Aydian Dowling is one step closer to making history by being on the cover of Men’s Health‘s November issue.
The transgender activist and vlogger, 28, was named a top 5 finalist in the magazine’s “Ultimate Guy” search after blowing away the competition in a popular vote that took place in the spring (Dowling had over 72,000 votes, while the man in second place had 23,000).
“Life’s been crazy,” Dowling tells PEOPLE of the past few months. “I’ve been getting a lot more attention, and it’s a lot more responsibility, actually, being a highlighted voice for the transgender community in the media right now. There’s pressures that come along with that, but I’ve been trying to keep educating as much as possible, and staying true to what I’ve been trying to do for the community since I started advocating four or five years ago.”
As part of the competition, Dowling recently went on a press tour with the other four finalists.
“I was definitely nervous,” he says of meeting the other guys. “I didn’t know if any of them had met a transgender person before, but I was really pleased with how I was treated. I was really just treated like another guy, and being transgender was just part of my story.”
The winner won’t be announced until Oct. 12, but Dowling is already imagining what it might be like to be awarded the title and the cover.
“I’ve daydreamed about winning, and sometimes I’m screaming and I’m excited, and other times I’m crying, because it would be a moment in transgender and LGBT history,” he says. “It won’t just be me getting on the cover of an awesome magazine – it’s really a big thing, especially for the trans male community, being that there’s really no representation now in the mainstream. I get chills thinking about it because it would be a really awesome accomplishment.”
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While Dowling is proud of his identity and what he has accomplished, it hasn’t been an easy road to get to where he is today.
“I came out as a lesbian to my friends around 12 or 13, then I came out publicly at 16 or 17, but I didn’t start identifying as transgender until I was 21,” he says. “There was a lot of concern from my parents for my safety and my health.”
Dowling was initially questioned by friends and family about his decision.
“I had some explaining to do about what transgender really was and why I felt that way, and answering the very common question of, ‘Why can’t you just be a very masculine lesbian? Isn’t that good enough?,’ ” he says. “But it’s not good enough, because I don’t identify as a lesbian, so that wouldn’t work.”
Since making his own transition, Dowling has founded BeefHead Fitness, a YouTube channel geared to helping transgender individuals get in shape, and he also raises money for transgender and LGBT causes through his clothing company Point 5cc.
“I’ve been growing myself more positively for the last five years,” he says, “but I feel like [being named a finalist in this competition] has really shown my parents and my friends and my family how much impact you can have on the world if you really want to.”