The judges are looking for a guy “who is fit and fearless, a doer who gives back and leads by example.” Could that be Aydian Dowling?
As a veteran of managing contests that include public voting and unusual contestants, the first thing I did when I saw this story, and Men’s Health’s support of Dowling’s entry, was to look at the rules for MH’s out, how they could support him and then point to the rules and say, “Oops, so sorry, but thanks anyway, and by the way look at how progressive we are.”
Now, the judges having the final say in everything, rather than the public (typical in these kinds of contests), and there is do/don’t/can/can’t fine print that goes and goes and goes. But their reference to gender begins and ends with “Entrant must be male and not female.” They did not parse what makes a person male, and the “right to modify” clause would have meant that they could have disqualified or changed to rules to exclude him at any point.*
Which brings us to Aydian Ethan Dowling. He’s nearly 30,000 votes up on his nearest competitor and outstripping everyone across the four judging categories: Most Physically Fit, Healthiest Lifestyle, Most Giving, and Most Successful. His picture doesn’t conceal his chest scars and his answers share that his trans status is part of what make him the “most”. To the question “How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle? How has that lifestyle helped you overcome challenges in your life?“, he responds:
I maintain a healthy lifestyle by making sure my life is in a balance. Just like you eat foods in a balance I do my absolute best to keep my mental mind in connection to my body so they can grow healthy together. The battle that can come with the mirror can be completely dark and engulfing. As a Transgender Male, having a healthy body and mind is my ultimate goal to find peace within my soul. Although I may always have some kind of battle with my body, I continue to work everyday for a happy peace within.
His giving back reaches out to transpeople also, with fitness coaching and physical and mental health training, and he measures success in how people respond to him, not in dollars and cents. He’s being rewarded for his efforts with national media coverage and worldwide support.
In many ways, he embodies the changes that we’re seeing in the lives of men. He openly talks about an emotional life and body image issues, including his transition. His success goals are closely tied to helping others succeed. He’s moving forward with people, not over them. His videos, both personal and professional, share his struggles and invite you to share yours. He doesn’t come off as “he-who-knows-it-all.”
It would be easy for people to dismiss these as “feminine” or “he’s not really a man” traits, despite his muscular, tattooed appearance. But considering the pressure that transmen are frequently under to conform to heteronormative male gender standards in behavior as well as appearance, a guy being willing to go against the grain, particularly for a magazine that trades heavily in how to do this conformity, is a show of confidence in who he is.
That people are responding in the tens of thousands shows that they’re ready to put an “outside the man-box” man on the cover of one of the most (arguably) man-box magazines out there.
Photo: entry photo modified by jjvincent