A photograph of transgender man Aydian Dowling taken for FTM Magazine in the same style as a popular nude picture of Adam Levine has gone viral recently.
The now-famous photo came about after FTM founder Jason Robert Ballard asked Dowling for an interview for the Spring 2015 issue. Both men wanted the piece to include high-quality images to showcase Dowling’s transgender apparel company, Point 5cc. Ballard sent Dowling the Levine shot and asked him how he would feel about recreating it. Dowling was unsure about posing nude, but eventually decided it would be worth it after discussing it with his wife.
In an exclusive interview, 429Magazine spoke with Dowling about the photo, his work on behalf of the transgender community, what he would like to see from cisgender people, and more.
The picture is meant to help elevate transgender visibility, and Dowling says that he also wants it to “stand for…empowerment over bodies” and “be representative of positivity, self-love.”
Further, it is symbolic of his acceptance of his body. “Every piece of my body that I used to hate is now a core piece of my identity,” he explains. “I’m living the life I’m meant to live.”
However, he also hopes people will realize the picture is not intended to depict the way all transgender men should look. “If I was a young trans man, I would hope I would see that confidence and not feel like that’s something I can’t attain,” Dowling says.
The photo has been well received. “Everyone kept saying such nice things,” Dowling enthuses. “I got so much support from inside the community and outside the community.”
One common but problematic reaction was that he does not “look transgender,” a backhanded compliment that Dowling takes issue with. “I usually just say, ‘Okay, well I am, so I must look it if I am.’ There’s no one way to look transgender. It’s like, there’s no one way to look like a basketball player.”
To Dowling, saying he does not appear to be transgender does fit with how he feels about himself in a sense, but it also denies part of his identity: “On the inside, with my emotions, I feel like a man, but I am [also]trans.”
Dowling has also worked to raise transgender visibility by speaking at colleges for the Transgender Day of Remembrance and through his YouTube channel, ALionsFears. According to Dowling, the latter documents both his physical and emotional changes “from when I started identifying as transgender.”
He also helps the transgender community through Point 5cc, which he founded in 2012. The company specializes in stealth trans* clothing and accessories, and a portion of every sale is donated to the Transgender Surgery Fund.
The company also features one of the first binder exchange programs. “Guys who have gotten their top surgery, removal of breast tissue, don’t need their binders anymore,” Dowling points out. Therefore, Point 5cc solicits donations of new and gently used binders for FTM men in need who are just beginning their transition. “All we are is just a middle-man for the community,” he says.
Dowling also detailed the kind of support he would like to see for the transgender community from its cisgender allies, particularly a “focus on education and basic rights…[such as]bathrooms, health care, workers’ rights, etc.”
He noted that he considers education “our best tool to remove ignorance,” and said that he hopes more cisgender people will speak up for transgender people. “Just standing up for us when we can’t stand up for ourselves is very important in our progress to equality.”
As for the transgender community’s LGB allies, he feels that it can be especially alienating when transgender people are excluded from the broader LGBT community. “We have fought with them for their rights, and it is important they fight with us for our rights,” he says.
“Most transgender people lived a life of being LGB+ so when we don’t feel welcome on those spaces, it feels like we don’t belong in our own home,” he admits. “We want to feel welcomed and we appreciate all those in our community who do welcome us and we hope that invite will expand across all our borders.”
For a recent Throwback Thursday, Dowling juxtaposed two photos of himself on Instagram, one pre-transition from 2007 and one current. Describing the place he was in when the “before” picture was taken, he says, “I was living life because I was alive, not because life was something worth living. I literally surrounded myself with darkness because it was the only thing I could relate to. I couldn’t relate to being happy.”
But, he has come far since then. “My life has changed drastically in the last 5 years. I realized what being transgender meant. I realized it was exactly what I was feeling.”