ARUN RATH, HOST:
Check out photos of the guy who's currently leading the voting in the annual Ultimate Man contest held by Men's Health magazine. You'll see Aydian Dowling of Eugene, Ore., is ripped - beautifully defined muscles, piercing eyes, that kind of European-playboy-on-the-Riviera tussled hair. It's not just striking good looks that distinguish Aydian. If he wins the contest, he will be the first transman to appear on the cover of Men's Health. We talked last week.
AYDIAN DOWLING: I came out as a lesbian to my friends and family at about the age 13. Then when I was 17, I was out publicly to my school and my mother and father and such. And then once I learned what was associated with being transgender - the emotions that come along, the feelings of feeling not in tune with your body and such - I really noticed that I was feeling those exact same things.
RATH: The reason we're talking is you haven't just made the transition to male, you've made yourself into a magnificent physical specimen.
RATH: That must have made it even harder. I guess my question is, Aydian, how did you get to look so good?
DOWLING: (Laughter) Yeah, 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. But, yeah, I mean training is definitely a part of my life. It's something that has become literally just a daily routine - something that I live by.
RATH: You make training videos for transmen. What specific challenges do you face?
DOWLING: Well, 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, also. Usually - now, 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.
RATH: Was there any pushback from the magazine because you were transgender?
DOWLING: You know, I was definitely nervous that there may be some kind of pushback from the magazine. You know, it's 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 a different couple of platforms. They've mentioned that the contest is open to all men and that they are all happy to see the influence that a couple of transmen 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.
RATH: So it strikes me that you've probably put more thought into what it means to be a man than most other men, so win or lose, what does this whole experience mean for you?
DOWLING: Win or lose, I feel like I already won. I'm sitting here with you, right? (Laughter) 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. 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. (Laughter).
RATH: Aydian Dowling is in the running, currently in the lead, in the Men's Health Ultimate Man contest. Voting ends in July. Aydian, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you.
DOWLING: Yes, thank you so much. Been a pleasure myself.
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