If you don't know the name Aydian Dowling, you may remember this photo featuring a trans YouTuber that nearly broke the internet earlier this year:
Following that image going viral, Dowling entered Men's Health magazine's Ultimate Guy Search in hopes of becoming the first transgender man to make the cover.
Besides being known for his popular YouTube channel, Dowling is the founder of Point5cc clothing line, which strives to "highlight transgender commonalities and create a sense of pride." His wife, Jenilee Dowling, is also heavily involved in the clothing company. Point5cc donates a portion of its proceeds to an annual trans surgery fund. Fitting, since Dowling originally started printing T-shirts in order to pay for his own surgery.
The Ultimate Guy Search is a nationwide competition for "the guy who possesses all of the qualities that make up today's well rounded, active, health conscious and thoughtful guy." The winner, selected by a panel of judges, will be featured on the cover of the magazine's November 2015 issue complete with an inside spread.
The 27-year-old visited BuzzFeed headquarters to discuss the competition (he is currently leading the reader's choice portion by over 43,000 votes) and, of course, to re-create a few more iconic hunky dude photos.
When the Adam Levine re-creation blew up online, how did you react?
"We knew it was just going to be a promo [for the cover], so we thought it would just be seen around our community. I have a little following from YouTube, so we knew it would be shared and people would like it. ... People just kept sharing it and sharing it and sharing it. It was like, Did you know that it got 110,000 views in the last hour? The next thing i knew it was 250,000 and then this person is tweeting about it and this person is sharing it and this person wants to do an article on it. It was just crazy, I had no idea that it was going to be that big by any means."
What would winning this competition mean to you?
"The goal was to get on the leader board to raise awareness. That was the initial goal: Make a statement, get a trans man on the cover. That was it! Get a trans guy on the cover of Men's Health. I made a video about it on my YouTube channel and it just got shared and shared and shared. Within hours of making that video I was number one [on the leaderboard] in the competition.
I feel like me personally and the transgender community as a whole have the same feelings. It's bringing visibility, its bringing awareness. I used to be one of those kids that was depressed and didn't see anyone I could look up to. Even just someone out there who was living a different lifestyle and having some type of happiness — no fame or fortune, just happy. That's all you want when you're a kid. [Getting on the cover] would mean there was this new generation saying, 'Hey, I can have a happy life, I can be successful, i'm not as weird as I thought I was.' You just want to feel community, a sense of respect, acknowledgment, to feel heard, to have a space at the table."
Let's say you win and appear on the cover. What do you hope trans kids feel when they see it themselves?
"I don't want them to think that in order to be a man, in order to be good, you have to be ripped on the cover of a magazine and that's the only way you'll be successful in life. It's more the fact you see another trans guy doing it — putting himself out there. You're like, 'Hey, I could put myself out there too.'
If a little kid sees a trans guy on the cover of this magazine and he identifies as trans, he can say, 'Hey, I can live.' It's those little things that make people aspire to something. I really feel that maybe if I had seen that and knew the word 'transgender' when I was 12 or 13, maybe I would have identified quicker. Maybe I would have had a different life? When you're aware of something you can actually do it, it becomes a possibility."
Growing up, did you have any role models?
"I reached out online and there was a small community on YouTube. … I didn't have any trans friends in real life. I just wanted to feel like, I don't want to say 'fit in' because I didn't change myself to fit in, but I wanted to find the door that opened easiest for me. Oh, here's everybody that likes me just as I am because they're just like me! So, I reached out online and that's where I built all of my community."
We recently asked a bunch of trans athletes how fitness changed their life; how has it affected yours?
"Before I even started hormones I started training because I knew that if I went to the gym I could try to make my body look more masculine. I could get muscles, I could get broader shoulders, and I could get rid of my female hips. When you're in the gym you're in front of a mirror for an hour a day and you're forced to recognize your body — even if you don't like it. A lot of people don't do it because they shy away from the mirror, they don't want to know. It was a time to force myself in front of the mirror, and you literally watch your body start to shift. I started to build a connection with my body that I never had before. And although [my body] wasn't a perfect, beautiful one, as it started to change into more of a masculine body that's when I thought, This is it. There's nothing better than when you look into a mirror and say, 'That's me.'
You should have a respect for yourself in some way and it's really hard to develop that when you're trans because you don't usually identify with any part of the body that you're in at the time. For me personally, fitness and hormone replacement therapy was the way to fit more into my body."