by Barrett White
Photos by Jason Robert Ballard/FTM Magazine
When Laverne Cox found herself on television, she was called “daring.” When Carmen Carerra decided to transition, it caused a media frenzy. When transman and YouTube fitness vlogger Aydian Dowling submitted a story to Men’s Health to vie for the honor of appearing as their November cover model, he was met with national attention and a massive social media backing. Apropos for the digital age, Dowling’s story has been liked, shared, and reblogged more than 100,000 times across every social platform. We can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement over the transgender community’s increasing (and long overdue) visibility as we watch this cover-model contest soldier on. While he waits for the outcome (Dowling leads with over 39,000 votes between him and the next contestant), he is not sitting stagnant: this powerhouse of a young man is not only continuing his fitness journey and living his best life, he is the proud front man for Point 5cc, his clothing line that promotes the transgender community and its allies. With a charming smile, a heart of gold, and a solid physique, Aydian is undoubtedly an ultimate guy.
Barrett White: What brought you to the fitness world? What were your inspirations or anxieties about beginning your fitness journey?
Aydian Dowling: What brought me to the fitness world was the ability to sculpt your body. I quickly learned that if I wanted my outer female body to match my inner male soul, then I needed to start, with or without hormones, that connection between spirit and body. When I first began training, my goal was to achieve a more masculine-looking body with broad shoulders and a tapered waist. I wanted to feel a connection when I looked into the mirror and saw the person looking back at me. I had no connection like that until I started to see my body change through fitness. Of course, there are a lot of things to be anxious about when being transgender and walking into any space you are unfamiliar with. When it came to the gym, I found myself comparing myself to other guys, and getting really down on myself because I looked so different. It was really difficult to build up a skin to feel comfortable in the gym when your anxieties have you believing everyone is looking at you.
Did you expect your YouTube channels, ALionsFears and Beefheads Fitness, to garner such a following?
When I started ALionsFears and Beefheads Fitness, I wanted to build more relationships between other transgender people and myself. I had no idea I would be sitting here five years later with over two million views on ALionsFears! I actually didn’t grow much of a following in the first two years on YouTube. It wasn’t until I had been documenting my transition for a few years, had received my top surgery, and started a clothing company that I began seeing a larger “following” to my YouTube channels, which has quickly grown in the last three years!
You’ve had a following for a while through your YouTube channels, but with Men’s Health happening, what is your new fan base like?
My YouTube channel has definitely brought me some great supporters and amazing lifelong friends! Before, I had mostly transmen, some transwomen, and then friends or family of those transgender people. Now with all this at Men’s Health happening, I’m getting support from all different kinds of people—gay, straight, trans, religious. They seem to be coming from a range of backgrounds, which is such an amazing thing! Once the “general public” is able to feel a connection to a transgender person’s journey—even though it is not their journey—something really humbling happens for those people. They feel a sense of connection to something they thought was so different. It makes that “difference” not really a difference at all, and brings us back to humanity.
Point 5cc is an incredible testament to the support you give back to the community. What gave you the idea to start the company?
Point 5cc was started very organically! I began the company to raise my own funds for top surgery—removal of breast tissue to have your chest appear more masculine. It was such a hit and success that I was able to raise my $5,900 in surgery funds within seven months, between sales and personal donations! Once I raised my funds, I was asked if I would keep the company alive—so of course I did! It was important to give back to the community through 5cc and make the company something that would always be a resource to transgender people.
Many who are into fitness look up to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Atlas, or a favorite model. Who is your fitness inspiration, if you have one?
I don’t have a specific fitness model I look up to. I really enjoy watching fitness gurus on YouTube, because it allows you to see the person and not just the body. You get to follow the person around as they train, as they eat, when they go out on the town. It brings “life” to the “fitness lifestyle.” I also do enjoy motivational movies like Pumping Iron and Generation Iron—those are always great for some cardio sessions!
You and your beautiful bride, Jenilee, reside in Oregon. How supportive has your community been of you and your entrance in the cover-boy contest?
Our local community here in Oregon has been amazing. We really felt right at home when we moved here just over a year ago. They have a local program called TransPonder. I was really taken under their wings and shown around the community with the help of their runner, Cass Avrielle. Since moving here, I have done a few runway/model events for transgender and gender-nonconforming folks. I was also a keynote speaker at last year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance and have spoken at the University of Oregon.
How did you and Jenilee meet?
We actually met online! It is funny, because it goes hand-in-hand with how social media has really impacted my life. We met through YouTube and continued our talks and chats through texts, phone calls, Skype, and other outlets like Facebook and MySpace. Yes, we met when MySpace was still cool!
How does Jenilee feel about your bit of stardom that’s come with the Men’s Health contest coverage?
Jenilee is extremely supportive of all that has come with the Men’s Health coverage. Jenilee has seen me build up my company, Point 5cc. She believed in my vision for the company since day one and encouraged me to keep going when I had hard days. She has also seen me literally morph in front of her eyes! She has been with me when I was a shy young transman who had just begun hormone replacement therapy, as well as when I was on my quest for top surgery. She helped me with ideas on raising money, as well as the emotional roller coaster that comes with not being able to afford surgery, and a lot of other things like integrating from female to male in society. Jenilee is my rock, and I truly wouldn’t be 100 percent the man I am today if it wasn’t for her love and encouragement though our five years together.
What is trans-normalization to you, and what will it take to continue to see it?
Trans-normalization is seeing transgender people in all outlets of media—from print to TV to movies. It is educating our school counselors and teachers about the specific needs of transgender youth. It’s addressing the physical as well as the mental needs in those individuals and acknowledging that they are experiencing real, valid feelings. Through trans-normalization we can promote visibility for all people, no matter where they are on the gender spectrum. Before we go calling someone “a man in a dress,” we need to acknowledge that may actually be a loving mother with two kids. Start asking people how they identify and give them the space to explore that. My being a top candidate for the Men’s Health cover creates trans-normalization. Even though I do not represent all trans identities, it opens the door to seeing more people that identify on different parts of the gender spectrum become normalized as well. Transgender people just want to live life to the fullest and are looking for the same opportunities to do so as the rest of the world.
When you made the decision to transition, what was your family’s immediate reaction? Has it changed?
When I first came out to my family, I think it was easier to not talk about it. People in my family were told at different times, but all within a few weeks of one another. They were quiet but accepting. It has taken five years for them to become comfortable about me talking about being transgender and my company and all the work I try to do for our community. Being transgender is not a huge part of every trans person’s life, but I enjoy the large role it plays in my life. My family has learned to love me and the work I do. I couldn’t be luckier.
If you were given the floor to say something to someone struggling with self-image and discovery, what would you say?
To anyone who is currently struggling with self-image and discovery, I want to tell you to cut yourself a break. Nothing happens overnight, and there is such beauty in the journey to self-discovery! If there is something you want to be in life, you need to go get it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you’ll never be or achieve in your life. If you have an image of your true self—the person you are deep down in your soul—then take small steps to be more of that person each day. Utilize resources and get the help, the safe space, and the support you need to be supported in your journey. Do not allow yourself to be a victim and list all the reasons you can’t do it. We are all here to be uniquely ourselves, and there is enough love and support in this world for all of us to take advantage of, but sometimes that means cutting ties with anything and anyone that is not supporting us in being ourselves. Your true identity needs to be found within yourself, not from other people trying to convince you of who you are.
What’s next for Aydian Dowling?
I am not attached to the specific details of my journey, just that I continue to make a difference in the world and bring more support and awareness to the transgender community. My journey will include lots of joy through staying true to my vision for myself and to my company, Point 5cc. I see myself being able to keep the flow of giving and receiving, and to keep our community expanding. I envision Point 5cc being a household resource for all trans people and our supporters. At the end of the day, I just want to live a happy life like anyone else, so whatever that looks like, I’m all about it!
The Men’s Health Ultimate Guy cover-model competition closes on June 21 at 11:59 p.m. Be sure to check out the competition and cast your own vote at ultimateguy.menshealth.com.