The Cocktail Party Contrarian: The New Trans Brand

Dylan Mulvaney has a blind spot: She cannot see that the thing most people don’t like about her is her personality, not her gender identity. Her brand is opportunist, not ‘trans activist.’

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Dylan Mulvaney at the Grammy Awards on February 5, 2023, at Los Angeles. Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

It is probably difficult for Dylan Mulvaney to imagine that all the people who reacted negatively to her advertising campaign for Bud Light aren’t “anti-trans bigots.” It’s not a stretch to think that in Ms. Mulvaney’s mind, if she is rejected, all trans people, trans issues, and trans rights are rejected, too. This is what becomes of someone who lives her life on social media: She starts to think of herself as a brand, rather than an individual.

Yet if Ms. Mulvaney is a brand, the brand is not “transgender people.” All transgender people are not alike, and they didn’t elect Dylan Mulvaney as their representative. Most don’t spend a year online exposing their private lives to anyone who will hit the “follow” button. All transgender women don’t dress like little girls or talk like they have a recurring role on a Disney Channel tween sitcom. 

Ms. Mulvaney has a blind spot: She cannot see that the thing most people don’t like about her is her personality, not her gender identity. Her brand is opportunist, not “trans activist,” and that is why her promotional campaign failed.  

She used the most insulting and reductive stereotypes of womanhood to exploit the cultural moment, and manufactured a persona produced for profit, not progress. It wasn’t inspirational; it was eye-rolling. People noticed, and recoiled both at her absurdity and at the corporate shamelessness that pretended it was anything more elevated. “Trans” isn’t Latin for “Free Pass.”

What choice did Ms. Mulvaney have but to respond to the backlash by calling every detractor a bigot? If they weren’t, then perhaps she might be the problem. 

Lia Thomas, the formerly male University of Pennsylvania swimmer who jumped into the women’s pool to win awards, should recognize herself in Ms. Mulvaney’s mirror. As Ms. Thomas amassed undeserved medals, she left behind a wake of bitterness and resentment, rather than a legacy of “trans-rights.” Her brand was “opportunist” as well.

Ms. Thomas was well aware that she had a biological advantage over her opponents. Leveraging that advantage was not a celebration of transgender equality, but an unmasking of what gender ideology yields when a person’s identity designation becomes more important, and more profitable, than his or her character. No true athlete would compete this way and take pride in any resulting win. A grifter might.

Dylan Mulvaney and Lia Thomas are young. They may not yet understand, amid all the media attention and activist encouragement, that “woman” isn’t the most valuable identity they will ever assume. Being someone who cares more about who she is than what she is would earn them both more respect, but perhaps that is not the kind of compensation for their efforts they have in mind.

The New York Sun

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