As a deaf, trans, genderqueer Chinese Jewish American, Chella Man has gained international acclaim for his speaking out about his experiences and advocating for social change. Today, the artist, activist, Titans actor, and now author takes his first step into the world as an author, and an already best selling one at that, as the book quickly made its way to Amazon’s #1 New Release in Teen YA LGBTQ issues. Published with the Pocket Change Collective, his new book, Continuum, documents his beautiful, messy, and ever-evolving exploration of his identities and what it means to live with them in this world.
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Tell me how the idea of writing this book first got started and what your first thoughts were about it.
I have been wanting to slow down for a while and reflect. I had actually planned on taking a semester off from college to write a book when Penguin approached me with the opportunity! It all fell into place. The prospect was overwhelming at first as I felt there was SO MUCH to condense. How do I summarize my whole life, using accessible language, in a few pages? The answer is…it’s impossible! You have to cut a lot out and lean into the key checkpoints that will create a fluid narrative for others.
You’ve said to read this book is “to quite honestly read my diary.” You seem to share a lot of your heart, in your art, your acting, your social media. Why is that? What are the hardest parts? What are the most rewarding?
Nowadays, I can’t imagine not sharing my heart through everything I do. I spent years of my life repressing who I knew I was at my core due to shame and fear. I will never allow myself to hide any longer. The most rewarding aspects of this come from the richness life begins to offer you. When you are authentic and true, every experience in life feels heightened and savory. At least, this has been my personal experience. I am grateful, every day, to have the privilege of sharing my story and living my truth.
You’ve talked about how writing this book while quarantining in your childhood bedroom was pretty heavy work, considering you’re writing about the trauma in the same place you experienced it. How did you work through that? What surprised you?
This is not the first time I have had to face my trauma. So, I have experience with figuring out healthy coping mechanisms to ride out the waves of intense emotions without letting them consume me. To me, this looks like exercising every day, developing a consistent morning routine, making time to turn off my devices, and going out of my way to see and spend quality time with the ones I love.
In terms of what surprised me…my own resilience stood out. Looking back at the kid that had to navigate what “she” did…I’m impressed with the ways I handled discrimination and trauma at such a young age, without even having any terminology to articulate to those around me what I was experiencing.
Writing in your childhood bedroom, what do you feel like this book tells your younger self?
I feel like it gives me the keys to understanding who I have always been. I wish I could read this book to that kid growing up in the blue room.
There’s a lot of beauty but also a lot of pain you talk about, being at the intersection of so many identities. Can you tell me more about navigating that?
It’s a balance of energy. Being aware of the places you are directing that energy is the first step. To face continuous discrimination, you must know yourself through and through:
- how you react in different situations
- how you relax
- how to recover and sustain your energy for the long run
These are just a few questions to begin with…
What surprised you in the process of writing this book?
How many lives I felt like I have lived.
What was your experience like reading your own book for the first time? Were you still in your childhood bedroom at that time?
I was! It was honestly disorienting. Having to edit it and go back and re-read so many various components left me overwhelmed at the idea of reading it through in one final sitting once I was actually done! I took time away from it to process and then recently came back and read it through for the first time to one of my best friends in my apartment in Brooklyn. We cried together.
Your book listed pretty quickly as #1 New Release in Teen YA LGBTQ issues on Amazon. How does that feel and what does that tell you about what people are needing right now?
Doesn’t feel real. The reactions have all been intangible, which leaves me in disbelief! I am EXTREMELY honored and ….speechless that people are reading my story with care. This is all I could have ever asked for!
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Chella Man’s book, Continuum, is now available for pre-order at Bookshop and releases Tuesday, June 1st.