By Lorraine Longhi, May 2015 Issue.
Health is a nuanced and multi-faceted state of being; staying healthy can range from the physical to psychological and balancing the two can be a delicate process.
For Julian Melson (pictured), reaching this balance has been a lifelong journey.
An active member in Phoenix’s transgender community, Melson is a finalist for the second annual Men’s Health Magazine’s Ultimate Guy Search, a vote-driven competition that invites ordinary men who fit the criteria of “well-rounded, active, health conscious and thoughtful.”
Once the votes are tallied, the winner will land the cover of the November 2015 magazine and a one-year supply of Isopure product.
After initially ruminating on entering the contest as a way to raise money for surgery, Melson later realized the benefits of having a transgender man on the cover of a national magazine, particularly for young people.
“I started lifting weights when I was 15, and if I would have seen a trans guy on the cover of a magazine like this, it would have made a huge impact on me,” Melson said. “Not only is he like me, he’s healthy, he works out, he eats right. It gives us somebody to identify with in mainstream media.”
As a 49-year-old man, Melson said his own definition of health has changed throughout the years, after battling alcohol and drug addiction and issues with body image.
“For many years I hated my body and I did a lot of self-destructive things to it,” Melson said. “Today, part of being healthy is honoring the body that I do have. That took a lot of work.”
This “work” included changing his surroundings, as well as paying attention to every facet of his daily regimen, both physical and emotional.
In addition to working out four to six days a week for the past 34 years, Melson sticks to a daily schedule and prepares his food for the week each Sunday. Consistency, he said, is the key to staying healthy, so having a plan for the week is crucial to his overall health regimen.
For the competition, Men’s Health also inquires as to how contestants maintain a healthy lifestyle beyond the parameters of eating right and going to the gym.
“There’s the emotional aspect of health, the social aspect of it,” Melson said. “I’ve learned to surround myself with positive people that motivate me and enhance the qualities of myself that I like. They encourage me to be healthy and stay positive.”
As the world’s largest men’s magazine, Men’s Health has a global readership of more than 35 million and a circulation of over 1.8 million. Melson is aware of the importance of advocating for trans visibility and bridging the divide into mainstream media.
“It’s just now changing how trans individuals are being presented in movies and TV shows, whereas before there was so much sensationalism,” Melson said. “I don’t think Men’s Health should treat transgender men entering these contests as ‘just another guy’ since there still needs to be education surrounding us and people need to see us for who we are.
“We are successful and happy and well-rounded and educated and we run the gamut so I think there needs to be a focus on that.”
And, as someone who routinely seeks to promote diversity and shatter stereotypes and misconceptions about transgender individuals that still exist in mainstream media, he’s the ultimate guy for the job.
“Our bodies sometimes aren’t thought of as legitimate by the general public, and there’s still this thinking like ‘I’m not fully a man because I’m not configured the way another man is,’” Melson said. “To have a magazine like Men’s Health, that glorifies men’s bodies, put one of us on the cover would just show how much progress we’ve made.”
Melson also practices advocacy and promoting awareness by giving back to the community and creating safe spaces for youth.
In addition to co-facilitating support groups for trans men, parents of trans youth and their children, Melson also regularly provides diversity training in classes for local colleges and organizations, as well as providing support resources and special events for trans individuals and their loved ones.
“I love giving back and working with young people,” Melson said. “The more people understand us, the better chance they have for a healthy, happy life and to not be discriminated against. It also keeps me clean and sober. I think it’s important for people to just see a trans person as a human being.”
As part of the entry requirements for the contest, Men’s Health asked contestants four essay questions of each. The last question was overarching and could be applied to health, or the applicant’s general view of their life:
“How do you measure success? Have you achieved it?”
In response, Melson said that a successful life is defined as one in which he lives authentically and where is he of service to others.
“Transition was challenging, and it helped me to walk through a lot of fears,” Melson said. “But walking through those things that I was afraid of was a healing process. I’ve become emotionally healthy through this process and I’ve found a strength of character that I never knew I had.”
The contest runs through June 21. For more information about Julian’s entry and to vote for him online, visit ultimateguy.menshealth.com.