This describes Chella Man, who recently became the first deaf trans model to sign with IMG, a model agency for many big names in the industry. He’s now in esteemed company with Gisele Bundchen, Amber Valletta, and Hailey Baldwin.
Now 19 years old, Man remembers being four years old, staring at the ceiling of his bedroom and hearing a ringing in his ears. He went into his parents’ room to tell his mom and recalls her bending over to talk to him, because he was so small.
Turns out, Man had a progressive hearing loss. As he grew up, the number of times he said “What?” in a conversation increased and became a way of monitoring how bad his hearing was getting. “I had to grow up from a very young age,” he says, “knowing that eventually, I was going to lose all my hearing.”
When he was in third grade, his parents decided it would be a good idea to learn sign language. A tutor came to the house for lessons, and his family tried to learn ASL as well, which Man calls amazing. He likes being able to communicate with them via sign if he needs to, especially in loud situations.
Read more: How to learn sign language
Ultimately, Man reached a point where he had to get cochlear implants if he wanted to hear. Going bilateral has worked out well for him; he grew up mainstreamed. The first thing he does when he wakes up is put his CIs on so he can hear the world.
In a YouTube video, Man talks about the word “disabled,” as someone asked him once how he felt about it. He feels it has a lot of negative connotations yet he doesn’t see it as such a negative thing. This is because everything he’s learned about being deaf has made him the person he is today. In fact, being deaf helps filter out certain people, like those who don’t have patience or empathy to be respectful to someone with a disability.
“…being deaf helps filter out certain people, like those who don’t have patience or empathy to be respectful to someone with a disability.”
“I know how hard having a disability can be,” Man says. He’s thankful for the ability to be more conscious of his language and how inclusive he is. “I wouldn’t want anyone to feel disrespected or not included around me,” he says. He’s proud of being deaf and honestly wouldn’t change it, which is why he got a tattoo that says “deaf AF.”
After 18 years of living with gender dysphoria, Man decided to officially begin his transition from female to male in May 2017. This past year, he’s begun taking testosterone and had top surgery.
His transition has been publicly documented online via social media and a column on them., a website by Conde Nast about the LGBTQ community. He calls himself a deaf, genderqueer, queer artist. In fact, it’s thanks to being deaf that he was able to embrace his queer identity earlier. His deafness taught him from a young age that being different was okay. Man also says that navigating queer spaces can be easier as a deaf individual because he’s learned how to be more inclusive and empathetic. He also feels safer and knows what it’s like to be a minority.
Man, who is of Jewish and Chinese descent, is currently studying virtual engineering at the New School in NYC, but he’s become known for his activism and art. He’s prolific on Instagram and YouTube, even creating videos to teach people ASL. He was the star in an ad campaign for Gap and joined a campaign for Model Citizens Vote. With over 185,000 followers on Instagram and over 178,000 subscribers on YouTube, Man’s star is sure to rise now that he’s with IMG. He’s excited about it, calling it one of the most inclusive agencies right now.
“He’s prolific on Instagram and YouTube, even creating videos to teach people ASL.”
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Me when I tell someone I’m deaf and they start exaggarating their words and/or speaking incredibly slow: Although you may be trying to be considerate, please be conscious: this will distort your lip movements—making it harder for me to lip read However, if you speak clearly, at a normal pace without covering your mouth; I’m sure the conversation will move along smoothly! 🤟🏼 Image Description: My deaf-self wearing a t-shirt that reads: It’s funny how you think I’m listening. And holding up the sign “I love you”
“We all need to keep telling our stories of individuality,” Man told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The criteria defining a ‘model’ is continuously expanding, and I am hoping to push these boundaries even further.”