Photo by Ava Rosenberg/OutWrite
Content warning: discussion of transphobia
At the Models of Pride event hosted by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Dylan Mulvaney received the Model of Pride Award and was interviewed on stage by Phillip Picardi, the center’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. Dylan spoke candidly about the struggles of being an influencer and the impact on her mental health, her hopes for authentic trans representation in film and television, and her advice to LGBTQ+ youth facing adversity.
Upon being welcomed to the stage, Dylan stated how honored she was to be at the event, along with an anecdote from her childhood: “To see you all already living in your truth is the greatest gift ever. I remember as I went into high school trying to be more masculine or shed my flamboyant side, this kid came out to his parents who also went to my high school and he said ‘I’m gay but not Dylan Mulvaney-level gay.’ I was so embarrassed, but it’s kind of epic to be Dylan Mulvaney level-gay.” (Personally, I now aspire to be Dylan Mulvaney-level gay.) After she finished her intro speech, someone from the audience shouted “I love you!” To which Dylan responded, “I love you way more!” which was incredibly sweet.
Below are some notable questions and responses from this interview, which spanned nearly half an hour. Responses are edited for length and clarity.
Phillip Picardi: I’m wondering how you’re processing the social media fame and the ups and downs of it all. What has this ascent to American superstardom felt like for you?
Dylan Mulvaney: Well, I think sometimes it feels like “The Princess Diaries” and then sometimes it feels like a “Black Mirror” episode, depending on the day. I think what’s incredible about social media is that we have the power to change our lives in what feels like overnight. So often, I feel like trans and queer people don’t have access to the same mainstream media as other people, but the fact that we have the power to put our stories out there on something like TikTok and make our voices heard is such a gift.
Phillip: Wow, it’s incredible what you’ve been able to build. But the one thing about social media that I think always fatigues all of us is that there’s this desire to be posting constantly. So, where are you getting the creative potential from, and how are you constantly nourishing that in a way that feels healthy for you?
Dylan: I don’t know if it is healthy but I would say don’t force yourself to do anything that doesn’t feel good and just really ask yourself before you put something out there, “Is this something I’m ready to share? Is this something that I’m proud of? Is this something that I want to put into the world?” When you post something, it can get taken a thousand different ways, and it makes me so sad because this was such a beautiful video or sentiment and it gets turned into something ugly. So you have to be proud of the thing you made at the beginning and then, if somebody chooses to do something with that in a way that you didn’t intend, that’s them, not you.
Phillip: Thank you for that. Related to “Days of Girlhood” especially, you’ve been documenting some deeply uncomfortable things about your transition. How do you find power in being vulnerable?
Dylan: I think talking about the hard things online has healed some trauma for me. I remember specifically on Day 30 I showed I had a full beard. I was so embarrassed, and it was the thing that made me the most dysphoric. Posting that video and seeing all kinds of people say “I feel the same way,” or “I’m a cis woman and I have that,” gave me the power back because I realized that — by owning that part that I was ashamed of — there was no shame left because I had all of this support.
Phillip: But even when you’re being vulnerable, part of being vulnerable means that you also need to be mindful of how you may need to protect yourself. There may be avenues of care; there may be support systems that you need to lean on. Especially lately, you mentioned extremism as one of the things that you have to contend with as a trans woman on the internet. What do your support systems or your methodologies of care look like right now?
Dylan: Well, I have really good friends and trans people now in my life, thank god, and I think community is what’s gotten me through. So often I will see these horrible comments or read these vicious headlines and then I have to remember that there are so many good people in this world, too. Looking around this room is such a testament to the fact that there are more of us than there are them, and that love is a thousand times stronger than hate. There’s so much fun to be had, so that’s kind of my goal right now: to find the joy when there’s so much darkness.
Phillip: I know you have your friends and your real-life networks, but I saw you backstage when all of these folks were screaming for you and I saw the “Oh my god this is happening” moment backstage.
Dylan: I read all of your comments, I read your DMs and on those hard days, it has saved my life. You all are a reason I keep going. I think it’s so crazy — I forget that adults can be bullies too, sometimes even bigger bullies than other youth. So I look to you all and that’s what gives me hope because you [have] empathy, you have love, you have acceptance that this older generation doesn’t necessarily have, and we have to teach them.
Phillip: What feels like it’s exciting you the most creatively right now? What is your North Star when you get out of bed? What are you dying to do?
Dylan: I am dying to make a trans rom-com. I just want to see trans people win instead of all this trauma. So often the only movies and TV shows we have — and they’re very important, but so often they’re these really sad takes on transness. I think we have to show the joy and love. When it comes to other trans people’s stories that maybe I don’t have the background on, I want to hire them to create what they want to make. I think to myself: what is this platform of privilege if I can’t do anything with it?
Phillip: I heard you shout out someone very special to the center earlier. While we’re on the topic of supporting other trans creatives, can you shout out some trans creatives or a trans creator that you love?
Dylan: I love Ts Madison. She is so funny and she knows how to snap back with the perfect amount of snark but also love. And that’s what’s so crazy — general society underestimates queer people so much. We are some of the most talented, driven, successful people and they hate to see it, but I think that the biggest act(s) of retaliation are us winning and that we’ve had to be so funny to survive.
Phillip: Thank you so much for that. Ts Madison is the queen, thanks for shouting her out. One thing I’m wondering for the young folks in the audience is a lot of them are wondering what their pathway is to social media fame. What advice do you have for a young person interested in being an influencer?
Dylan: You know what’s funny? I have had people be like, “I want to be an influencer when I grow up,” and I’m like, “Noooooooooo!” It’s scary to put yourself out there in such a big way. I would say get really good at something, whether it’s an instrument or acting. I went to musical theater school and I think it’s the perfect degree to get because you truly are just learning to perform. I also saw a video once on TikTok that was like, “You have to be cringe.” Lean into the cringe, because every creator you’ve ever loved has been cringey at some point and they made it to where they are now because of it. I’ve been very cringey, but I think the more you put yourself out of your comfort zone, the more successful you can be.
Phillip: I want to stay on the “cringe” thing for a moment because sometimes people may mistake your earnestness and your deep commitment to joy for cringe because they’re so cynical, or they train themselves to be cynical as a defense mechanism. Why is that such a cornerstone of your presentation and your approach to life?
Dylan: Well I’ve seen a lot of people comment, “Oh, this is such a facade,” or “She’s putting this on,” or “This is such a fabricated joy,” and I think it’s because they can’t actually comprehend a trans person being happy or finding success or love. I just want to look back at my life at the end of this and think about all the happy moments and not the horrible ones. And so the more that I can laugh, the more I can smile and not take anything too seriously in a world that is very serious.
Phillip: There was recently a moment where things got a little dark. We got to see a different side of you in the aftermath of how you addressed and handled that situation with so much grace. How are you finding or holding onto this commitment to joy even when things feel really scary for you?
Dylan: I used to be so scared to share my opinion or to speak out. Everything I did growing up is in contradiction to what I’m doing now and how I’m showing up. I think it’s because once you find your real identity — whether that’s gender or your sexuality — it’s really hard to then not show up as your full self because you have made that commitment to say, “This is who I am.” So, I’ve had to make some really hard decisions this past year to do things that maybe my agents don’t want me to say or brands don’t want me to put out there. But I have to, because it’s the right thing to do. I want to see more trans creators getting partnerships. I want to see more trans people being hired.
Phillip: One of the other things is that you went away for a minute and then you came back with this fashion makeover. What has the experimentation with hair, makeup, and clothes — I mean, tell us about the fashion moments.
Dylan: Well, I think for a lot of trans people, that’s often our first armor — the clothes we wear or the makeup that we choose to wear or not wear. For me, that was my first way in: buying my first dress before I transitioned and wearing it in private. [I never thought] I could walk out into the street looking like that, and now here I am. But I think what’s really cool about going further into my transition is that femininity, especially hyperfemininity, was something that I leaned into because I thought I owed it to people, and I thought they deserved that in order to see me as a woman. Then, I realized that has nothing to do with why I’m a woman. I think that now, I can show up with a little beard hair and some jeans in the grocery store and be the woman that I am, or I can look like this and be the woman that I am, but it’s a day-to-day process. It’s trying things out. I’ve never really loved trends — I think you make your own trends. Find your own fads, because I think that the key to individuality is truly just wearing and doing the things that you love and not caring what anybody else thinks about it.
Phillip: This is Models of Pride’s 31st year, and it started out of a school-based effort to promote more Gay Straight Alliances or LGBTQ community groups in schools. This year’s a tough one because we have 700 anti-trans pieces of legislation on the books throughout the country. About 230 of those bills are deliberately targeting transgender youth in schools. That’s participation in sports, the ability to use the restroom that corresponds with your gender identity, or LGBTQ history and curriculum. And you come to rise at this moment as a trans figure who’s so unafraid to speak up about trans liberation. I just want to give you the floor to address the youth in this moment who may have conflicted feelings about living in America or navigating their futures at this time. What is your message?
Dylan: I just wanted to tell you that I felt pressured to grow up fast as a queer youth. A lot of the time you have to advocate for yourself when no one else will against adults, your families, your parents, your teachers who do not understand who you are or how you want to show up in the world. I want to make sure that even though you have to sometimes have those hard moments and those conversations, you enjoy your childhood as much as you can. As much as I was dying to get older and I wanted to be an adult and I wanted these freedoms, looking back, I grew up way too fast. So any chance of innocence that you still have, hold onto it for dear life because they want to take it from you and do not let them. And in those hard moments where you do have to speak up for yourself, know that we have your back. Everyone in this room in those tough conversations is there for you metaphorically. I really think that y’all are going to change the world, and we just have to make sure that we get you there.
Phillip: So my last question for Dylan: I know there’s a strike going on, I know there are things we can and cannot say, but is there anything you can tease for us about what is next for the Dylan Mulvaney empire?
Dylan: Yes. I have some books coming out and I’m working on some television projects, maybe some podcasts and things, but I just really want to see us take transness into the mainstream, into Hollywood, into places that we haven’t seen before. Those stories for scripted content — sometimes people can relate to that more than they can relate to real people. We need more characters on television. I want to play those characters. I want to write those characters. I want to produce those characters and that is what’s coming up for me.
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