine in certain areas of the song, but ultimately, the beauty of the song is the harmony of it all together. steps down off of the soapbox

Pssst…Everything I say about self-care holds true for self-advocacy, too. It cannot happen in a vacuum; it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that people have the resources and access to those resources so they can, indeed, self-advocate.

    • “Bullshit” and other curse words. I love cussing. And I fully believe that there is a time and place for it. In linguistics, there is a concept called the language register. We teach this to our students to help them understand that we use different language in different contexts. We speak differently when playing video games with our friends than we do having dinner with our grandparents, right? So cussing is great and has its place. The issue is never cussing. The issue is that sometimes folks don’t know when and how to use it to its benefit. Someone should never be discounted as unintelligent or unable to do a job because you heard or saw them using “four letter words.”
  • I don’t like to hold onto emotional or relational things. It makes me come back to them over and over and over again. 
    • I like to address things and move on.
    • If I say that I have moved on, I have.
    • I will also take your word if you say that you have moved on so please make sure that you have before saying so.
    • It is okay to say that you need some time to process and that we need to come back to it later.
    • I will absolutely ask for that time if I need it and will appreciate your honesty for doing the same.

AJ is sitting bare foot in the grass wearing black leggings, a coral shirt, and a black sheer cardigan. Next to them is a grey text box with a quote from Lewis Carroll. Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the Unicorn. If you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.
AJ is sitting bare foot in the grass wearing black leggings, a coral shirt, and a black sheer cardigan. Next to them is a grey text box with a quote from Lewis Carroll. Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the Unicorn. If you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.

These things will help us work together.

  • When I am in it, I am in it. I will give 100% to a project that I am working on and proud to be a part of. 
    • I need to be proud to be part of it.
    • If I don’t believe in it, I simply can’t give it my all. 
      • I don’t think that anyone else can either. 
        • They may be able to do the job—so, can I—but they can’t give it their all.
        • This is why I encourage those I work with to be honest with me and work to their strengths and passions.
  • Work environment matters. If I am in a space with bright, overhead lights and frequent, high pitched sounds, I am going to struggle. I am very sensitive to smells and will get a migraine when exposed to perfumes, colognes, and other chemically created scents. There are some natural smells that I avoid as well, but they are less likely to cause a migraine than non-natural scents. 
    • I avoid bright overhead lights and noisy (especially high pitched and repetitive sounds) or crowded areas if I can.
    • Otherwise, I may wear sunglasses and headphones or ear plugs.
    • I stay away from areas and people who wear perfume or cologne.
    • If you want me to do my best work and the environment needs to be this way, please allow me to be “weird” so that I can be productive. I like being productive and you like me that way, too. Ultimately, if the environment doesn’t need to be that way, let’s figure out how to change it because I guarantee that I am not the only person whose energy is drained by it.

 

  • I love learning and my work needs to challenge me. I am resourceful beyond belief so don’t discount me as a resource. If I don’t know something, I just may know someone who does or where to find them.

 

  • If I don’t have the time or energy to put into a project I am invited to participate in, I will say no—and saying no this time doesn’t mean that I don’t want an invitation next time.

 

  • Nothing without a purpose. As a teacher, I always told my students that there is a purpose for everything I do and that it is okay to ask me why—as long as the “why” is from a place of curiosity and not accusation. 
    • Equally, I will ask why if I need more information. This is not an attack or a “no,” it is helping me establish meaning and purpose so that I can do my best work.

 

  • I have high expectations for myself and can be intense because of that. 
    • Unless I specifically tell you that something is wrong, nothing is wrong or I have yet to identify what is wrong. 
      • If you ask what is wrong and I say “nothing,” I mean nothing.
      • If you don’t believe me when I say that, invite me to come talk to you later if I need to and let it go.
      • Feel free to check in on me over the next couple of days and if I am continually stressed and intense in a way you don’t normally see from me, let me know so I can reflect on it. 
        • A good way to do this is, “Hey, AJ, I know you said nothing is wrong and I am also checking in on your stress levels. Have you been taking time to play? That is important for you and you said it was okay to you remind you of that.”
  • I also take people for their word and expect them to do as they say. 
    • When I see that words and actions are not matched up, I may question that so that I can understand exactly what is expected of me and can plan how to meet the end goal.
    • This is what, in my opinion, it means to be a team player. We speak the truth and communicate needs so that everyone can feel safe in their zone of the overall project.

Jessica Johns, Molly Hicks, AJ Locashio, Sarah Phelps at Queerarchy in Omaha, Nebraska. October 2023.

Here is what I value in a teammate.

  • Integrity: Do what you say, say what you mean. Ask for clarification if there is even the slightest concern that we are not on the same page.
  • Direct communication: See below in “How to communicate with me”
  • Authenticity (and appreciation of it): There is a theme here, right?
    • I don’t want to pretend to be something I am not and I don’t want to guess whether you are who you present or not.
    • No person should have to give up authenticity for acceptance. Period.
      • We don’t have to agree on everything.
      • We don’t have to be friends.
      • But we can accept that we are different and work together toward the same goal.
      • This looks like kindness and caring for each other as human beings regardless of the intersections that we travel through.

AJ enjoys playing with makeup and comics. In this pic, their makeup is done to make them look like a comic character with a shocked look. Text reads, "No! It can't be..."

There are a few things I have zero tolerance for.

  • Lying. Please don’t lie to me.
    • This includes being fake. This is a waste of energy with me. I will accept you for you. Don’t make me spend my energy on trying to figure out if I can trust you.

    • As stated before, have integrity. Do what you say, say what you mean.

    • I don’t have to like you to respect you. 
      • Lying to me for acceptance will only make me struggle to respect you and then I will struggle to work with you. Just be yourself and we will work together just fine.

    • If lying happens in our relationship for some reason, let’s talk about it and move on.

  • Lack of humility
    • When you mess up or someone tells you that you hurt them, own it.
      • Be curious about it and allow yourself to explore how things could have been done differently.

    • And call me on it if you see that I am not doing the same.

AJ stands with her arm around her son, Lance, and his arm around her. They look at each other sticking their tongues out. Lance is getting ready to get on the bus to Marine Corps boot camp.

Here is the best way to communicate with me.

  • Just say it.
    • Whatever you want to say to me, trust me to handle it professionally and appropriately.

    • I do not like it when people “beat around the bush.” It makes me anxious and is an unnecessary waste of time when talking to me.

    • Just talk to me, tell me what is going on or what you need from me and I will respond.
      • If it is something that I disagree with, I will let you know.

      • If it is something that I can’t do, I will let you know.

    • And, please, tell me your communication style, too.
      • If you need small talk to feel safe and comfortable, let me know that.

      • It makes it easier for me to handle it so that I can participate in that and know that, in the end, you will provide me with the information that you came to present.

    • I don’t expect everyone to change for me, I just expect that we communicate.

AJ is wearing a sleeveless dress and holding a teddy bear dressed as Marine. She and her husband, dressed in Marine Corps Blues, are looking at each other lovingly.

Here are some ways you can help me.

  • Be honest with me.

  • Ask me what will support me in completing an assigned task.
    • Tell me what supports are already in place.

    • If I ask for supports that are impossible, tell me why that is impossible.
      • Do not tell me that you will “look into it” when you have no intention to do so.

  • Tell me, directly, what you need.

  • Allow me to clarify.

  • Provide expectations to me in writing as well as verbally.

  • Do not wear perfume or have other strong scents in my space or in meetings where my presence is required.

  • Allow me to keep the lights off, use lamps, and have natural light when possible.

  • If I don’t need to listen, allow me to wear noise canceling headphones.

  • Understand that I am capable of saying when I need a quiet space vs. when I am able to interact with others.
    • Do not force me to be isolated, but make sure there is space for me to self-isolate when I need it.

  • Wearing a badge on a lanyard will not work. Allow me to use a badge reel instead.

  • Sleeves are hard for me. They have to be “just right” otherwise I fidget and am less productive.
    • Understand that wearing sleeveless shirts and dresses is not unprofessional.

  • Being hot to the point of sweating shuts me down quickly. If I am going to be in an environment where this may be an issue, please let me know up front so I can prepare in advance.

AJ has a contemplative expression and is standing with their elbow resting on a short wall with a mural of an octopus in Artist Alley, Oceanside, CA.

Some things people misunderstand about me

  • My intensity is not a personal reflection on my feelings about you or a project.
    • Sometimes the look on my face, my body language, or intensity in my voice actually has nothing to do with the situation at hand.

    • It is okay to ask me for clarification on it. I may need a minute to process, but I promise that I will let you know if there is a concern about our interaction or a project that I am working on.

    • Asking for clarification is not saying, “Hey, what’s wrong.” It is being specific.
      • For example, “You seem really tense right now, your shoulders are scrunched up by your ears. Is there something about this project that we could discuss?”

  • I love problem solving and I will happily work with you to problem solve.
    • With that, please be up front when you come to me for support. Let me know if you are here to problem solve or here to vent.

      • “Hey, Angela, I just need to vent for a minute…” means that you would like me to listen to provide support, but do not want advice.

      • “Angela, I have this problem and would appreciate some advice. Could we schedule some time to talk about it?”

  • Not smiling does not mean I am unhappy or unapproachable.