Image Credit: ‘The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was,’ NOWNESS/Powerhouse Museum

This week, April 15 – 21, marks National Deaf LGBTQ+ Awareness Week, a project launched by the Deaf Queer Resource Center to uplift, support, and bring greater visibility to these multiply marginalized communities. Every day this week, Queerty will be spotlighting a short film that focuses on deaf, queer characters—all of which you can watch right now.

Thus far, the short films we’ve spotlighted throughout National Deaf LGBTQ+ Awareness Week have featured deaf individuals who go about their day-to-day lives as-is—relying on ASL, text, and lip-reading to communicate with the world around them.

However, scientific advancements in the past few years have led to the proliferation of the cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device that has allowed individuals on the spectrum of hearing loss to gain sound perception.

Hailed as a medical miracle, the cochlear implant has nevertheless been divisive within the broader deaf community. While some opt in, viewing it as a tool to access the hearing world, others see its existence as ableist and pathway to assimilation, implying that deafness is something to be “cured.”

Beyond that, implants come with their own set of technical limitations, and can even make an action as simple as sticking your head out of a window exasperating.

Those realities are demonstrated with vivid detail in the intriguingly titled The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was, a gorgeous and thought-provoking short from artist and activist Chella Man.

Deaf, trans, Jewish, and Chinese-American, Man’s thoughts on their implant—which they’ve had since childhood—are shaped by their queer identity, comparing the way they move through the world to a cyborg finding their autonomy amongst humanity.

It’s heady stuff, to be sure, but Man’s knack for storytelling and artful lens make the short a compelling, eye-opening watch, enlightening viewers on the challenges of living with a cochlear implant that we might not otherwise consider.

Through a series of scenes, we see ways big and small in which the device has immobilized their body. For example, there’s the aforementioned moment of sticking one’s head out of a window, the sudden rush of which can cause momentary issues for the device.

Image Credit: ‘The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was,’ NOWNESS/Powerhouse Museum

But Man also shows us how the implant has made them fearful of running as fast as they can, of being anywhere in the rain, of strong winds—even of kissing and getting intimate with others.

While their are no easy answers to the questions Man is exploring here, the short film shines a light on issues so rarely discussed in the mainstream and stands as—as the artist’s statement puts it—an anthem on self-love and exploration.

“Often disabled, queer people of color have to twist themselves into a narrative the mainstream world would understand,” Man told NOWNESS last year, “and this is something I was not willing to give into. That could result in some confusion, but that’s exactly the point. The people who really understand will relate on a very deep level, but there are messages of humanity anyone can understand.”

“Growing up without representation, I never felt intimately desired, let alone beautiful in my trans, disabled, multiracial form,” Man writes in their artist statement. “The liberating news is: I don’t need others to feel beautiful.”

A commission of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was premiered globally last spring, and is now available to view online via NOWNESS and YouTube.

You can watch the 3-minute short film below:

And, for more ways to help support, celebrate and participate in #DeafLGBTQWeek, head to the website for the Deaf Queer Resource Center.

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