Spoiler Alert: This article will discuss the plot of the short film The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was by Chella Man.

The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was is a short film directed, written, and co-produced by Chella Man. It was released in March 2023. It is an autobiographical film based on Man’s personal life. The short film follows the story of Chella Man as he navigates life as a young trans and deaf person.

Chella Man navigates being deaf in his short film

In only three minutes, Chella Man is able to capture a moment in his life where he was given the opportunity to be a part of the hearing world. It gifted Man with a new form of sound. Simultaneously, the short film criticises how deaf and otherwise disabled people are forced to navigate their lives through barriers. The able-bodied world has put into place countless barriers to marginalise disability further.

“To create human connection, I had to become a cyborg”.

More specifically, the creation of the cochlear implants came at the cost of our protagonist believing he was broken. He needed to cure his deafness and the implants were presented as the only cure. However, the more connection to the deaf community he had, the more the implants became ‘optional’.

The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was navigates the duality of Chella Man’s life. It is an exploration of his identity, torn between the hearing and the deaf world. Within an able-bodied context the cochlear implant represents liberation. Yet, it also constraints his body.

In an Instagram post, Man explained how the short film is at its core an ‘anthem on self-love and exploration’. The invention of the cochlear implant in 1998 marks an important step for the deaf community. However, it also highlights how deaf people have to adhere to those who can hear in order to live without challenges.

Living with cochlear implants

Chella Man drew parallels from living with implants as being like living a cyborg life. According to Man, this life immobilised his body. It was only when he lost the cochlear implants when travelling in Italy that he regained a long-lost freedom. Instead of this loss becoming a tragedy, he found ‘freedom within constraints’. Yes, the cochlear implant is a vital communication tool that binds the hearing and the deaf world. But it is also a tool invented by an ableist world that believed deaf people needed to be cured.

The short film is a defiance of disability as synonymous to sickness, in need of a cure. In the final scene, Chella states ‘I’ve come to regard my implants as a neutral tool. It is certainly not a “cure”. There is no sickness to begin with.’

When he lost the cochlear implants, he decided to ask hearing people to do the work. He did not read lips, trying to decipher what other people said in order to navigate the world according to them. Instead, he asked those who can hear to write things down, to accommodate their life in accordance with his needs.

Queer, Disabled, Asian Representation

The short film also includes a graphic sex scene, one between two queer people of colour. Through The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was, Chella Man carves a space for people like him within the representation of queer sex on screen. He worked with Sammy Kim, a queer Asian sex worker and liberator. Man expressed how important it was for him to centre his film ‘to be received by my own community’.

More often than not, disabled, queer and trans people of colour are erased from mainstream media. Therefore, having a short film that ever so slightly adds to that lack of representation is crucial. By translating his own experiences into film, Chella Man is able to convey an underrepresented story without relying on stereotypes.

The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was is only three minutes long. Make sure to take this short time out of your day to watch this incredible short film available on Nowness.