Wisconsin resident Mercury Stardust began posting videos on TikTok to promote her weekly burlesque show, but it wasn’t until she began sharing home improvement and maintenance tips that her account really took off.
It all started in April, when Stardust created a video in response to a fellow TikTok user who did not know how to use a ratchet strap, which is used to tie down and transport cargo.
“That took me from like 100 followers to 25,000 followers in less than 24 hours,” Stardust told NBC affiliate WTMJ of Milwaukee.
Stardust, a transgender woman, has since been dubbed the “Trans Handy Ma’am” and has seen her TikTok account skyrocket to 1.5 million followers.
While Stardust, 34, has more than a decade of experience as a maintenance technician, she never thought those skills — not her years of burlesque work — would have been what shot her to TikTok stardom.
“I’ve performed all around the country. I’ve been to 126 different cities. I’ve performed in 22 different states — and what I’m known for is telling people the difference between what a cup plunger is and what a regular beehive plunger is,” she told WTMJ with a laugh.
She estimated that 90 percent of her followers are women, and she said she hopes her tutorials can help empower both women and queer people with home improvement and maintenance knowledge, especially if they’re uncomfortable having strangers in their homes to work on these projects.
“People were not taught these things or they were told that this was not their knowledge to know — gate-keeping knowledge in a way,” Stardust told WTMJ. “They’re taught early on that they’re meant to do another set of things, like their tools are cooking. That’s what we’re programming young women to do.”
Stardust said she learned maintenance skills as a child living on a farm in northern Wisconsin. Her father, she said, wanted to give her the skills and tools to become his ideal vision of a man. While Stardust presented as a boy growing up, she said she didn’t naturally gravitate toward many of the things that are stereotypically masculine.
“I like bright pink stuff, I love fluffy stuff, I love dresses and stuff,” she told WTMJ. “I had to keep a lot of that a secret. I learned early on that was not a way to survive in northern Wisconsin. You had to hide that part of you if you were perceived as a boy.”
Stardust, who began her transition three years ago, said while her videos do not revolve around being a transgender woman, she believes it’s important to keep her trans identity front and center.
“If you learn from someone who is trans and the whole time they’re teaching things you never knew in your life, you may have a fonder understanding and ideology towards trans people now,” she told WTMJ. “And maybe we can come together and understand, even though we’re different, that the world can be a better place if we’re more loving and understanding. We don’t get that if you don’t put your identity front and center.”