In almost every respect, Aydian Dowling is a typical cover star for a men's fitness magazine. With his defined abs, stylish facial hair, puppy-dog eyes and set of tattoos across his right shoulder, it is not hard to see why the 27-year-old is the strong favourite to win the popular vote in Men's Health's "Ultimate Guy" competition - an annual contest that turns a member of the public into a professional male model.

Only the mastectomy scars beneath his pecs reveal that the New Yorker was, in fact, born female, beginning the transition from woman to man five years ago.

"I started bodybuilding because I wanted my outer body to feel more masculine, like my inner soul does," says Dowling, who runs his own clothing company and is married to a woman.

"I definitely was not expecting all the support, but I'm so happy and proud of the [transgender] community for using its loud voice [to vote me on to the cover] and realising that we could really do it."


This voice, it seems, is growing ever louder, with a host of news stories in recent months focusing on transgender people. Bruce Jenner, 65, the Olympic gold medalist and TV star in Keeping Up with the Kardashians, has given interviews about his plans to transition into a woman, a process he has been "getting ready for" all his life. Former British boxing promoter Frank Maloney, 61, announced last year that he was undergoing a sex change and wished to be known as Kellie, while Chelsea Manning - formerly Bradley Manning, the American soldier jailed following the WikiLeaks scandal - has spoken from behind bars about her transition.

Kim Kardashian and her step-father Bruce Jenner, who is apparently undergoing gender reassignment. Photo / Getty
Kim Kardashian and her step-father Bruce Jenner, who is apparently undergoing gender reassignment. Photo / Getty

The most recent issue of British Vogue includes a full-page article headed: "Man, woman, neither, both?", which goes on to claim that "trans is having a moment".

Though some might balk at the suggestion a transgender identity is the new must-have accessory - especially in the light of reports of transgender teens' suicides following rejection by their families - the idea that we have reached a watershed in terms of rights for the group has been echoed elsewhere. Last year, Time magazine ran a cover story headlined "The transgender tipping point: America's next civil rights frontier", featuring an interview with Laverne Cox, a trans actress and star of the hit TV show Orange Is the New Black, in which she plays a transgender inmate in a women's prison.

"We are in a place now where more and more trans people want to come forward and say, 'This is who I am,'?" Cox said in the article. She added: "Social media has been a huge part of it... We're able to have a voice in a way that we haven't been able before. We are setting the agenda in a different way."

Laverne Cox plays a transgender inmate in a women's prison in Orange Is The New Black. Photo / Getty
Laverne Cox plays a transgender inmate in a women's prison in Orange Is The New Black. Photo / Getty

Other screen treatments include the 2014 series Transparent, which took a light-touch approach to the story of a family adjusting to the idea of Dad becoming Mum, while Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne will star in The Danish Girl, a film about the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery in the 1920s. BBC Two will air the drama Boy Meets Girl, based around a romance between a trans woman and younger man.

"The trans community are becoming increasingly visible," says actress Rebecca Root, who was born Graham and plays the transgender role in the forthcoming drama.

"We are being accepted as just another facet of society and I think that can only be for the good. Forty years ago it was immigrants who were fighting for visibility and their rights; 30 years ago it was the gays. Now, I think, it's our turn," says the 45-year-old.

"It will be interesting to see how people react when the show comes out, to see how much attitudes have really changed. I expect there'll be people saying this shouldn't be on national TV. But I hope more will see it as just another sweet, funny story."


Another factor in changing attitudes has been the fact that an increasing number of us know of people who identify as transgender in our real-life social networks, among our colleagues and extended families. While there are currently no official numbers for the UK's transgender population, a Home Office-funded study estimated that around 1 per cent of the general population was "gender noncomforming" to some degree, with around 20 per cent of those likely to seek medical treatment at some stage.

As Cox pointed out in her Time profile: "More of us are living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly, so people can say, 'Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans'... That demystifies difference."