The multi-talented 22-year-old, Deaf, genderqueer, transgender, Jewish, AAPI, artist and activist Chella Man has done more in his short life than most people achieve in their lifetimes. This includes a successful YouTube channel; TedX talk, modeling for IMG; as a fashion designer, painter and tattoo designer; actor on the Titans HBO Max TV show; Trans in Trumpland docuseries executive producer and soon-to-be released book Continuum. Man is currently taking a break from his studies at New York University's New School.
Man lost his hearing when he was four years old due to unknown causes. In a them website essay, Man said he decided to get Cochlear implants when he was 13 years old and severely deaf because reading people's lips began to "weigh me down." The process was complete when Man was 16 years old and he has deemed it successful. For Man, the Cochlear implants opened up a whole new world for him to achieve his dreams.
Windy City Times: You are already making waves in a number of media and activist spaces at such a young age. What were the driving forces in your life that made this happen?
Chella Man: My existence is, unfortunately, radical in this world. Being true to myself means to consistently face various cycles of systemic oppression working to erase disabled, queer, BIPOC individuals. The driving force for my activism is simply that I wish to be given basic human rights and equity.
WCT: Was there a specific catalyst for you in terms of starting your YouTube channel four years ago? I know the original focuses were your trans identity, love life and American Sign Language translations of popular songs. How would you describe the channel today?
CM: I initially began as I wanted to have all my documentation files in one place, online. I never suspected the traction it would receive. I began to get comments and various requests to talk about my process and the rest is history.
Today, the channel continues to be a video diary of my life. From panels to art films to open discussions with loved ones, it is a way I can share my life past still images.
WCT: Which of your videos have garnered the most responses from viewers?
CM: Definitely my voice progression video, all taken on a low quality photobooth application on my laptop.
"Moments of Mom" is one of the first videos I have ever shared. It was the first short film I created based off a letter my Mom wrote to me after I came out as trans and genderqueer to her.
"I'm Glad I Met You At This Age" is another film I shot of my partner, MaryV, chatting about meeting each other so young and growing up. It is very close to my heart.
WCT: Tell me about your TedX talk, "Becoming Him" and how that came about.
CM: I was asked by TEDx X Ranney to give a talk in the midst of all my revelations at the beginning of my medical transition. It was a perfect moment to truly reflect and encapsulate three key checkpoints that brought me to this moment. Although I was terrified of public speaking, I had to say yes.
WCT: You are IMG's first ever Deaf, Jewish AAPI model. How does it feel to carry that moniker with you every day?
CM: I am absolutely honored. Feels even better knowing I will not be the last.
WCT: Vogue Magazine just wrote about your collaboration with the fashion brand PRIVATE POLICY New York celebrating Hard of Hearing communities. Talk about that.
CM: It was a dream come true and I am excited to see major publications uplifting disabled art recently. Let's keep it going.
WCT: You have also launched a clothing line with Opening Ceremony. How would you describe your designs to someone with no fashion knowledge?
CM: My very first collection and collaboration with Opening Ceremony is an open invitation to strive towards a future where all individuals can tell their own story, a privilege in our world today. Each piece traces back to revelations connected to my identity as a queer, disabled person of color. From written messages on the fabric about my experiences as a Deaf individual to drawings I have created throughout my transition on testosterone, the collection defies the limitations of who someone can look like and be. Allow these pieces to provoke this question: What constructs in your life must you unlearn to uphold inclusivity and respect for all?
WCT: Of your many gallery and solo artist shows which ones have stood out to you?
CM: Definitely my first solo show I had when I was 19 years old. The turn-out was more than I ever imagined with people spilling out onto the streets. I will always be grateful for all of those who showed up to support me. It was refreshing to meet everyone in person as well rather than seeing a number or username online.
WCT: How did the docuseries, Trans in Trumpland, come to fruition with you as an executive producer? Where can people view this series?
CM: I was emailed by the team and immediately felt compelled to sign on as it was led by trans individuals in front of and behind the camera. It is available on Topic, Apple TV and Amazon's Prime Video.
WCT: You also have a book, Continuum, coming out on June 1. Can you tease what is going to be in the book?
CM: It is basically my diary and major epiphanies I have had growing up. I cannot wait to share it with the world.
WCT: How do you make time for all of these projects?
CM: How can I not? This is a dream come true.
WCT: What has it been like for you personally and professionally during this COVID-19 pandemic year?
CM: I have had more time to reflect than ever which has been incredibly healing for me.
I have been focusing on reprioritization, using pleasure as a compass, and reading so many books such as Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown, Dare to Lead by Brene Brown and The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
WCT: In light of the recent murders of AAPI people in the Atlanta metro region and the increased attacks on AAPI people nationwide this past year, what is your message to Americans and the world at large?
CM: Sadly, this is not new. If you are able to, please dedicate some time to researching the many resources available on how to support AAPI individuals now and in the future.
From articles, panels, mutual aid fundschoose to educate yourself beyond reposting hashtags.
See chellaman.com/, transintrumpland.com/, youtube.com/c/ChellaManArt/, instagram.com/chellaman/ and twitter.com/chellamanart .