The muscular and ripped Aydian Dowling is on course to be Men’s Health November 2015 cover model, beating out the competition with more than 14,000 votes, almost double what the guy in second place has.
But there’s something that sets him apart from most of the other guys vying for the crown: The 27-year-old Dowling is an out trans man.
Dowling has skyrocketed to the top of the leaderboard with the help of the trans community and allies turning to social media to bring awareness to Dowling’s efforts. A Tumblr post calling for votes has racked up over 100,000 notes, and tweets supporting Dowling keep pouring in.
“It’s been crazy and amazing. I definitely was not expecting all the support, but I’m so happy and proud of the community for using its loud voice and realizing that we really could do it,” Dowling told The Daily Beast. “We’re banding together and this is us. We exist and we should be represented in some way in mainstream.”
The magazine’s “Ultimate Guy Search” is looking for the guy who best fits the ideals of Men’s Health: being physically fit, living a healthy lifestyle, giving back, and professional success.
Guys hoping to be the face of the magazine for a month answer four questions pertaining to the Men’s Health mantra and upload a couple of pics. There are judges, but there’s also a “reader’s choice” component to the competition.
Last year Men’s Health readers crowned Noah Galloway, a soldier who lost his left arm and leg after an IED went off. This year, Dowling may be the first trans man on the cover of Men’s Health (or a mainstream magazine in general), redefining and expanding what it means to be a man.
“It would be so affirming to just know that the man that I set out to be is somebody that people think is a good man,” Dowling says about possibly being on the cover of Men’s Health. “To break those stereotypes, but still be a man. Feel pride in masculinity, but not putting down femininity. That would be so important to me.”
Born and raised in Long Island, New York, Dowling came out as a lesbian as a teenager before identifying as transgender. When a girl he was dating at the time asked Dowling if he’d ever wanted to be a boy, it was a thought that had never crossed his mind. He searched for answers via Google.
Back then he didn’t find too much information, but he stumbled across a clip from the show Maury where a man held up a picture of a little girl and revealed that she was him before transitioning.
“That little three-minute clip was life-changing,” Dowling says. “I kind of absorbed everything I could find on the Internet, chatrooms, forums, videos.”
Dowling has been transitioning over the past five years, documenting the journey with his YouTube channel.
He’s relocated to Eugene, Oregon, where he’s been married for three years and runs Point 5cc, a transgender clothing company that provides binders for FTM (female-to-male) individuals and helps sponsor gender confirmation surgeries.
On top of that, he also started BeefHeads Fitness, a YouTube channel geared toward trans people looking to get fit and healthy.
Dowling grew up playing sports, but let his fit lifestyle lapse when he got to college. When he decided to transition, he got back into the gym. He wanted to sculpt his body in a more masculine way. Hence the bulging biceps and washboard abs.
He was encouraged to compete for the cover that Galloway won in 2014, but didn’t feel he was worthy. This year, a couple of emails telling him he should apply finally pushed him to take the plunge, along with seeing other trans men having applied—and it looks like it’s working out for him so far.
Monday night, Dowling and his wife watched as he broke the top 1000, then 300. When he got up Tuesday morning, he had received a flurry of texts and Facebook posts announcing support. He woke up his wife to let her know he was in first place.
This isn’t the first time Dowling has been on the cover of a magazine. In February, the muscled hunk graced the cover of FTM magazine, a publication for the trans community.
It might not have the largest audience, but Dowling’s racy re-creation of Adam Levine’s nude photo went viral. The momentum also gave him a confidence boost and convinced him to enter Men’s Health’s “ultimate guy search.”
“We agreed that if she got her nails done we could do the photoshoot,” Dowling jokes about the discussion he had with his wife about posing nude with just her hands cradling his nether regions.
So far, Dowling has only seen rainbows and sunshines. He’s avoiding any negativity that might push back against the idea of a trans man flexing on the cover of Men’s Health because he’d rather just focus on the positive.
“I’m feeling proud of our community coming together,” he says. “This was just another competition, but our community said, ‘Hey, we’re taking this thing and we’re making it ours. We’re running with it. We’re gonna take it and turn it into something, because we want it to be something.’ I’m completely in awe and humbled by how much love and support I’ve gotten.”