Mercury Stardust: The Empowering DIYer

By Emily Mills | Photography by Hillary Schave

Mercury Stardust calls herself a virtual maintenance technician and something of a self-help guide. It may seem like an unusual combination, but it’s a space she thrives in.

“My work is heavily focused on LGBTQ education and anyone who was not taught DIY things growing up … ” Stardust says. “I’m like a hybrid of a DIY specialist and also a therapist — sort of the Bob Ross of wrenches, basically.”

Stardust’s TikTok account, where she shares home maintenance tips with compassion and an infectious laugh under the moniker of the Trans Handyma’am, has over two million followers. Started as a way to promote her burlesque career and show, Five Star Tease, the account took off in meteoric fashion after a post about how to use a ratchet strap went viral in early 2021. Since then, Stardust’s life has been something of a whirlwind.

A profile on NBC News and an interview in the Washington Post followed. There’s a book deal (coming summer 2023), speaking gigs at colleges and universities, a newly-launched podcast and a brick-and-mortar location in Madison that will serve as office, production studio, workshop space and tool lending library.

All of this has been possible thanks to Stardust’s informative, funny and approachable how-to videos, along with a lot of hard work and an adoring fan base. Much of that support comes because of her unwavering commitment to being true to herself and her values, which comes through in her approach to both DIY and answering sometimes personal questions from the public.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that she will not compromise her values,” says Maggie Conrad, Stardust’s business operations manager. “There have been many times she has said no to brands and deals and large sums of money — and she feels bad about it — but this is why I love her, and this is why I want to do this work with her … I very much support and believe in uplifting the marginalized. I don’t want to compromise those values. And I try to support her in being able to do that, too.”

That commitment has come with plenty of challenges. Earlier last year, Stardust quit a full-time job as the maintenance technician for a large apartment complex after running into practices she felt were unethical. The change opened her up to take her Trans Handyma’am work full-time, but it also meant the loss of financial stability. But opportunities have also come, including a sponsorship from Lowe’s and the time to focus on growing her brand, giving back more and more to a community she’s built that’s both local and spread across the country.

Who is a person that changed your life or career?

“Hank Green of the vlogbrothers! He reached out to me last year … [he] has been the only creator that I honestly listen to. He called me up privately … and I helped him with something in his home. I think sometimes we lose track of the impact we as individuals can have on others.”

Read more about the 2023 Women to Watch here.

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