What Dylan Mulvaney and Bud Light taught us about online hate and queer joy
Dylan Mulvaney documented almost every day of her first year as a “girl” on TikTok, amassing more than 10 million followers in the process. While many praised the openness to sharing the joy of their transition online, other trans and queer stars and influencers worried about the possibility of a backlash.
“It’s crazy that you document so much of your life,” actress Laverne Cox told the 26-year-old influencer at the Grammys in February. “Make sure you keep things to yourself. It can’t all be for the public.”
A few months later, Mulvaney found itself at the center of a nationwide controversy after right-wing pundits and lawmakers objected to Bud Light signing an influencer branding deal. Amid a spate of hateful comments online, Mulvaney took a step from posting her everyday life.
While the reach of Mulvaney’s story is unique, many social media users are familiar with the experience of being kicked off social media due to anti-LGBTQ hatred. Especially during a Pride month when experts say there has been a rise in homophobic and transphobic hate speech and laws, how can queer influencers walk the line between sharing their joy for others to see and celebrate, and protecting their peace?
Pride Month 2023: The power of LGBTQ influencers sharing their lives
In the age of social media influencers sharing their everyday lives, queer internet stars can “make joy possible for other LGBTQ viewers watching at home,” says Farhad Divecha, founder and head of Out Loud, a UK-based marketing agency , which helps brands connect with queer audiences.
For some TikTok users, watching Mulvaney or other influencers is the first time they interact with a trans person. Experts say showing cisgender straight people where queer people live authentically has power.
When Moe Ari Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist, came out as transgender to his parents, his mother, a nurse practitioner and a practicing Christian, had many questions. His happiness during this conversation had a decisive influence on her.
“She kept asking me questions about top surgeries and all that stuff because she wanted to make sure I was safe and she was really worried about how I was being treated,” Brown says. “But the question that changed everything for her in that moment was when she asked, ‘What if you grew facial hair?’ And I don’t think I said anything. I just smiled I was so overwhelmed with joy.”
Brown adds, “Often we talk about queer stories from a struggle perspective or an isolation perspective or from the perspective of people who are anti-LGBTQ+. Joy in that moment feels like the antidote.”
Bud Light, Anti-Trans Legislation and the Impact of Online Hate
An antidote is badly needed in the LGBTQ community right now, according to experts.
According to the 2023 Out Leadership State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index, 2023 was the second year in a row that there has been an increase in the number of states that are more hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. More than 500 anti-queer laws have been introduced nationwide, threatening gender-based care, transgender protections and discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.
“For people who identify as queer but aren’t able to openly live, it severely impacts their ability to feel like they belong,” Brown says, which in turn can have massive mental health implications. Studies have shown that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is a major factor in higher suicide risk among queer youth.
Experts want to dispel the notion that hatred “comes with the territory of an online character” and that those who choose to live in the public eye need only learn to deal with it.
“This not only affects the person who is being hated, but also their followers who read these comments and feel that they are being attacked as well,” says Divecha.
Dealing with anti-LGBTQ hate online
Whether you have 10 million or 100 million followers, these tips can help you take care of yourself online.
- Don’t deal directly with trolls. “They live for conflict and it’s fun for them to know that they’ve upset you,” says Divecha.
- Build an offline support system. Whether it’s a therapist, partner, friend, or family member, it’s helpful to have a person or group of people to contact or delete hateful comments from their account, Brown says.
- Watch what you post. Divecha urges social media users to review content before posting to ensure personal information such as their home address or favorite places to eat or shop is not visible.
- set limits. Decide what you’d like to share, Brown recommends: “We want to be authentic and honor the people who follow us, but it’s okay if you have to keep something private.”
The final tip is one Mulvaney is working on. In late April, she addressed the backlash in her first post in nearly a month.
“I’m fine, and trying this new thing where I don’t pressure myself to share before I’m ready,” she said. “I’m actually sitting there with my feelings, not reacting, waiting to respond. Shockingly, I can’t recommend it more highly.”
Featuring: Charisse Jones
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