The tragedy of Dylan Mulvaney
A disturbed young man and his disturbing influence
Dylan Mulvaney’s partnership with Bud Light isn’t working out as planned. Since the beer company launched a promotional campaign with the hot TikTok influencer, sales and stock have taken a nosedive, not only for Bud Light but for other megabrands under the Anheuser-Busch umbrella. Could this mark an inflection point for corporate America’s investment in LGBT causes du jour? We can only hope.
Mulvaney, 26, first catapulted into the public eye with his short series “365 Days of Girlhood,” in which he documented his deeply unsettling gender “transition” with hormones and feminizing facial surgery. Having failed to make a splash as a Broadway actor, he managed to catch the wave of transgender activism and ride it all the way to the White House. Bud Light is just one of a slew of sponsorship deals thrown at the overnight star. But some have suggested that conservatives are only aiding his rise by “hate-amplifying” his ads. He’s certainly been quick to drum up sympathy from the backlash, reporting that he’s lost sleep over the Bud Light misfire and wondering “what the psychological effects are and will be of being called a man thousands and thousands of times a day.”
To put it mildly, it’s less than clear just how sincere Dylan is. Many have noted that his “girl act” is not that dissimilar from his earlier performative videos as a flamboyant gay man. Gay activist Andrew Sullivan has speculated that he’s working a grift, provocatively referring to it as “minstrelsy.” Who knows, really? What is clear is that Dylan is a disturbed young man, ravenous for attention. And 10.8 million TikTok followers are giving him exactly what he wants. Among those followers is a demographic whose needs have been completely drowned out in the white noise around his antics—body-insecure young women.
If you’ve never heard of “ED Twitter,” count yourself lucky. The “ED” stands for “eating disorders.” Scrolling through this sad corner of the internet, you will mostly find posts by disturbed teen girls. About a month ago, one user observed the way some of them were talking about Mulvaney. The comments she collected were heartbreaking. One girl identifies as a “trans man,” with a pinned tweet showing her weight loss since undergoing transition. She obsessively pauses Mulvaney’s videos for up-close screenshots of his slim male body, commenting, “why did I take so many screenshots she’s so tiny I need her chestbones.” Others chime in to say they’re “jealous.” One notices she has the same necklace as Mulvaney and thinks about how it lies on her own “flabby, soft chest” by comparison. Someone uses the word “thinspo,” which is code in the ED community for celebrity pictures that inspire disordered young women to stay thin. Another girl says, “need top surgery now.”
One would like to think people would be shocked and horrified by such comments. Instead, the user who collected them had to temporarily lock her account as angry comments rolled in. Ironically, one person threatened to report her for “body shaming.”
The conversations she captured expose a disturbing twist on the social contagion of trans influencers. Mulvaney is just the most famous of many who have documented their “transition journeys” in both directions, providing deceptively crafted content for confused adolescents and teens to binge-watch. In her interview for the Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling podcast, a “trans-male” teen who goes by “Noah” says such content was key to her own “journey” of self-discovery. In her case, she was inspired by feminine to masculine transitions, which assured her that such transformations could be carried off successfully and leave her with a body that still looked “beautiful.”
While her parents suggested she not rush the process, they were ultimately supportive. So was the array of health professionals who stood by to affirm her at every step. Meanwhile, by her own admission, she was severely mentally ill. She frankly describes her attitude towards her female body: “I hated my body, and I wanted to punish my body because it was causing me so much pain. … I just felt so miserable in my body that I couldn't bear to be alive in the body I was in.”
As Christians, we should desire the God-designed good for “trans” celebrities like Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney himself looks less than perfectly healthy. No doubt he carries his own deep-seated insecurities, which are only being inflamed by his deliberate choice to embrace a perverted self-image to an audience of millions. But willing the good for influencers like him does not mean pandering to their demands for attention and affirmation while their vulnerable fans slip through the cracks. Perhaps there are dark parts of Mulvaney’s story that we will never know. Perhaps he’s a victim of trauma, like many other gay men. Or perhaps he isn’t. But whether or not he’s a victim, he has now made himself a perpetrator of deadly confusion. We don’t name it for what it is in the name of hate. We do so in the name of love.
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