From Dylan Mulvaney to Daniel Radcliffe’s partner Erin Darke, transphobic appearance policing harms literally everyone

Erin Darke and Daniel Radcliffe (L) Dylan Mulvaney (R)

The conspiracy theory that Daniel Radcliffe’s partner Erin Darke is transgender and the vicious online hate directed at trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney prove that transphobic appearance policing is about misogyny – and serves precisely no one. 

In the year of our lord 2023, trans people are under attack – perhaps more widely and viciously than ever before. 

In the pages of right-wing publications, in legislative efforts across the United States and on the streets of major cities around the world, trans and gender non-conforming folks are being used as a convenient punching bag. 

This rising tide of hateful transphobia is particularly apparent on social media, where transphobes are once again pushing conspiracy theories about who is and isn’t trans.

The latest target for ‘transvestigator’ efforts? Actor Erin Darke, long-term partner of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. 

Radcliffe has been outspoken in his support of the trans community, partnering with US non-profit LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organisation The Trevor Project, for a video series called Sharing Space – perhaps serving to place him firmly on the radar of transphobic critics. 

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In March, Darke and Radcliffe announced that they are expecting their first child, but that didn’t stop ‘gender critical’ author Suzanne Seddon, also known for posting COVID-19 conspiracy theories, from tweeting a picture of the couple with the caption “now what do you see?” and the ‘woozy face’ emoji. 

It’s not difficult to ascertain what Seddon is insinuating – that Darke is trans, based on her facial structure and height. 

Erin Darke is the cis, pregnant partner of a man transphobes are currently unhappy with and she looks taller than him in a photo, so of course she must be ‘secretly trans’ and ‘not a real woman’. 

What this transphobic conspiracy theory reveals most clearly is that transphobia is not actually about ‘protecting women’ or ‘championing women’, as so many anti-trans pundits like to profess. 

It’s about the eradication of difference, and relies on pushing prescriptive and oppressive standards of beauty and appearance that no one – not cisgender women, not trans women – can ever match up to. 

Take Dylan Mulvaney, for example, the TikTok influencer and Broadway actor who faced a vitriolic transphobic backlash for partnering with Nike in a paid post on Instagram, and for receiving a free, personalised can of Bud Light.

Composite image of influencer Dylan Mulvaney with the Nike logo
Transphobes are now saying they’ll boycott Nike because Dylan Mulvaney wore some leggings. (Dylan Mulvaney/Instagram/Getty)

Mulvaney’s appearance has been torn apart by social media users commenting on her “flat chest” and calling her “a cheap caricature of girlhood”. She received some free leggings and a bra from a sports company, and now stands accused of stealing sponsorship deals from ‘real women’. 

Picking on someone’s physical appearance is a staple for transphobes, whether they think someone doesn’t look enough like their narrow definition of womanhood, or their gender-affirming surgery and feminine presentation is ‘too feminine’ and amounts to ‘womanface’. 

Trans folks can’t win – and as long as this regressive policing continues, neither can anyone else.  

Not looking ‘feminine’ enough has been a rod used to beat women throughout history. Cis women are routinely shamed for not being thin, being too muscular, too tall, not having the ‘right’ size or shaped chest, not removing body hair – the list goes on.

This quickly bleeds into homophobic rhetoric, where cis women are attacked for looking ‘manly’ or ‘like lesbians’.

Think of the hateful social media trolls calling former first lady Michelle Obama “a man”, citing her ‘broad’ shoulders. And cis men who don’t have traditionally ‘manly’ body types or don’t present in a hyper-masculine way – often gay or bisexual men – finding themselves targets of abuse and derision. 

It’s basic in-group, out-group awfulness that harms everyone, whether you’re cis, trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming, because at its root, transphobia is base misogyny. 

It’s about ‘othering’ and excluding people, and upholding the patriarchal norms at the heart of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment more broadly. 

The narrow definition of ‘acceptable womanhood’ espoused by transphobes doesn’t even cover cisgender women, something that the Erin Darke conspiracy theory abundantly proves. What happens as it shrinks further? Who is left?

Maybe – just maybe – transphobic trolls should have a day off from policing the appearance of others and let people like Darke, Radcliffe and Mulvaney just live their lives. We would all be better off for it.