Perfect pecs. Chiseled abs. Sculpted muscles, up and down. Tantalizing tattoos. Small pink nipples that say “come hither.”
All that and much more of model Aydian Dowling’s buff body is on display in a portrait for next month’s issue of FTM Magazine, which will include a pull-out poster. The idea was the brainchild of FTM founder and CEO Jason Robert Ballard.
“He thought it could be powerful,” Dowling tells The Advocate. “I knew it was something me and my wife, Jenilee, would have to think about.”
Ballard envisioned a re-creation of Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine’s 2011 nude portrait for Cosmopolitan UK’s campaign to promote cancer awareness among men. Dowling’s pose will grace the spring issue of FTM to create awareness of trans men, and challenge stereotypes about transgender people and what they look like.
Like Levine, Dowling doesn’t pose nude for a living, and says being photographed naked “is a strange feeling, for sure.”
“I’m not a professional model of any kind, unless selfies count, so I wasn't really sure what to expect leading up to the shot,” he says. “In some ways I really was never naked — my wife’s hands were covering the goods. It was just Jenilee, Jason, and I in the room. Small, comfortable, and naked.”
The result, especially when compared side by side with the picture of Levine, is a fascinating study in what we perceive to be masculine, with (almost) nothing left to the imagination.
“To know it would be considered ‘viral’ is kind of crazy!” he says. “Even my mom has seen this shot! Hundreds of thousands of people that I have never even seen their face or known their name, but they know me naked. Overall, I must say it is empowering.”
And he says the power comes from the message that image sends: “Trans bodies are human bodies. We are everyone you wouldn't ‘think’ we are. There is a misconception of what transgender is supposed to look like. We are all sizes, shapes, colors, and sexual identities. We are in every country, state, city, everywhere. We deserve visibility, human rights, and support.”
Dowling is an active member of the transgender community, as a speaker, a video blogger on YouTube where he documents his five years of transition, and the owner of Point 5cc, a clothing company that makes “stealth-style” fashions for transgender men. In addition, his company started the first national binder exchange program, and a fund to help trans men who want top surgery but can’t afford it.
The photograph may have given Dowling and his causes greater exposure, but he says the last thing he wants is for people to see him as an ideal. “I think it’s important that all transgender individuals know that my image is not what someone should or shouldn’t look like. It’s important people find this picture uplifting, and make transgender people proud.”
Mitch Kellaway contributed reporting to this article.