How the Transgender Community is Changing the Face of Mainstream Magazines

Guest Editorial – Melanie Bridges

In the last few years, the transgender community has started to see slight representation in pop culture. “Slight” being the operative word, here. According to GLAAD, depictions of transgender characters on TV and in movies are infrequent in comparison to those of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. But TV and film aren’t the only areas in media where the transgender community is sorely underrepresented. Mainstream magazines, which tend to lack diversity on the whole, have yet to largely feature trans men and women in any positive capacity—something a fitness junkie and an actress have recently set out to change.

Aydian Dowling

For the first 21 years of his life, Aydian Dowling never thought of himself as a transgender man. When he was 16, he came out as a lesbian to his friends and family. It wasn’t until five years later, when his then-girlfriend asked if he ever wanted to be a boy, that Dowling even considered which gender he was truly meant to be.

The 27-year-old Eugene, Ore. native is currently competing in Men’s Health magazine’s annual “Ultimate Guy” contest. If he wins, he will be the first transgender man to appear on the cover.

For the last several years, Dowling has openly chronicled his transition on his increasingly popular YouTube channel. He addresses a spectrum of issues, from how to work out safely after top surgery to how he and his wife have evolved in their sexual identity. As Fox News notes, Dowling also created another YouTube channel, Beefheads Fitness, to fill a specific void he noticed. “There was no one on YouTube making fitness videos for trans people,” he says. “When you’re a biological female trying to gain a masculine physique, you’re going to train a little differently. I wanted to provide a space where we can encourage each other at the gym, even if we might not know what we’re doing.”

Men’s Health describes the “Ultimate Guy” as “a guy who is fit and fearless, a doer who gives back and leads by example.” Those qualities, coupled with Dowling’s riveting gaze, disarming smile, and commitment to fitness (as evidenced by his cut physique), make him the perfect candidate. And readers think so, too. According to NPR, Dowling is currently leading the voting, making him a shoe-in to walk away with the “Reader’s Choice” award, if not the whole thing.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is perhaps best known for her role on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, in which she plays Sophia Burset, inmate hairstylist extraordinaire and one of the few transgender characters currently on television. While Adam and Eve points out there has been an LGBT presence on national television since the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was broadcast in the 1970s, the number of transgender characters portrayed in a multi-dimensional way remains minuscule—even 40-plus years later.

An outspoken advocate for the transgender community, Cox is hoping to change that. Sophia Burset was named one of the 11 most influential fictional characters of 2013 by Time, who called her “the most dynamic transgender character in TV history.” Thanks to this overwhelmingly positive response, and no doubt to Cox’s stellar performance, Showtime and E! Canada have both given the green light to shows about transgender people.

Off-screen, Cox is just as influential. She recently posed for Allure’s annual nude photography feature after initially refusing to do it—twice. According to USA Today, she changed her mind because she felt she could help show other black transgender women that they, too, meet all the standards for beauty. Though the nudes feature was launched in 2000, Cox is the first transgender woman to pose for the magazine. In the issue, Cox proves why Time not only cites her OITNB character as a transgender icon, but the actress herself: “Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but it’s true.”

April 22, 2015