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Chella Man on new book Continuum: ‘It’s me saying f*** binaries’

Exclusive: “Nyle DiMarco's been a great mentor to me,” says the Titans star as we talk discrimination in showbiz and how to be a better ally

By Jamie Tabberer

Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Provided 

Born in Pennsylvania in the US, Chella Man, 22, has won legions of new fans since making his acting debut as Jericho on DC superhero series Titans in 2019.

However, he’d already made a notable impact as a model, artist, YouTuber and social media star who commonly discusses his Deaf, genderqueer, trans-masculine, Chinese, and Jewish identities in creative and inspiring ways. Expect more of the same in his first book, Continuum, out today.

We caught up with the rising star to chat about discrimination in showbiz and how to achieve a healthy relationship with social media.

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A post shared by Chella Man (@chellaman)

Tell us about the book…

Continuum is basically my diary. The first time in my life that I stopped and reflected on the obstacles and pockets of joy that I experienced growing up. A place where I could understand how that plays into the history of systemic oppression.

I started writing it when the pandemic hit, which made me move back home to central Pennsylvania. That’s exactly where I grew up and experienced so much of my life for 17 years.”

Chella as Jericho in Titans (Picture HBO Max)

Have you enjoyed being home?

It’s bittersweet. I enjoy being around my family and having that break from the energy of the city. But there is a lot of trauma for me there. I don’t think I quite realised how triggering some things were.

Could you elaborate on the book’s title?

It’s me saying “fuck binaries”. That’s with race, gender and sexuality, and disability, so many things. Honestly, I could go on all day. I’ve always been outside the binary of all of those categories. And that was confusing – because the world doesn’t tell you there’s anything in between. So, for my gender, I identify as genderqueer. And most people understand the word nonbinary, but I use genderqueer.

For my disability, I’ve always had one foot in the hearing world and one foot in the deaf world. For sexuality, I identify as queer, but specifically pansexual. I just see people as people, and I love people for who they are. With my race, I mean, I’m biracial. And I’ve always felt on a continuum that way as well. So, I’m basically creating this space – I hope – for anyone else who identifies on a continuum. And saying that it’s valid, and wherever you are, whoever you are.

Nyle DiMarco has given an enthusiastic testimonial. Is he a good friend?

Yeah, it’s wild. I would hear about him growing up in high school. He’s been a great mentor to me.

You recently released a jewellery collection, and a video called ‘The Beauty of Being Deaf’…

I basically wanted to take charge of what is behind my ears. The hardware behind my ears? I don’t design this. I want to have autonomy over the way I’m perceived and how I express myself. That never worked with my cochlear implants or my hearing aids. They would either not fit correctly, or they would conceal it, which I didn’t want because I’m not ashamed of my disability. So, I worked with Private Policy, which is a small, high fashion Asian-led brand. We created this ear jewellery.

Then, I always had this vision as a kid: what is more beautiful than deaf people communicating underwater? I had this vision of it as a film for a while and was like, why don’t we introduce the jewellery through this film? We connected the two and that was a wild ride. It was hard to find a pool in New York in a pandemic. But it worked out. The script is this poem about the beauty of being deaf.

What does the representation you were able to bring in Titans mean to you?

Authenticity. You know, I think as someone who has truly shined throughout their whole lives, I hope that was translated to the screen in ways that a hearing actor would not have been able to break.

When was the last time someone came to your rescue?

Yesterday, when I was on FaceTime with my girlfriend who’s shooting something in LA. I felt really overwhelmed and stressed out and she was like, ‘Baby. Take a breath.’

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A post shared by Chella Man (@chellaman)

What is your dream acting role?

To be determined. Something that would actually show people what it’s like to live a life like mine. Maybe that’s not even me acting, it’s me directing.

Do you still, even at your level now, experience discrimination in the entertainment industry?

Absolutely. That’s not something that goes away if people know your name. There are so many examples. The microaggressions, which I honestly am realising are just aggressions, period. There are assumptions, misconceptions, blatant discrimination.

Do you have any tips on how to manage a healthy relationship with social media?

It is so individualised, but for me, before I tap that application, I asked myself: ‘Why?’ What is the purpose of opening Instagram this time? Because you’re looking for validation? Because you want to see what your friends are up to? Sometimes, I just stop. I found this app that blocks, or you can use ScreenTime.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a better ally to trans people of colour?

Well, if you have money to, donate. I think that there is so much information out there. If you have questions, I advise you to just Google it and let yourself go down that rabbit hole and educate yourself.

What about checking the news each day?

Generally, it’s important, but it also depends on what news you’re exposed to. Another reason I’m not on social media as much is that there are just trans femmes of colour, predominantly Black and brown, dying. Just being murdered every single day. To feel and mourn that every single day is a lot.

In a parallel universe, what job are you doing?

I almost was a computer scientist, I studied virtual reality programming. I listened to AC/DC growing up with my dad a lot, and I know a bunch of songs on guitar. I’ve just always imagined, like, what does that feel like, to be in front of so many people and just like playing your guitar and feeling connected? I’ve always wish I could experience that before I die. Maybe if I play a rock star!

Continuum is out on 1 June 2021

The Attitude July issue is out now.

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