Chapman transgender student Moon Mandel loves spreading joy. You’ve no doubt seen her around campus. She’s the one known or the cardboard “Smile” face she has been wearing over her clothes.
“I have been wearing this guy since August 3rd, 2013,” she said, the first time at a music festival. “I fell in love with it, the ability to put a smile on someone’s face just by walking by them.”
Born Max Mandel in Chicago, in a family of six, Mandel has begun her journey just this semester as transgender. She’s found support from close friends. Now her goal is to spread joy to others beyond just the cardboard around her neck. And to find her role in the trans world.
A junior studying news and documentary, she is taking a school break right now. She just returned from a three day desert music festival, and may volunteer at festivals in Europe. She may also pursue a career as a photographer, as well as a documentary filmmaker.
“I’m planning to make a documentary called “Transnational,” about being transgender in a bunch of different communities and seeing how their journey goes.”
Her personal path has not been an easy one. She lived her first 20 years, she said, suffering from gender dysphoria, a condition where you don’t feel comfortable in the gender you physically appear to be. It led to a difficult time in school, and Mandel suffered bouts of depression, and even had suicidal tendencies.
Mandel said she felt comfortable and enjoyed it when her sister dressed her up in girls’ clothes as a cruel joke. “At age 13, thinking that I could be trans would be crazy. I was like, ‘No, that’s gay.’”
Then at Chapman, Mandel took a women’s studies class.
“We studied a bunch of different queer people and different ways in which people found out they were queer,” she said.
That led to Mandel’s epiphany. “I was like, wow! This is what I feel, like everything that was inside this little knot was put out in front of me in plain words so that I could understand,” she said.
Even after that she wasn’t sure.
“For about a year I debated, am I trans, am I not? I felt like, the urge to go for it but also just kind of shackled down by fear that it is going to make my life a lot harder. I might lose some friends, or family members.”
When she did decide, this semester, she wanted to make it something special. She came out to her friends — at a party on Valentine’s Day.
“At midnight, you know, pretty drunk, pretty high, I grabbed a bottle, tapped on it as if I was making a toast and just told everybody: ‘For the past 20 years of my life I felt disconnected to my body. Basically, this is me coming out to you all as trans!”
She found some friends shocked, but most highly supportive.
“I am so blessed to have all these people in my life,” she said.
Moon and her roommates, Madeleine Caraluzzi, junior journalism major, and Steph Koko, junior business major, have been living together for almost a year.
“It was my second week at Chapman and she was my first friend,” Caraluzzi said. “It has been wonderful to be around Moon, throughout this whole thing. It has been really great to see how she has been thriving.”
Koko feels the same way: “Just seeing Moon and living with her makes you happy because she gives out that energy, her genuine self.”
One next step for Mandel: Meeting with a therapist before she qualifies for a hormone prescription. That will be following by separate surgeries — top and bottom — that’s all about a three year process.
She has mixed feelings that the transgender community is in the news so much lately.
“Caitlyn Jenner has brought a lot of attention,” Mandel said. “It opened something of great good and somewhat bad. She had half a million dollars to spend on surgery, all at once, which is amazing but most of the trans community is poor.”
Not just poor, but also misunderstood: “We are kind of seen as sirens, these evil beings that try to trick people into falling into our traps.”
And why did she choose the name “Moon”? She explains:
“I feel like the moon is something that came out of a lot of heat and intensity, the same way I did. The first part of my life was the sun, getting all worked up, getting everything out. The moon is just a reflection of the light, I am nothing, nothing other than my choices.”