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Dylan Mulvaney Getty 1.jpg

Stop Setting Dylan Mulvaney – and All Trans People – Up to Fail

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | April 18, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | April 18, 2023 |

Dylan Mulvaney Getty 1.jpg

Unless you live on TikTok, the chances are you had no idea who Dylan Mulvaney was until relatively recently. It feels as though she’s suddenly inescapable, and that’s not by her design. In the ceaseless cycle of faux-culture wars and the ongoing war against trans people, Mulvaney has become the latest in a depressingly long line of targets who symbolize a vast community of marginalized voices.

Dylan Mulvaney, aged only 26, is an actor who was best known for stage work in productions such as The Book of Mormom, Legally Blonde, and Spring Awakening. Around the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she began posting on TikTok, making fun theatre kid-esque videos that garnered a solid audience. During lockdown, she came out as a trans woman, doing so while still living with her conservative family in San Diego. She then chose to document her transition via the app with a series of videos titled ‘Days of Girlhood.’ Her videos are often comedic but stridently earnest, offering candour about an already brutally public process. It’s earned her a lot of followers — over 10.8 million — on a platform that often feels like a double-edged sword for LGBTQ+ expression.

Since then, she’s done what a ton of internet-famous people before her have and landed some cool endorsement deals. Things got dark from here. While Mulvaney has never shied away from talking about the staggering levels of abuse she receives — after meeting with Joe Biden last year, Caitlyn Jenner attacked her — the visibility of the violence towards her increased when she promoted brands such as Bud Light and Nike. The former sparked a ludicrous amount of right-wing fury and calls for a boycott. After she wore a Nike sports bra in a sponsored Instagram post, former Olympics swimmer and noted transphobe Sharron Davies called for a boycott of that company.

None of this is new to anyone who has ever been caught up in the cycle of a manufactured outrage war. I lived through GamerGate, I know the drill. This is also dishearteningly familiar a process for many LGBTQ+ people, particularly for trans women at this moment in time. Various states have pushed through laws repealing healthcare for trans children as well as bans on all trans people’s involvement in sports, and drag acts. That one author of the books about child wizards continues to make millions of dollars as she pals around with fascist-adjacent bullies determined to force human rights back by several decades. There’s really no circumstance right now where being trans is to be dealt a winning hand, regardless of how many losers screech about the community’s supposed cancel culture powers.

The purpose of this hate isn’t to ‘protect women.’ It’s not to lambast so-called wokeness or keep politics out of your shitty beer. It’s to ensure that trans people are seen as utterly unacceptable in every possible situation. Fascism is at its most effective when it positions all who oppose it as infectiously toxic. Queer people are used to this after decades of being called ‘child groomers’ whose every action or intent is rooted in a violent agenda. Sports organisations are forcing through exclusionary rules even though there is an infinitesimal number of trans people playing any game at a professional level (and said changes also hugely discriminate against women of colour, which seems to be a feature for them rather than a bug.) They are positioned as intruders whose presence in any situation is an invasion of those who ‘earned’ the right to be here. And yes, if you’re wondering if this rhetoric sounds an awful lot like Nazi shit, that’s because it is.

And shoved into the harsh spotlight of this furor is Dylan Mulvaney. She is only in her 20s and has been thrown into the upper echelons of fame in the space of two years, albeit without any of the safety measures that would aid, say, a film actor or musician. She’s become one of the faces of a platform that is notorious for the spreading of hate, conspiracies, and deafening hatred. Her popularity led brands to adopt her and position her as the one trans person under their umbrella, a position that cannot help but doom anyone forced into it. Corporations aren’t interested in protecting anyone or anything aside from profits, and it’ll take little for them to decide to throw Mulvaney under the bus if they feel their bottom line could mildly suffer for taking a stance on the issue of basic human decency.

The media loves to pick one person and shove them into the position of Representative for All [Insert marginalised community here.] They tried it with Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, eager to push both into staid notions of cis-approved respectability, to very different results. They do it every single time a Black woman says or does anything that upsets white people with newspaper columns. This is a get-out-of-jail-free card, a way to show that they’re totally listening to the underserved voices of the world without having to amplify myriad concerns or protests that come from true diversity. We hardly have any trans voices at the table of mainstream media as it is, especially at a time when transphobia is the money-maker du jour and politicians steamroll over protests with discriminatory legislation.

So, we see how Mulvaney is expected to bear an impossible load, to be ‘perfect’ and uncontroversial and reject any hint of radicalism, however that is defined by the cis mainstream. She’s already ‘failed’ by existing, by being so positive and loving herself and not going away once blowhards and politicians slapped a target on her back. She wears a sports bra and suddenly she’s a representative for every phantom trans woman who has ripped gold medals away from cis women in rage. She drinks beer and Kid Rock throws a hissy fit over the mere possibility of sharing a food in common with a trans person. There’s no way to reason with this, no chance of finding common ground (not that she should have to.) This is a 26-year-old woman who is simply trying to live, and that is too much of an affront for those who want trans women to disappear.

I hope Mulvaney has her friends and community by her side because she’s been forced into an unwinnable position, a sacrificial lamb for the murderous forces of capitalism and transphobia. Nobody should have to go through this, yet so many are, just not in as public a manner as Mulvaney. This is the system within which queer and trans people must try to survive, and the ones who make the rules don’t want them to.