MADISON — Mercury Stardust first started posting to TikTok as a way to promote her weekly burlesque show in Madison.
But when she decided to reply to another TikTok who didn't know how to use a ratchet strap, her account took on a whole new following.
"That [post] took me from like 100 followers to 25,000 followers in less than 24 hours," Stardust said.
Stardust is a transgender woman who has not only been performing and teaching burlesque for several years, she's also a maintenance technician with 14 years of experience.
She now has over 1.5 million followers on TikTok and is known as the Trans Handy Ma'am.
"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," Stardust said laughing.
Her 100s of videos on the app share tips on patching dry wall, clearing a clogged drain, how to know which drill bit to use and many more at home maintenance tips and tricks. She said her following is almost 90% women.
She said her advice is primarily focused towards renters, and hopes it can help people who identify as queer or women who may not feel comfortable having strangers come into their homes.
"People were not taught these things, or they were told that this was not their knowledge to know. Gate keeping knowledge in a way," she said. "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."
Once she realized how big of a service she was providing to so many on the platform, she knew she had to continue making videos. Her tag line in many of her posts is: "You're worth the time it takes to learn a new skill."
"If you've never had to use a screwdriver before, how would you know the difference between a phillips and a flat head? There's no such thing as common sense... we all have different backgrounds that can lead us to knowing different things. It doesn't mean that we're lesser because we didn't know that," she said.
Stardust was raised on a farm in northern Wisconsin and that's where she first started learning maintenance skills. Growing up she said she presented as a boy, and because of that her father hoped to give her the tools to become his ideal version of a man. But Stardust said she didn't naturally gravitate towards many of the things that are stereotypically masculine.
"I like bright pink, I love fluffy stuff, I love dresses and stuff. I had to keep a lot of that 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," she said.
Stardust is now 34 years old and started her transition three years ago. Although being a transgender woman is not the focus of the content of her videos, she says it's still important that it's 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. 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," she said.
You can follow and learn from Stardust on TikTok, her user handle is @mercurystardust.