Chella Man is showing Gen Z how to navigate the complexities of identity with his new book Continuum.
Growing up as a deaf, transgender, Jewish Chinese American, Man hardly saw himself reflected in media. Today the 22-year-old actor, model and artist is his own representation. He uses his popular YouTube channel to document his transition, share his art and advocate for LGBTQIA+ and disability rights. He also plays Jericho, a mute superhero, on the DC Universe series Titans.
As the first deaf and trans masculine model to sign with IMG Models, Man has also appeared in campaigns for Calvin Klein, Gap and American Eagle.
In June, Man published his first book Continuum, an illustrated exploration of self-acceptance and representation based on his childhood experiences.
“Continuum is written to be accessible and digestible for kids specifically ages 14 and up,” Man tells In The Know. “A lot of the book is set in this mind frame of what was I thinking when I was a kid.”
Growing up in not-so-diverse Central Pennsylvania, his family tried to assimilate to the mainstream white, Christian culture that surrounded them, Man said. It wasn’t ideal.
Then Man lost his hearing at 13 and eventually he would use cochlear implants to help him hear.
“Throughout my life, I felt ‘othered’ in so many ways,” he told In The Know in a previous interview. “I have felt othered through my disability. I was deaf, but I could also hear. I felt othered through my sexuality. I didn’t like boys and girls or just nonbinary people. I couldn’t figure out who I liked… I felt othered with my race. I wasn’t completely Chinese. I wasn’t completely Jewish.”
Man recalls being terrified of ordering food at burrito bars as a kid. It was always a nerve-racking experience as a person with deafness.
“It was one of the pillar moments as a young kid that I really had to advocate for myself with my disability. Going to burrito bars definitely pushed me to do that. It was almost a practice for me,” Man says.
He created a “script” for himself in those moments, one that he would use for the rest of his life.
“Which is, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’m deaf, as long as I can see your lips, that’s super helpful. If anything, could you write things down?’ And that’s just one sentence that took me years to put together in one fluid, concise way,” he says.
What might be innocuous for others, the act of placing a burrito order was a way for Man to test people’s reactions to his disability.
“What’s the easiest and most efficient way to say and voice what I need without them requiring so many questions back? And this is what I learned from those fleeting interactions at the burrito bar,” Man explains.
The name Continuum comes from a realization Man had about his identities.
“Another revelation that I had when I was realizing I always felt othered was that all my identities like I said, are on a continuum,” he says. “So rather than being outside of what is ‘normal,’ it was just on this continuum. I came up with the title maybe about two years ago.”
For Man, the idea of being on a “continuum” was what tethered his experiences together.
“I have all these checkpoints in my life, but what is the thesis? What is the string that ties everything together?” Man remarks. “Everything I am lies on the continuum.”
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If you enjoyed this article, check out In The Know’s interview with Chella Man, who launched an ear jewelry collection with streetwear brand, Private Policy.
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