Ajay Holbrook has a body any 20-year-old man would be proud of and he loves flaunting every peak and vein on his Instagram account. But at one point, Holbrook hated his body.
Holbrook came out as a transgender male at 13, but a compelling profile in Men’s Health details Holbrook’s struggles with his gender identity as early as 3 or 4.
His mother, Holly, says Ajay hated having his hair done and would pull his dresses off because he couldn’t stand wearing them. At his grandmother’s pool, in rural Hempstead, Texas, he once tried swimming with his shirt off, because that’s what the other boys did.
“She yelped,” Holbrook says. “She grabbed me, and she was like, ‘What are you doing, you’re a girl!’ I looked at her like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
When he played video games like the Sims and Grand Theft Auto, he would create his avatar as a ripped man with facial hair and tattoos.
The story details Holbrook’s journey growing up in Texas, the support of his mother and his eventual decision to build his body in the image he always envisioned.
When he was a senior in high school, Ajay started taking testosterone as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Transmasculine people (i.e. people who are assigned female at birth, but identify and present as more masculine) who take testosterone undergo a significant amount of physical changes, including a decrease in chest size, fat loss in the hips and thighs, an increase in muscle definition in the arms and legs, an angular formation of the face, and thickening of the vocal cords, which deepens the voice.
For the first time, Ajay felt like his body aligned with his identity, the version of himself he always saw when he closed his eyes. “I saw muscles, I saw tattoos,” Holbrook says. He started documenting his fitness journey on Instagram and YouTube when he was 18. At first, he thought his Instagram would be viewed as a typical fitness transformation account. But as he quickly amassed a following, he realized his posts carried additional importance: They were serving as inspiration for teenagers looking to transition.
Holbrook now has the physique of a budding bodybuilder and his goal is to one day compete on the Mr. Olympia stage, the pinnacle of men’s bodybuilding. That’s a tall order for anyone, but more so for Holbrook since no trans man has ever competed in a major bodybuilding contest.
The story details the challenges faced by Holbrook in competing in bodybuilding but also shows the strength and resolve he has. He now lives in Los Angeles where he is pursuing modeling and trying to grow his Instagram presence while at the same time working out religiously.
Holbrook is serving as a role model and is acutely aware that big muscles do not define what it means to be a man for everyone.
”This community is fragile, and I try my best to instill strength into them,” Holbrook says. “And if being a man means [physical] strength to you, then that’s what it should be.”