Incredible Women

Dylan Mulvaney On Her Pledge To Stop People-Pleasing

In the first Incredible Women essay of 2024, DYLAN MULVANEY – TikTok star, businesswoman and activist – writes about how feeling the need to please others has shaped her life, resolving to care less about the critics this year, and why she is shifting her focus firmly to herself

This image: Mulvaney hosting her one-night show Day 365 Live! at the iconic Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, New York. Next image: aged one, at home in Alpine, California, in 1997

“Do they like you? Wait, sorry, don’t answer. That’s the people-pleaser in me. I have a better question, one that matters more. Do you like you?

“One of my greatest strengths as a child was the ability to read a room and pick up on someone’s energy towards me, good or bad. I think queer and trans kids often have to sharpen this skill, not only to thrive, but to survive. It had its downsides. It used to drive me crazy when I thought someone disliked me. Little Dylan would have long conversations in the shower with herself – fictional scenes where I would confront the potential critic, and we’d see eye to eye, and they wouldn’t hate me anymore. Over the years, I learnt that most of the people I suspected of loathing me didn’t feel that way at all; I was just reading in to an off-day or an interaction that wasn’t the warmest.

“I tell myself it’s the same now. The past year was major and gorgeous and… unprecedented in dealing with other people’s opinions of me. I’ve watched presidential candidates criticize me and news publications poll my likability [like they would with] a government official. These extremes have made pleasing people virtually impossible. Where would I start? Background checking the addresses of users in hateful comments, knocking on their doors, and saying, ‘Sorry I exist – here’s an edible arrangement’?!

“Nevertheless, in moments of weakness, I still try to calm my critics. When I pick apart the reasons behind someone’s disdain for me or my content nowadays, the word ‘too’ comes up: too feminine, too campy, too dramatic. When I started the Days of Girlhood TikTok series and received backlash, the people-pleaser in me doubled down, tenfold. I thought the more videos I made, the increased chances I had to win someone over; showing a different side to myself every day until something resonated with them. As the series progressed, I realized it was less about winning over those who didn’t support me, and far more about connecting to the ones who were happy to be there.

There’s no way I’ll have the time or energy to complete all the goals I have in this lifetime if I’m wasting it trying to please the critics and the keyboard warriors
Dylan Mulvaney

“I have found a surprising peace in the inability to please everyone on the internet. But often, the anxiety around it in public is still alive and well. My fear is most noticeable at the airport. I show up in a sweats set, but add femme accessories and earrings in the hope of not being misgendered. The TSA step-through scan is my worst enemy, and often I have to whisper into the officer’s ear, “Um, I’m trans”. Has this TSA officer seen my videos? Do they believe trans people exist? Once I make it through security, I pull my face mask up and race through the terminal. Airport bathrooms scare me more than anywhere else. I pray my mask hides the whiskers on my face that I still have left from hours of electrolysis and laser, though I know cis women have facial hair, too. Once I make it to the gate, I try to sit facing a wall so that no one can catch my eye. I’m too nervous of the potential for hateful comments, which has happened plenty of times prior. I realize this limits me from the flipside – meeting lovely people who support me – but I don’t know if it’s worth taking the chance.

“Moving forward, I’d like to navigate both people-pleasing, and the airport, a little differently – with a plan. If I have the ability to dodge exposure to transphobia or hate – ie, not reading every single comment – I’ll do my best to divert. If I do stumble upon a judgmental human, in person or online, I will not jump at the opportunity to appease them, but instead will decide to a) excuse myself, or b) stand strong in my identity and my campy, feminine energy. There’s no way I’ll have the time or energy to complete all the goals I have in this lifetime if I’m wasting it trying to please the critics and the keyboard warriors and the TSA security agent. While this self-manufactured advice is easier said than done, my tenacity to keep trying to find new ways to connect with people and tell my story is the only testament I need to believe it’s possible.

“And on an exciting note: I just got my gender marker and photo changed on my passport, so now the airport should be a little less daunting in 2024. I hope everything will be less daunting. I hope that love pours over the hate and, most importantly, that the majority of the love comes from within. Because, really, the only person I need to please is myself.”

Mulvaney pictured in an airport on her way to New York, using her new passport for the first time