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With a Body Double, an Artist Reflects on Life as a Trans-Deaf Influencer

A spotlight dimmed as the artist Chella Man signaled to a section of the audience where their parents were seated in all-white costumes. In a haunting approach, the parents tiptoed toward an eerily lifelike replica of their child’s body and carefully transferred the silicone doppelgänger to an operating table. There, as part of the performance piece “Autonomy,” Man performed two surgeries that had helped define their experience as a deaf and trans teenager.

Poking and prodding the silicone dummy, Man mimed installing cochlear implants in both ears — similar to the ones that turned them into a self-described “cyborg.” Then they traced the scars of top surgery, asking their father to sew a line through the chest tissue that helped Man, 25, embody their transmasculine, genderqueer identity.

What fuels this desire to share such intimate moments with the public? “I could never imagine my future because I never thought I would still be around,” Man said in an interview, discussing the role social media played in their professional upbringing.

“I have finally decided to live,” Man said.

The artist acknowledged that the political environment had intensified as lawmakers targeted gender-affirming care and trans people faced significant hardships. In 2017, when Man became an internet star through a Condé Nast deal to document their transition online in a magazine column, they were a teenager producing videos about their first testosterone shot and ways to present as more masculine.

To create the eerily lifelike silicone replica of their body, Man had to lay naked and incredibly still inside a clay cast.Credit…Annie Forrest

Over the past few years, Man has embodied those experiences in “Autonomy,” a performance in May and an installation in a group exhibition opening on Friday at the Jewish Museum. (Props from the show at Performance Space New York, including the artist’s silicone replica, will be on display at the museum.)

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