Dylan Mulvaney is a uniquely 21st-century star. She became famous on TikTok, where she pivoted from musical theater to advocacy when she came out as trans. She’s scored major brand sponsorships and made the jump to fame off-platform, even interviewing President Joe Biden.
Her online persona is an overwhelmingly positive one. But when she started posting videos sponsored by Bud Light, Olay and Nike, her accounts became flooded with anti-trans hate.
CNN has reached out to Mulvaney’s representatives for comment.
Mulvaney’s brand partnerships have triggered a new wave of anti-trans attacks. Many of those critics – including celebrities and members of Congress – misgender, degrade and even threaten her in their comments. Her response, so far, has been to tune them out, even when the hateful rhetoric escalates.
Mulvaney became a pandemic-era TikTok star
Mulvaney started her career in the theater, touring across North America as one of the principal cast members of the hit musical “The Book of Mormon.” But in 2020, when the pandemic canceled most in-person events, Mulvaney turned to TikTok. She posted cheerful and informative clips about her life as a queer person.
After cultivating a sizable following during the pandemic, Mulvaney came out as a trans woman in March 2022. She was “scared and a little bit ashamed to even consider (herself) back on the binary,” she told fans – she had come out as nonbinary earlier during the pandemic – but ultimately realized she wanted to “honor that inner child” who knew for years she was a girl.
Thus began her TikTok series “Days of Girlhood,” in which she documented almost every day of her transition, from her experience with hormone-replacement therapy to hatred from anti-trans opponents to the results of her facial feminization surgery, or FFS.
Other notable moments include day 221, on which Mulvaney interviewed President Joe Biden for Now This News and asked Biden whether he supported states’ rights to ban gender-affirming health care. He told her he didn’t support it, citing his late son, then-Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who advocated for measures that would protect trans residents of Delaware. And on day 279, the day before her surgery, she said she was doxxed, meaning a viewer leaked her home address online without her consent.
She celebrated day 365 in March with a live performance at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, with proceeds donated to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organization.
Big brand partnerships draw anti-trans ire
With her growing popularity online, Mulvaney began partnering with big brands, including Kate Spade, the natural deodorant company Native and the hair care line Olaplex. But a brief digital ad for Bud Light caused some fans of the brand to send a deluge of anti-trans hate her way.
In the clip, filmed shortly after she celebrated day 365, Mulvaney joked that she didn’t know what March Madness was but planned to enjoy it with a can of Bud Light. The brand also sent her a personalized can with her face on it.
Bud Light’s sponsorship of Mulvaney caused some anti-trans critics to call for a boycott of the brand. Kid Rock filmed himself shooting cases of the beer, ending his video with “f**k Bud Light and f**k Anheuser-Busch.” GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas called the ad “stupid” in an Instagram video in which he said he would “throw out every single Bud Light in the fridge” only to open his garage mini fridge and find no Bud Light cans. However, there were several Karbach beers in the fridge, which is a brand owned by Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company. The Daily Beast wrote that Crenshaw’s attempts at a boycott “failed.”
In a statement to outlets including Rolling Stone and Buzzfeed, Anheuser-Busch said earlier this month: “Anheuser-Busch works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics. From time to time we produce unique commemorative cans for fans and for brand influencers, like Dylan Mulvaney. This commemorative can was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”
Bud Light has not posted to its Instagram account since before Mulvaney shared her ad on April 1.
Similar anti-trans hate followed after Mulvaney posted an ad for Nike this month. The sportswear brand responded with a comment on one of its recent Instagram posts that doesn’t contain any images of Mulvaney after countless Instagram users flooded the comment section with negativity toward Mulvaney.
“You are an essential component to the success of your community! We welcome comments that contribute to a positive and constructive discussion,” Nike wrote in the comment, pinned to the top of the post. “Be kind (heart emoji) Be inclusive (heart emoji) Encourage each other (heart emoji).”
Mulvaney also recently appeared in a TikTok ad for Olay that caused some anti-trans users to call for a brand boycott.
The backlash has also drawn some high-profile figures, including Howard Stern and Rosie O’Donnell, to speak out in support of Mulvaney. “As long as you ain’t hurting anybody, I’m on your team,” Stern said during an episode of his Sirius XM radio show.
The vitriol aimed at the TikTok star is just the latest in a growing trend of hatred aimed at queer and trans people in the US. Data from the ACLU shows that, as of April 3, a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this year – 417 in 2023, compared to 180 bills last year – and many of them are aimed at trans young people trying to access gender-affirming health care. Mulvaney has spoken about how the gender-affirming care she’s received has “brought (her) so much peace” and should be more widely available to trans people who seek it.
Mulvaney says she tries to tune out anti-trans hate
In an interview with Rolling Stone last week, Mulvaney said that while she first tried to give her anti-trans critics a chance, she realized their positions were rooted in “pure hatred.”
“I’ve now made a little bit of peace with the fact that people have a problem with my transness or with my joy,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this month. “And that’s on them. That has nothing to do with me, and I have to think about the people that I look up to that celebrate this version of myself. Those are the people I should be listening to.”
She posted a more succinct message on her social profiles.
“This song felt fitting given the week I’ve had,” she wrote in a caption accompanying a clip of her Day 365 performance, in which she sang “No One is Alone” from the musical “Into the Woods.” “Thank you all for making me feel supported, I am not alone.”