After a burger at JL Beers, Aydian Dowling was more than ready to share his story.
The vlogger and transgender activist presented his female-to-male transition Monday in the Century Theater, highlighting his search for authenticity and happiness living in a body he didn’t like. The trans man discussed his physical and mental journey, but he also commented on issues facing the transgender community and those unsatisfied with themselves.
“Every single person in this room deserves happiness,” Dowling said to the half-filled theater, adding, “When you treat yourself well, others will, too.”
Dowling began his presentation at the beginning of his transition, six years ago when he started his popular YouTube vlog “A Lion’s Fears.”
He described experiences like wearing a binder (a corset-like vest meant to press up breast tissue), taking testosterone injections and holding his own on the cover of Men’s Health magazine with the likes of firefighters and soldiers.
He described his top surgery, or the removal of breast tissue, and how difficult it was to find funding for the pricey operation.
The surgery cost over $8,000, and Dowling only found the money after several failed GoFundMe campaigns and bake sales that brought scant donations.
“I was like ‘How many bake sales do I have to f—ing have?'” he said to laughter from audience.
The now-entrepreneur was a successful cake decorator for two years after dropping out of college in pursuit of a writing career.
Following his top surgery in 2012, Dowling continued his clothing line that funded his operation. The transgender apparel line is called Point 5CC, a reference to the five cubic centimeters of testosterone he takes weekly.
His vlog, one of the first to offer a glimpse into coming out as transgender, he said, has racked up over 3 million views, chronicling his journey from receiving his first binder to taking testosterone to being a voice for transgender issues.
“I want to be that difference,” Dowling said. “I wanted to be that little push.”
Darcy Corbitt-Hall, a trans woman and a doctoral student in clinical psychological science, attended Dowling’s presentation, and said how his visit shed a light on the T of LGBTQ.
“The more visibility we can have, the better it will be for our movement,” Corbitt-Hall said, adding transgender people are often vilified as “dead prostitutes” or “strippers” in entertainment media, and not as the entrepreneurs, public speakers and other high-powered professions transgender people have in reality.
“We see the more negative, disgusting, narrow side of what it could mean to be trans,” she said. “It’s really good to have this sort of thing, to have someone who is successful and living a non-vilified life. It helps (non-LGBTQ people) see we’re people like they are, just trying to have a life.”
Several times during his speech, Dowling mentioned how everyone, transgender or not, should strive to be authentic.
“It matters what I think,” he said. “It’s not about being trans. It’s about loving yourself and being who you are.”
He also discussed his appearance on Men’s Health earlier this year alongside other male fitness figures, and the impact he left on the magazine’s editor. Dowling said the editor said he made him question what it truly meant to be male.
Dowling talked about his clothing line giving back to the transgender community, supporting binder exchanges, breast form programs for trans women and a top surgery fund.
“There’s no way I’m gonna be selling all these T-shirts and not giving back,” he said, adding none of his clothing labels the wearer as “Hey, I’m trans! Target me!”
He still strives for authenticity to this day, he said. His motto reflects his journey.
“Some areas of my body used to remind me of everything I am not,” Dowling said. “Now they represent everything I am.”
Dowling’s visit was coordinated as part of NDSU’s Equity and Diversity Center’s LGBTQ Pride Month.