A transgender college student has opened up about how becoming a bodybuilder and transforming his scrawny figure helped him overcome his insecurity and fear that he would never look the way he wanted to look as a man.
Alex Tilinca, 18, from Long Island, New York, was born female and went by Alexandra before he transitioned to male as a teenager. Unhappy with his skinny frame, he discovered a supportive gym when he was a senior in high school and developed a passion for bodybuilding.
'If people ask me, I always say I'm not a transgender bodybuilder,' he told Today. 'I do not want to be labeled as a transgender bodybuilder. I'm a bodybuilder that happens to be trans. For me, being transgender is not something that should limit you or define you.'
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Confident: Alex Tilinca, 18, from Long Island, New York, has opened up about how becoming a bodybuilder helped him overcome his insecurities as a transgender man
Following: The full-time college student is an amateur bodybuilder and has more than 19,000 Instagram followers
Alex's parents, Florin and Monica Tilinca, said that when he was a little girl, he preferred trucks to dolls and his friends were always boys.
Before the onset of puberty, he suffered from gender dysphoria — the discomfort a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity and assigned gender.
'I really started realizing there was something wrong when I started to feel societal expectations of being a female, and that made me very uncomfortable,' he explained.
'Not to be morbid, but it's like complete and utter disgust with yourself and your body, and you get anxiety from other people seeing you a certain way.'
Looking back: Alex Tilinca was born female and went by Alexandra before he transitioned to male as a teenager
Hard to handle: As a child, he suffered from gender dysphoria, the discomfort a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity and assigned gender
Family: Alex's parents, Florin and Monica Tilinca, were supportive when he came out as transgender as a child
When the anxiety became too much for him, he told his mother he was transgender, and while she didn't quite understand, she supported him.
'She was like, "I really don't know what you're saying, but you're my child and I love you no matter what,"' he recalled.
Florin noted that Alex was comfortable being honest with them about being transgender because they have always supported him unconditionally.
'Other parents out there who are going through a similar situation, we highly advise them to continue loving and supporting their children no matter what,' he said. 'They're not doing anything wrong. They're just trying to manifest themselves as they feel they are inside.'
Transition: Alex started hormone therapy at the age of 12, and when he turned 16, he began taking testosterone and had 'top surgery' to remove his breast tissue
All smiles: After he transitioned, he felt like he looked 'very skinny' and 'weak,' so he started going to a supportive gym and developed a passion for bodybuilding
Then and now: Alex's dedication to bodybuilding helped him transform his body
Alex started hormone therapy at the age of 12 to block puberty, and when he turned 16, he began taking testosterone and had 'top surgery' to remove his breast tissue.
However, when he looked in the mirror after his surgery, he felt he looked 'very skinny' and 'weak.'
He initially started going to the gym his senior year of high school because he wanted to be 'a little more fit,' but his 'all or nothing' personality led him to bodybuilding.
At 18, he came in first place in his debut men's bodybuilding competition, and the memory of Alex getting his medal brought tears to his father's eyes.
Alex said getting on stage and posing was 'so empowering' and felt like a sign from the universe that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing.
Success: At 18, he came in first place in his debut men's bodybuilding competition
All muscle: Alex explained that when he first transitioned, his 'biggest insecurity' was the belief that he would never look the way he wanted to look as a guy
Inspiration: 'If I could help one or two people just feel better about themselves, that makes me feel like everything I'm doing is worth it,' he said
'I'm sure there's people that think I should not be able to compete with the other men, but, quite frankly, it's not really up to them,' he told the camera. 'It's up to the people that make the shows, and they're very accepting.'
He believes the bodybuilding community has accepted him because many of them have gotten into it for the same reason: insecurity.
Alex explained that when he first transitioned, his 'biggest insecurity' was the belief that he would never look the way he wanted to look as a guy. Bodybuilding helped him transform his body and overcome that.
He now has nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram, and he frequently receives direct messages from people he has inspired.
'If I could help one or two people just feel better about themselves, that makes me feel like everything I'm doing is worth it,' he said.