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Transgender bodybuilder wants to lift up his community

Ajay Holbrook was assigned the female sex at birth. At 17, he began transitioning and sculpting his body to his true self.

Posted: Jun 7, 2019 2:40 PM
Updated: Jun 7, 2019 2:40 PM

As a kid growing up in Texas, Ajay Holbrook's video-game avatars always had a similar look -- a bearded dude with tattoos and bulging muscles.

"It's crazy, because the characters I created literally look like who I am today."

But as a kid, coming to grips with that true identity was a struggle.

Around the age of 5, when kids are usually focused on kindergarten, Holbrook's mind was filled with more complex thoughts, such as, "Why don't I feel like a girl?"

That child with the muscular avatar was assigned a female sex at birth. He remembers sadly looking in the mirror bandaging and taping up his breasts to try and hide them, cutting off his long hair against his mother's wishes and crying, praying to wake up as boy.

"I always saw myself as a male figure. I was always into sports instead of girly stuff. I would get my dad to buy me boys' clothes so I could match my brother."

"Tomboy" was a word that Holbrook heard a lot growing up near Sugar Land, but that seemed to only add to his confusion. He eventually came out as a lesbian to his mother but knew there was something more to what he was feeling. "It was way past just tomboy stuff."

It wasn't until he discovered the word "transgender" at 13 years old that his struggle began to make more sense.

"It resonated with me so much. I didn't know there was something for these feelings. Feelings that have been eating me alive. That day I knew who I was."

At 17 years old, after six months of gender therapy, Holbrook began taking testosterone and beginning the physical transition to match who he has always felt he has been - Ajay.

Turmoil through transition

The decision, however, didn't come easy to his parents. His father wasn't in the picture much and while his mom eventually learned to accept her son, his stepdad was not as accepting.

"He didn't know I was trans at first and our relationship quickly soured. He was completely unaccepting. Then, one day he lost his cool and beat the absolute crap out of me."

This was only three months into his transition, so Holbrook still had the frame and build of his younger self.

"I was 97 pounds, literally no muscles. I felt completely defenseless, scared."

It became a moment where he would turn weakness into strength.

"I came to the conclusion that getting stronger would protect me from any of that ever [happening] again. It was enough motivation to get me serious about bodybuilding."

Lifting past expectations

Holbrook, now living in Los Angeles, started hitting the gym. And hitting it hard. After being dissatisfied with his body most of his life, he was now ready to sculpt himself toward his idea of the perfect male physique.

Inside the gym, he moves quickly between the bench press, bicep curls and a chest fly machine. He works out at least six days a week for an hour or two at a time.

"My body wasn't the way I wanted it before. With bodybuilding, I'm able to work and improve myself every day."

Now 22, Holbrook has bulked up to 150 pounds and lifts around 325-350 lbs on most compound exercises. Besides working on himself, he's also a personal trainer. But his main career goal right now is establishing himself in the bodybuilding world.

"I want to compete in the Mr. Olympia contest and make a footprint for trans people."

It's a lofty goal, but just one of the many challenges he's facing while trying to lift past the stereotypes of transgender people.

"Discrimination is real in the bodybuilding community. I've gotten a lot of inappropriate questions, ugly stares in the locker room. I've had people tell me that I'll never be a real man. There is a lot of misunderstanding. I just try to remember my path."

And for Holbrook, it comes down to one thing -- equality.

"People in the trans community, we just want to navigate life normally like everyone else. That's literally it."

Looking in the mirror now, Holbrook sees the version of himself that he used to only see in his video games. No longer sadden by his own reflection, when he looks back in the mirror now, he says only one word comes to mind -- "thankful."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 309223

Reported Deaths: 7153
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21005250
Hinds19989411
Harrison17590303
Rankin13388277
Jackson13169243
Madison9965212
Lee9900170
Jones8319161
Forrest7554149
Lauderdale7232237
Lowndes6306144
Lamar614685
Lafayette6081118
Washington5296133
Bolivar4778130
Oktibbeha458097
Panola4461103
Pearl River4447142
Warren4310119
Marshall4302103
Pontotoc417672
Monroe4063132
Union405175
Neshoba4009176
Lincoln3892109
Hancock373785
Leflore3471124
Sunflower332090
Tate325984
Pike3226105
Scott311973
Yazoo305369
Alcorn301566
Itawamba297977
Copiah294365
Coahoma290779
Simpson290486
Tippah285368
Prentiss276659
Marion266479
Leake262473
Wayne261541
Grenada257385
Covington255380
Adams247082
Newton246161
George238947
Winston226181
Tishomingo222867
Jasper220248
Attala213673
Chickasaw205857
Holmes187272
Clay183354
Stone179733
Clarke178177
Tallahatchie176240
Calhoun165632
Yalobusha160236
Smith159734
Walthall131143
Greene129633
Lawrence126823
Noxubee126634
Montgomery125842
Perry125238
Amite121041
Carroll121026
Webster113932
Jefferson Davis105932
Tunica103425
Claiborne101430
Benton97525
Kemper95728
Humphreys94732
Franklin83123
Quitman78916
Choctaw74417
Wilkinson65329
Jefferson64928
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
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