Backstage With TikTok Star Dylan Mulvaney, One Year Into Girlhood
On a stormy Monday night in New York City, a girl in a massive pink ballgown appears at the top of a spiral staircase. “Hi everyone!” she calls as the audience below her erupts into ecstatic applause. Her friends fill in dozens of rows, her father is front and center. For the next hour and change, she will sing, dance, cry, have multiple costume changes, and be held by a family that has chosen her again and again. It’s not her wedding. Or her birthday. The girl is trans-TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney — and it’s her 365th day of being a girl.
On March 3, 2022, Mulvaney, who was already an influencer on TikTok, posted a video on TikTok captioned Day 1 of Being a Girl. “I’ve already cried three times, I wrote a scathing email that I did not send,” Mulvaney says into the camera. “I ordered dresses that I couldn’t afford and then when someone asked me how I was, I said ‘I’m fine!’ when I wasn’t fine. So, how’d I do ladies?”
That video was the first in a series that Mulvaney eventually titled “Days of Girlhood,” where she shared daily updates on her transition. Her wit and humor — along with the inside look she gave followers — quickly earned her a cult following (she now has 10.8 million followers on TikTok) and turned her into “one of the most recognizable trans women of all time,” as she says. In October, she was invited to the White House for a Presidential Forum with Joe Biden, with whom she discussed recent attacks on transgender rights — even as her popularity made her a target for anti-trans rhetoric from right-wing pundits. She’s been on talk shows, red carpets, had facial feminization surgery, and even walked in a runway show during New York Fashion Week, all in her first public year of transition.
To celebrate Day 365, Mulvaney put on a live variety show at the Rockefeller’s Center Rainbow Room. The room was full of well-known faces, from the opening comedy sketch with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan to a dating segment with Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, to a heartfelt serenade of “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” sung to her facial surgeon. (The online live stream, which ultimately got 20,000 viewers, was so popular that it crashed throughout the night). With tweaked versions of musical theater standards like “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid and “Sisters” from White Christmas, Mulvaney cheekily poked fun at the many missteps and backlashes to her transition, while stringing through the entire night the message that trans youth should always feel safe.
“I think what’s so funny about the show is that it truly is just an onstage manifestation of all my TikTok videos this past year,” Mulvaney says a few days before the show, in an upstairs rehearsal space at a dance studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Los Angeles resident is wearing a Clueless-inspired matching houndstooth cropped blazer and skirt. Her tights are pink and her dance shoes are laced. She’s ready to put in the work.
Mulvaney knows how to put on a show—she’s been doing it most of her life. Now 26, Mulvaney grew up in what she describes as a conservative” family in San Diego, California. While the Covid-19 pandemic was the first time she publicly came out as a woman, she’s known since she was about four years old. She told her mom. It did not go well.
“Careful the things you say,” she sings during the show. “Children will listen.”
Dance classes, and eventually theater began to serve as the place where Mulvaney — who was still presenting as a boy at the time — truly felt “comfortable.” She enrolled at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, but as a people pleaser, Mulvaney soon found herself following the advice of producers and casting directors, doing everything to present as a better, stronger male actor. Straight out of college, she was cast in the touring production of Book of Mormon and began her career on Broadway. But when the pandemic left Mulvaney without a job, it gave her time and space to reevaluate where (and who) she wanted to be.
“[Theater and music] has been this streamline of my life that’s been the constant,” she says. “And when the pandemic hit, it was that was the first time that I got to go inward and be like, ‘Okay, who are you without these characters that you’re playing?’”
Since Mulvaney began documenting her journey on TikTok, she’s been embraced by an online (and real-life) community of content creators and queer Broadway performers — many of whom have become a part of the show. “To have such a large group of people all facilitating and lending their talent to what I sometimes see as such a silly or minute thing is beyond my wildest dreams,” she says, mentioning several of her friends like Tony nominee L. Morgan Lee, Trans Broadway star Sis, and one of her and greatest idols, trans model and Pose actress Dominique Jackson, who joined the show. “This is the first time I’m going to be back on stage. And I get to play myself.”
The Day 365 Live! show has been a labor of love — all proceeds from Monday night will go to the LGBTQ nonprofit The Trevor Project — but that shouldn’t erase the fact that it took actual labor. Mulvaney and crew spent almost six months developing the concept, and the TikTok creator herself has spent a full week in New York rehearsing for her big day.
“I feel like I have three different jobs right now, because I’ve got the TikTok of it all, and then obviously now being a performer,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I’m a little terrified in the way that it’s a big lift. It’s a long show, a lot of numbers, a lot of moving parts. And it’s live so we can’t go back and cut, we just have to roll through it.”
She’s joined during this rehearsal by Sex Lives of College Girls actress Alyah Chanelle Scott, who became good friends with Mulvaney while touring with the Book of Mormon, and even closer when they both lost their jobs. “It feels like such a gift to be able to do this for my friend,” says Scott, who is a producer on the show. “We lost our jobs together during the pandemic. And I remember we were in L.A. and saying, like, ‘What if someday we could do this for real?’ And three years later, we’re producing her show. It’s just all very full circle and I’m just endlessly proud of her. And grateful that the world is like seeing her for who she is.”
The support of Mulvaney’s friends is a common theme, not just for Monday’s show, but throughout her very public transition. Many of the stars featured in the show, she tells Rolling Stone, reached out to offer their love and help. Because while Mulvaney’s spotlight came quickly, it wasn’t easy. Early on in her transition, Mulvaney was misgendered and attacked by pundits with platforms both big and small. She was also criticized by members of the trans community for seeking the validation of cisgender women. Pointing back to her people-pleasing nature, Mulvaney tells Rolling Stone that her initial instinct was to try to win everyone over. How hard could it be?
“At first I really took it as, ‘these people are giving me constructive criticism. Let me listen to them. Let me plead with them. Let me over-explain myself. Let me see if we can find some common ground.’” Mulvaney says. “And I’ve now realized that those things are not constructive. They’re pure hatred. So I’ve now made a little bit of peace with the fact that people have a problem with my transness or with my joy. And that’s on them.”
And while Mulvaney says the word “activism” terrifies her, she tells Rolling Stone that in her growth as a woman, she’s learning that a powerful form of resistance can just be living her life in spite of others.
“When you come out as trans, there’s this expectation that you are an activist,” she says. “And then especially when you grow a platform, it’s sort of necessary just because there are so few trans voices that are so mainstream that you have to deliver. But I think my activism looks different. I think just living your life authentically is a form of activism.”
If Monday night’s only goal was to be an authentic celebration of what family, born and found, can look like, it was a rousing success. In between cheeky jokes, parody songs, and over-the-top performances, Mulvaney’s vulnerability and genuine joy at seeing so many LGBTQ people in a room for her, shone through. The attacks on the trans community weren’t ignored but rather highlighted as a mission the room could take on together. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu,” Sarah McBride, the transgender senator from Delaware, said to a round of snaps. And in her finale, a mashup from the musical Into The Woods, Mulvaney completely dropped her persona, speaking directly to any trans kids who could be watching.
“Someone is on your side,” she sang alongside a full female orchestra, tears in her eyes. Halfway through her final speech, she is interrupted by her father, who runs up and hugs her while she sobs. “You are not alone. No one is alone.”
When asked what she’s excited about the most after the show, Mulvaney tells Rolling Stone she’s already so grateful for her platform, but she’s looking forward to a day when she can keep some things to herself.
“Especially during those first 100 days of girlhood, every day I woke up and was like, ‘Are they still here?’” Mulvaney says. “I think it’s difficult when you’ve built an entire platform on sharing everything. I actually really want to have a day 365 that’s not for anyone else. This day has now become such a sort of spectacle. And I think there’s something important too about having a moment for myself. To say ‘Look at how far we’ve come.’”
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