I am art: An inspiring conversation with Chella Man

Courtesy of @chellaman via Instagram

Chella Man has become an inspiration to countless people 一 rising to fame via his YouTube channel where he’s discussed his experiences as a transgender, deaf and queer person of color, he’s managed to touch the hearts of many people, UCR students included. On May 24, Man was able to interact with UCR students in the event Deaf & Dapper, hosted by the Associated Students Program Board, the Student Disability Resource Center and the LGBT Resource Center, which aimed to create healthy discourse on important topics regarding transitioning, body dysphoria and the LGBTQ community. 

The event was hosted by ASPB’s Katey O’Neil and moderated by a vlogger, Brand Elsa. Elsa began the night by asking Man a few questions regarding his YouTube channel. Man explained that growing up in Pennsylvania, he never had anyone to look up to as he was transitioning. Thus, that served as motivation for him to start his YouTube channel so he could be his own representation. His YouTube channel allowed him to document his transitioning journey and his experiences as a transgender and deaf person of color. 

Man recounted his experience growing up in Pennsylvania. The best way he could describe his hometown is that “the coolest hang out spot was exploring our local Target.” Man also described the time in which Donald Trump visited and spoke to his high school prior to his inauguration. Man stated that this event was infuriating since he was a year under the voting age and had to witness his peers openly support Trump. 

Man began a conversation about his identity and sexuality, recounting how he spent one night scouring a dictionary trying to find which words best suited him. This sparked a conversation regarding the internet as a source of information for people to “find versions of ourselves,” as described by Elsa. He recalled finding out his own sexuality and the terms for it via friends and the community around him. In contrast with Man’s experience in Pennsylvania, it makes sense as to why he took it upon himself to be his own role model. 

Man’s ability to advocate for himself was never easy, and yet, it was vital for him to do. At the age of four, he began losing his hearing and remembers his parents’ concerned expression. He then expressed his struggle with finding a voice for himself and said,  “I always knew I was different … You’re supposed to be in a hearing world as a deaf person,” explained Man. Once he realized that, he taught himself how to speak and now considers it a huge blessing. “I’m able to use what I learned in those instances across the board in all aspects of my life.” 

Man also discussed his role as Jericho, from the television show “Titans” and his character’s power to possess a human after making eye contact. Man described it as “something I’ve always wanted to do. To see and experience other people’s experiences.” 

After this insightful conversation with Brand Elsa, the student Q&A portion began, allowing students to talk with Man and ask him questions. Sumanth Parel asked for guidance on how to make his future classrooms accessible to people of all identities and disabilities. Man shared that gender inclusive bathrooms and sign language interpreters are all good methods of ensuring student safety. Man also suggested that having students write down their preferred pronouns would be a good way of making them feel safe and seen. 

Matheo Castillo asked Man to describe some hardships deaf people undergo that might make them feel uncomfortable. Man stated that he oftentimes relies on lip reading, but with the pandemic, masks have made that difficult. He suggested people wear masks with transparent plastic to make it easier, although he mentioned that they do tend to fog up. 

One student, Evelyn Gonzalez, asked Man where he got his tattoo inspirations from. Man explained the reasons behind all of the tattoos on his body and their story. The first one consisted of three dots, which he used to sign his artwork at the time he got that tattoo. Another marked the time he left central Pennsylvania, his gender journey, accepting his disability and lastly his top surgery scars. 

At the end of the night, students congratulated Man and commented under the chat that they admire and appreciate him for being so open about his experiences. It was a lively night filled with love, hope and joy.


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