Aydian Dowling on sexual health and intimacy as a transgender man
Trangender activist and fitness coach Aydian Dowling sits down with Giddy's Briona Jenkins to discuss his journey of self discovery, overcoming intimacy issues, and becoming the first transgender man on the cover of Men's Health magazine.
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A Conversation with Aydian Dowling
In this one-on-one conversation with Giddy's Briona Jenkins, transgender activist and fitness coach Aydian Dowling bares his story of discovering his true gender identity.
Dowling says he dealt with various obstacles during his transitioning period, which impacted sex and intimacy with his partner. However, his relationship has grown stronger over the years thanks to open communication and understanding from his wife.
Despite Dowling's struggles during his journey of self discovery, he conquered his fears and became the first transgender man on the cover of Men's Health magazine.
Aydian, it is so exciting to have you here today. I know that for you, health and fitness plays such a big role in who you are as a person, as a partner, as a parent, but I want to hear a little bit more what it means to you, the importance of it for you.
Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited. This is going to be great. Being a transgender man, my body didn't—the body I was born in didn't match who I was. And so I found the fitness aspect a really good way for me to start to be able to see who I was internally start to show itself on the outside.
Speaking of being cover ready, you have to talk about that you were the first trans man to be on the cover of Men's Health. What did that mean to you? What was that experience like? What was the feedback that you got from that?
Overall, it was a really amazing opportunity, and I felt immense pressure, but also, I knew that whether I got the cover or whether I got in that magazine, the whole point of me joining into this competition was to prove that trans men are men, and that we need to be able to see ourselves in men's magazines because we are also men. And now, there's been tons of articles on trans men, on gay men, on just different types of men. And that was the whole point.
I want to know what it's been like for you on this journey because you are married, you have a very adorable child, you live in a very fantastic city, but you're talking about your younger self and your journey. What did that what has that journey looked like for you to get to where you are now?
It has looked messy. That's what I would say, very messy. I got into the scene of social media before it was social media. So I started documenting my transition on YouTube. I literally was a kid in Long Island who was this super self-identified butch lesbian, but then realized that it was nothing about my sexuality and everything to do with my gender. And I was just lonely. I was just crying in my room alone.
So I was just like oh, I'm just going to make videos and put them up. Maybe someone will be my friend. That literally was the whole point.
We also often hear the access to gender affirming care and the hardships of facing that. Was that anything you had to deal with?
Luckily, I lived on Long Island, which is about a 45-minute, hour train ride to the city. So I would have to take an hour train ride in to a subway, a transfer to another subway, then walk a few blocks, then all the way back home. It was a whole day, which at the time, I would have told you, "can you believe that I have to do all of this?" And now that I've met so many different people, I'm like wow, some people drive 3 1/2 hours for a 25-minute visit and then 3 1/2 hours back.
When you go outside of big cities, and there's a lot of the United States that are not a big city, access is very difficult.
As you know, we sit and talk about sex here on this show, and I wonder like who taught you about sex. What did sex ed look like for you when you were growing up?
So my sex education was, to be frank, [HBO series] The L Word. That's the first time I saw two girls having sex on TV. No one taught me about sex, heterosexual sex, let alone lesbian sex. And then as a trans man, sex is different there, too. So no one—you just have to, you just kind of wing it. It was just like, I guess this is happening. I don't know what's happening, but something's going down.
I want to dive deeper into your personal life because, obviously, I know you really well, and I'm obsessed with your family. But I want to know what it was like to be with your partner during your transition, what that journey looked like for you, you both together, for your partner.
I think that for me, learning my body as a lesbian was something that I had some access to. But as a trans man, especially as a trans man who takes hormones, your body changes. I got top surgery, and that was like something in itself. So now you don't—I had my nipples removed and then sewn back on me. So I don't have a pleasure point in my nipples. And that was a pleasure point for me. There's so many things that happen in that dynamic of when your body changes of how to recraft pleasure in your body.
And so with Jenilee, I was very lucky that she was so understanding that literally, it was like, one day you could touch this part of me, and the next day I was like, nope, that's not happening today. It was a lot of communication. In the beginning, it was a lot of not being offended if I didn't want her to touch this part of me today, or if I did want her to touch this part of me today, but then also recognizing that as a body, I deserve pleasure.
I'm so ingrained that men only have sex this way that if I go outside of that, then I must not be a real man. And so that's been my journey sexually since I started hormones, which is how do I make sure that I—how do I allow myself to relax into my sexuality and my sexual acts so that I can have a good time and not always have this record in my mind of "that's not what a real man does"? You know what I mean, and just listen to my body?
Especially—I think this goes beyond just the trans experience—when you have any type of disconnection with your body, it's hard to let someone else come into that disconnect and you allow that. And so that's still my journey today: how can I relax more into the pleasure of sex, sexuality, exploration and all of those things within myself, and then with my partner and myself? As a monogamous relationship, how can we work together and separate so that we can feel? I think that's how you learn. It's like you pleasure yourself, and then you are able to learn how to allow other people to pleasure you.