Transgender Man Leads ‘Men’s Health’ Cover Model Contest

April 19, 2015

Aydian Dowling of Eugene, Ore., is ripped. He has sharply defined muscles, piercing eyes and European-playboy-on-the-Riviera tousled hair.

It’s not just striking good looks that distinguish Dowling, who is leading the voting in the annual “Ultimate Guy” contest held by Men’s Health magazine. If he wins the contest (which is ultimately determined by judges), Dowling will be the first transgender man to appear on the cover of Men’s Health.

At the very least, he’s far and away the frontrunner for the “Reader’s Choice” award: as of Sunday night, he has more than four times as many votes as the runner-up.

Dowling talked to NPR’s Arun Rath about his story of personal transformation. He says that win or lose, participating in the Men’s Health contest has helped him define himself.

“I’m so happy and thrilled, and it really helped me define where I am in life, and that what I’m doing is good. What I’m doing is what I should be doing,” he says. “And that I think everybody is just looking for a little note from the universe saying, ‘Yeah, that’s good. You’re doing all right.’ ”

Interview Highlights

On how he got in such good shape

I definitely love to hit the gym. It’s something I do five days a week. I also throw in some cardio five or six days. I also enjoy hiking on off time with my wife and my friends. … Training is definitely a part of my life. It’s something that has become literally just a daily routine, something that I live by.

On the challenges of weight-lifting as a transgender man

When it comes to training and being transgender, there is an awkward period. If you are going to start hormone therapies and you haven’t yet, you have a lot of self-comparison. … I started training at 20, 21 years of age, so I was fairly full-grown at that time. I was approaching my adult years, and I still felt like a child when I was in the gym. I didn’t know my way around. I felt very intimidated. I felt as though I was so small I would never be a good enough man to be strong enough to lift those weights, to look like that. And a lot of it is just getting the courage to go into the gym.

On the response to his participation in the Men’s Health contest

I was definitely nervous that there may be some kind of pushback from the magazine. You know, it is a possibility, being transgender, you can walk into a space where you are not welcome, and you are asked to leave for just being exactly who you are. So I have luckily heard from Men’s Health, and in a different couple of platforms they’ve mentioned that the contest is open to all men, and that they are very happy to see the influence that a couple of trans men have been applying. And I think it’s sending a really positive message to the transgender people out there from Men’s Health. I think it was a great move by them.

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