Dylan Mulvaney’s videos have all the hallmarks of a star social media influencer: cheery reels promoting her favorite sponsored products, dramatically staged glamour shots and behind-the-scenes selfies with her famous friends.
But after a recent video promoting Bud Light beer, Mulvaney, a trans actress and comic, became the subject of anti-trans attacks. Right-wing media figures also called for a boycott of Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch.
Mulvaney’s situation highlights the growing visibility of trans figures in popular culture who are fighting for representation and inclusion at a time of growing anti-trans bias - including in state legislatures throughout the country - from many on the political and ideological right.
Here’s what you need to know about Mulvaney and her rise to prominence.
Who is Dylan Mulvaney?
Mulvaney, 26, is a trans actress, comic and content creator.
Mulvaney grew up in San Diego and was a self-described “theater kid.” After completing a degree in Musical Theater at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2019, Mulvaney earned a part in her first Broadway show.
Mulvaney played the role of Elder White in “The Book of Mormon,” a theatrical production by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the television show “South Park.” The role had her traveling across the United States, Canada and Mexico until the pandemic forced the tour to pause.
It was during lockdown that Mulvaney began posting TikTok videos and exploring her identity as an actress, she told Los Angeles magazine.
“[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?’” Mulvaney said. “[Before that] I put so much of my own identity away just so that I could have opportunities in my industry.”
Why is her latest spot generating headlines?
On April 1, Mulvaney shared a video promoting Bud Light as part of a partnership with the beer. She appears dressed as the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” character, Holly Golightly, while joking about confusing the meaning of the term “March Madness.” While some people were celebrating sports that month, Mulvaney said she was celebrating a milestone with her “365 Days of Girlhood” series, the one-year mark since her transition. Bud Light gave her a custom can of their beer with her face on it to commemorate the milestone.
Mulvaney was mentioned in disparaging and often in transphobic terms nearly a dozen times over the next three days by right-wing media figures, including those on Fox News. Several conservative figures called for a boycott of Bud Light. Singer Kid Rock responded by filming himself shooting cases of Bud Light.
Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ program director for the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, said the reaction is part of a coordinated effort by right-wing figures to attack successful and visible trans figures like Mulvaney and frame their participation in business or popular culture writ large as controversial or problematic.
“As she’s become more successful, there’s been more attention from the right-wing media [who] seem very upset by the idea that she’s become popular for a series that’s focused on the trans experience and trans joy,” Drennen said.
Drennen notes that Mulvaney has been a longtime target of right-wing attacks since she came out as a trans woman and began to amass a large following. Some of Mulvaney’s critics have cast their trolling of her as an almost noble act, Drennen said.
“This has been a pretty effective way to weaponize vitriol on the internet by telling trolls what they’re doing is actually good - by getting trans people to, I guess, abandon this ‘delusion,’” she said. “It’s all a concentrated effort to prevent trans people from gaining a foothold in popular culture.”
A representative for Mulvaney did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, though Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company, has defended its partnership with her. Michael Goon, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement that the brand “works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics.”
How did Mulvaney rise to prominence?
Mulvaney shot to fame during her raucously popular “Days of Girlhood” TikTok series.
Days after coming out as a trans woman in March 2022, Mulvaney announced “Days of Girlhood,” in which she meticulously chronicled her experience of transitioning.
Mulvaney’s sometimes personal, sometimes humorous videos found a huge audience on TikTok. She reportedly amassed more than 6 million TikTok followers during her transition journey, and now has nearly 11 million followers.
During the year-long series, Mulvaney met President Biden to discuss trans rights; she met Drew Barrymore on her syndicated talk show and told her “my way in [to educate people about the trans community] is through comedy”; and she won the TikTok Trailblazer award for her series.
“I accidentally became an influencer,” Mulvaney said in a theatrical TikTok video in September.
Mulvaney celebrated the first anniversary of her TikTok series with “Dylan Mulvaney’s Day 365 Live!” - an old Hollywood-style Broadway show cabaret at the Rainbow Room in New York on March 13.
The show was live-streamed, and all profits were donated to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides information and crisis support to LGBTQ youths.
Mulvaney’s business partnerships, meanwhile, have grown as companies have become more inclusive in their marketing.
“Brands know that LGBTQ inclusion is good for business,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement to The Washington Post. “When brands authentically portray LGBTQ people, it reflects the world around us and improves the brand’s reputation among all consumers, especially younger consumers.”
She added that despite the new pushback among right-wing critics to politicize creative business moves, “companies will not end the standard business practice of including diverse people in ads and marketing because a small number of loud, fringe anti-LGBTQ activists make noise on social media.”
What has her brand sponsorship journey been like?
Mulvaney received numerous brand sponsorships during her TikTok series. In recent months, those sponsors have included household names like Nike, KitchenAid and Svedka vodka.
Though trans people still aren’t heavily featured in traditional advertising, like in prime-time commercials, they can wield strong and much more targeted influence for big brands that increasingly target niche groups, like Gen Z or the LGBTQ community, through nontraditional advertising.
With traditional advertising, creatives make an ad and then a brand pays for it to run, perhaps in a magazine, on a billboard or during a TV sitcom, said James Nord, CEO and founder of the influencer and marketing agency Fohr. Influencer marketing, meanwhile, allows the creative to work more effectively with targeted groups.
“What’s so powerful about influencers like Dylan is that those 11 million followers only exist as a community in one place, and it’s because they’re following Dylan,” he said. “And no one understands that audience better than her, because she created it.”
It’s part of a broader shift from monoculture to niche cultures. Rather than risking $100 million on a Super Bowl ad that may flop, a company can tap creators who can more organically tailor advertisements to something their smaller but still sizable fan base will enjoy.
Nord said the reliance on trans-inclusive advertising isn’t going away.
“If we’re going to look at a more cynical business reason, this is where culture is going,” he said. “To continue to be relevant, brands have to make sure they’re displaying the same values that young Americans have - and supporting the trans community and working with diverse influencers and shifting the narrative about your business are all very much in line with those beliefs.”