How TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney became the latest flashpoint in the battle for trans equality

Dylan Mulvaney attends a red carpet event.

Dylan Mulvaney’s profile has exploded since the trans actor and social media personality first began documenting her gender journey on TikTok in March 2022.

After coming out publicly as trans, the stage performer started charting her transition through her funny and frank “Days of Girlhood” TikTok series, which has helped her amass almost 11 million followers on the video sharing platform.

A meeting with US President Joe Biden, appearances on US talk shows and endorsement deals with some of the world’s biggest brands have all followed, establishing Mulvaney as one of the world’s most visible trans personalities, particularly among Gen Z.

Sadly, the 26-year-old’s fast-growing profile has also led to a loud and vociferous backlash from anti-trans figures, with her brand partnership deals with Nike and Bud Light in April 2023 sparking outrage from bigots seemingly upset over the sight of a trans woman wearing leggings and… having a single drink.

Who is Dylan Mulvaney and how did she rise to fame?

Dylan Mulvaney was born in San Diego, California, in 1996.

A self-described “theater kid” growing up, as a child and adolescent she notched up acting credits in San Diego theatre productions including How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Legally BlondeSpring Awakening and High School Musical.

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Mulvaney attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio and graduated with a degree in musical theatre in 2019.

That same year, she got her big break after being cast as Elder White in a North American tour of Broadway musical The Book of Mormon and performing across the US, Mexico and Canada.

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She began sharing videos on TikTok around this time, gradually building a platform before The Book of Mormon tour was cut short by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early 2020, leaving Mulvaney out of work.

TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney wears bold pink look at Queries 2023 awards. (Getty)
TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney. (Getty)

Mulvaney has since credited the COVID-19 pandemic with giving her the time and space she needed to come to terms with her gender identity, telling LA Mag that she had bottled up that part of herself as she attempted to crack the acting industry while being cast in male roles.

“I put so much of my own identity away just so that I could have opportunities in my industry,” she explained.

The star continued: “That [during the pandemic] was the first moment since I was a child that I really got to ask myself like Dylan, like, “Who are you without acting and without playing a boy part?”

“I started asking myself those tough questions that I don’t think I would even have found the answers to today had the pandemic not happened.”

In a separate interview with Ulta Beauty in October 2022, Mulvaney expanded: “Now, auditioning for female characters, I’m like “Oh my God, I can actually, like, relate to this person in ways that I never fully enjoyed.

“We love that sparkle of being on stage, right? But it was never like “Oh my God, this character is amazing”. I was always playing these kind of young boy characters… but I never saw myself ever playing a man’s role.”

Dylan Mulvaney attends the 65th GRAMMY Awards in LA in February 2023.
Dylan Mulvaney attends the 65th GRAMMY Awards in LA in February 2023. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty )

Mulvaney was raised in a religious household but has described her mother as her ‘BFF’ and says her family’s attitude towards her gender identity have changed as they’ve witnessed her go through her transition.

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“I know that I was put in my parents’ life for a reason”, she told Variety. “I’ve seen my entire family grow and completely evolve in their views. I know those things are possible.”

When did Dylan Mulvaney come out as trans?

Two years after COVID-19 hit, Dylan Mulvaney came out publicly as trans in an emotional video posted to social media on on 11 March 2022, which has since amassed hundreds of thousands of likes.

The footage saw the performer explain that she came to terms with being a trans woman after realising that her previously non-binary identity didn’t reflect who she really was.

“Here it goes. I am a girl. I’m a trans woman. my new pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘they’, and I suppose that this is my coming out video of sorts”, Mulvaney said.

@dylanmulvaney

Full coming out video on IG 💕 love y’all #trans

♬ original sound – Dylan Mulvaney

“While I was [identifying as] non-binary, I would often say that I felt less and less like a boy every day. But now, I realise it really was every day I was feeling more and more like a girl, and I didn’t know that.

“I was so scared and a little bit ashamed to even consider myself back on the binary as a trans woman, but ultimately I have to honour [that] that’s who I am, and that’s who I’m supposed to be.”

The performer added: “I really am so excited for you to all meet girl Dylan, and she’s really excited to meet you too, because she is so ready to be here – and she has been for a really long time.”

The following day, Mulvaney shared a TikTok video of herself captioned ‘Day 1 of being a girl’. The title sparked a “Days of Girlhood” series that saw her share both the milestones and minutiae of her day-to-day life as a trans woman in the midst of transitioning, with TikTok clips documenting procedures such as facial feminisation surgery or simple everyday occurrences such as ear piercing racking up millions of views.

Trans woman and TikTok star Dylan MulvaneyDylan Mulvaney poses at a Prime Video event. (Getty)
Dylan Mulvaney came out publicly as trans in March 2022. (Getty)

While Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox has urged Mulvaney to “keep things for yourself” during her transition, advising that “everything cannot be for the public”, Mulvaney has told LA Mag that she hopes to inspire other trans individuals with her content.

“I didn’t have that open and vulnerable creator, or role model growing up”, Mulvaney explained. “Four-year-old, eight-year-old, 15-year-old Dylan, they didn’t have a ‘me’ to go on TikTok… But I want to be that for my younger self.

“I just hope that people can find confidence and joy through my videos and can begin to adapt some of the things that I’m doing that make me happy and, maybe, it might make them happy too.”

Her influencer adverts for brands like Nike and Ulta Beauty have sparked fierce anti-trans backlash

Dylan Mulvaney’s rapid rise to global fame and far-reaching social media impact have sadly seen her become a flashpoint in the ongoing battle for trans equality in both the US and beyond.

In October 2022, Mulvaney came under attack from US conservatives including Caitlyn Jenner after she was invited to discuss trans rights with US president Joe Biden.

In the same month, US cosmetics brand Ulta Beauty was bombarded with anti-trans hate after it featured Mulvaney in an episode of its ‘The Beauty Of’ YouTube series.

As the hashtag #BoycottUlta began circulating on Twitter, the company was was forced to turn off comments on the YouTube video and posted a short Twitter thread declaring: “We believe beauty is for everyone.”

In April 2023, Bud Light came under fire after it sent Mulvaney a personalised can featuring her face, triggering calls for a boycott of the beer brand.

Singer and self-professed ‘anti-woke pundit’ Kid Rock was among those to take aim – quite literally – at the company after the musician shared a disturbing video of himself shooting a round of bullets into a table of Bud Light products.

Days later, sportswear manufacturer Nike joined the list of companies being criticised for simply including trans people in their marketing after Mulvaney posted a paid partnership of herself wearing Nike leggings and a sports bra.

A split imiage of the beer can that Dylan Mulvaney received and her Instagram video.
Dylan Mulvaney was sent a bespoke can of Bud Light beer with her face on. (Dylan Mulvaney/Instagram)

Despite the fact that the partnership was shared with Mulvaney’s own, presumably LGBTQ+-inclusive, audience, Olympian Sharron Davies dubbed it a “kick in the teeth” during an appearance on GB News.

Davies, who has previously claimed that she has faced bankruptcy due to her views on trans people, claimed that the advert “feels like a parody of what women are” before promptly calling for – you guessed it – a boycott of Nike on Twitter.

Caitlyn Jenner also weighed in once again, describing Nike as “woke” and calling out what she says is a “double standard” for hiring the influencer after reportedly slashing the sponsorship pay of Olympian Allyson Felix when she got pregnant. 

Despite the furore around her life and professional success, Mulvaney has remained characteristically upbeat. During her 365 Days Live! event in April 2023 celebrating the one year anniversary of the start of her transition, Mulvaney declared: “Whether you’re a parent or a child, or you’re young, or you’re old, or you’re trans, or you’re not. We’re all just trying our best here, aren’t we?

“And the most important thing is that we have the people in our lives to support us and celebrate our uniqueness. And that could be a mental health care professional or a teacher or a loved one, so long as we don’t feel alone.”

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