As the first ever trans man to compete on the iconic show RuPaul’s Drag Race, placing as a runner up in this year’s season 13 of the US series, Gottmik, AKA Kade Gottlieb, made TV history. A respected makeup artist in Los Angeles, 24-year-old Kade has worked with the likes of Cindy Crawford, Paris Hilton, Adam Lambert and Heidi Klum and did all the looks on the celebrities on Taylor Swift’s 2019 LGBTQIA+ anthem You Need To Calm Down.
(In drag, Gottmik uses she/her pronouns, out of drag Kade uses he/him pronouns.)
Gottmik’s signature drag androgynous/clown/alien look – inspired by icons such as Marlene Dietrich and Pete Burns – is one of the most recognised of Drag Race, but throughout the show Gottmik proved herself to be more than just a looks queen, becoming a fan-favourite for her humour, catchphrases and outspokenness. Her Snatch Game performance as Paris Hilton is now legendary. Gorge.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, to an adoptive conservative Christian family, Kade has spoken about how he first started experimenting with drag around 17 years old to get into clubs, as people would assume he was a man. He then moved to Los Angeles to study fashion after high school and later transitioned. Now, as one of GLAMOUR’s five Beauty of Pride issue digital coverstars, Kade interviews his drag persona Gottmik for the very first time to talk about transitioning, managing their mental health, the importance of visibility, queer icons and the best advice RuPaul ever gave them. Over to you, Kade…
Q Kade: What does it mean to be the first trans man to compete in Drag Race?
A Gottmik: It means so much to me, because I have always been looking for someone like me in the media. The fact that I went on my favourite TV show of all time and was able to be that for so many people is just mind-blowing to me to this day. I’m so proud.
Q Kade: What have been the key turning points for you in your journey to self-expression and who you are today?
A Gottmik: Obviously, coming out. It took so much self-love and confidence that I had to find out of nowhere to be able to come out to my friends and family. And then I think also being able to go on national television and being as open as I was and just share my story… I think all of these pivotal moments in my life helped me be exactly who I am today.
Q Kade: How do you look after your mental wellbeing?
A Gottmik: Oh my gosh, I actually kind of forget to look after my mental wellbeing sometimes, but I need to get a little bit better at. But for me, I truly just need one day where I don’t leave bed. Like, it’s a struggle for me to even go get Uber Eats at my door. Maybe once a month, I just need to lay down for 14 hours, like fully lay down. That’s how I need to recover. It’s like fully charging an iPhone.
Q Kade: How do you feel about social media?
A Gottmik: I personally love social media because I feel like I thrive with my personality and I love to talk to people and connect with people.
I also think it’s so important to share what’s going on in the world. So, I think social media is a really important tool, as well as an amazing fun tool to be able to share your art and grow as an artist and find your tribe.
Q Kade: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A Gottmik: It was actually on Drag Race, and it was when RuPaul said, “You already got the job, you just have to show up.” And I took that to heart because I feel like when I get a bigger job and start levelling up, I always get so nervous and scared. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, what if I mess up?” And I start spiralling with my inner saboteur. But the second she said that it just all clicked to me that I got the job for the hard work that I’ve done in the past, and everyone there wants me to succeed so I just have to show up and kill it.
Q Kade: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on the journey to who you are today?
A Gottmik: I feel like something [to do] with my transition. I think just being able to find a place where I can go out every day, comfortable with who I am – physically, emotionally, spiritually – was a crazy journey for me as a transgender individual.
Q Kade: On the show, you talk about the importance of learning to be authentic. How did you come to this realisation?
A Gottmik: I came to the realisation that authenticity is just the most important thing in the world through trial and error. Going out every day and trying to discover who I am and where in life I’m happy makes you go out on a limb and try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone. And I realised through all these crazy experiences that where I succeed is when I’m not worried about what anyone else around me is doing.
Q Kade: How has your drag look changed since you joined the show?
A Gottmik: Physically I’ve learned to refine a few things since I saw myself on TV. It was a lot to take in. Going into the show, I was so scared to play with femininity, I didn’t really want to look too pretty. I wanted to look as clown and crazy as possible at all times. But then when I experimented on the show, I kind of was like, “Oh, you look gorge as hell.” So now I’m definitely way more down to experiment with looking really feminine. So get ready for some more girly momentos from Gottmik!
Gottmik walked onto Drag Race with a mission: her first words uttered on the show were: “Time to crash the cis-tem.” Kade’s casting on the show was historic, seeing as it has been continually called out and criticised in the past for its lack of trans inclusion, and it’s clear he felt this pressure as a ‘first’. But, within a few episodes, a star was born, and Gottmik was the first drag queen on season 13 to break the 1 million follower mark. By the series finale, she had become a pop culture sensation. Kade used his position on the show to continually platform important LGBTQIA+ issues, and also became a zeitgeist phenomenon with the word ‘gorge’ now being synonymous with Gottmik.
Kade first experimented with drag aged just 16, after seeing his first drag show – Rhea Litre performing at Phoenix Pride – he started practising drag makeup the second he got home, and the rest was history. After high school, Kade packed up from Arizona and moved to LA to study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, it was here in LA that his career as a makeup artist took off. During this time, his trans-identity ‘clicked’ after finding a group of uplifting queer friends who encouraged him to be an out-and-proud trans man. His experience is a unique and important one – as “someone transmasculine who does high femme drag” – proving that queer people don’t need to fit into boxes and can present however they choose.
Q Kade: You identify as pansexual. What does that mean to you and how do you feel about labelling attraction?
A Gottmik: It just means that I do not care about gender at all. All I care about is a really gorge personality and that’s it. And I feel like most of my friends are the exact same way, whether they label that or not. So, I just put a label on it because I was like, “Why not? I’m labelling everything in my life at the moment.”
I think as we progress as a society, we’re just going to stop with the labels, because what’s the point? Love is love, period. So there’s no point in having to keep shoving yourself in a box because as human beings, we’re constantly evolving and growing, so why are we going to re-label ourselves every time we discover a new part of ourselves?
Q Kade: What does Pride mean to you?
A Gottmik: Pride is the most important thing in the world to me. Me and [fellow Drag Race star] Asia O’Hara were actually talking on the bus the other day on tour. We were talking about how I feel like a lot of the queer community loves Pride so much, because our whole lives we might not have had a space to celebrate who we are. We may have had to hide that as kids or young adults. And then when you’re an adult, you get to go to Pride and celebrate and be the person you’ve always wanted to scream for the rooftops that you are.
It’s a true celebration of all the pain and hard work that we’ve put into ourselves and our lives and our journeys. It’s a time to celebrate, and to scream from the rooftops that we are here and we’re not going anywhere.
Q Kade: Who is your LGBTQIA+ icon?
A Gottmik: RuPaul. When I was in high school, I remember seeing her on TV and being like, “That’s the closest thing to what I am that I see.” This gender-bending crazy thing on TV, pushing gender stereotypes on national television just blew my mind.
Q Kade: What changes would you like to see in the way that the LGBTQIA+ community is represented?
A Gottmik: I want to see so many more stories being told. From what I’ve seen on Drag Race, my story opened up a lot of people’s minds. And at the end of the day, I’m still a boy doing drag. It’s not like the craziest thing in the world. Just people had never heard of it or seen it before. So, I’m really excited to be able to open up these doors and say, “Hey guys, what we thought was the be-all and end-all is not. There’s so many more stories.” And I’m so excited to see Drag Race, Hollywood, mainstream media keep pushing those boundaries along with me. And there are so many more amazing stories from trans women who started the drag movement, to… literally you name it. There’s every colour of the rainbow in our gorge rainbow community.
Q Kade: How will you be celebrating Pride Month?
A Gottmik: I’m actually on tour for all of Pride Month called Drive-In Drag. You literally drive up to the stage, and it’s some of me and my best friends in the world. The whole audience has so much fun. So, if you see me on that tour in Pride Month, you better go because we will kiki all night.
Q Kade: What advice would you give to the younger you?
A Gottmik: I would probably say that you’re valid. I think I spent so long thinking that I was crazy and I just needed to relax and [that] my trans-ness wasn’t trans enough or valid enough. And so I would just go back and say, “What you’re feeling is 100% valid. Just because you don’t see it out there in the world does not mean it’s not 100% real. And you should just say, ‘f*ck it’ and fight for what you think is correct, because it is.”
Q Kade: Finally, what advice do you have for young LGBTQIA+ people today who may be struggling to identify?
A Gottmik: Stay strong, stay positive. No matter how hard it gets, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You are going to find your chosen family out there, your tribe, and it’s going to be so amazing. It’s just going to take a second, so keep pushing. You are 100% valid. There’s so many people out there who love you and support you. Reach out to people online that you see that you might feel connected with, because they’ll talk with you. You’re a strong bitch and I believe in you.
Gottmik on the power of beauty and makeup…
Q GLAMOUR: Our Beauty of Pride issue is all about beauty and identity. When did you first discover makeup and your talent for it as a makeup artist?
A Gottmik: I have been putting on makeup my whole life. I wanted to wear eyeliner when I was in third grade. And I would get in trouble because I went to Catholic school. And then I went to fashion school in Los Angeles when I was 18, and [met] RuPaul’s old makeup artist randomly, I was just painting my face and we did this gig together and he said “Oh, I like what you do with your face. You should do makeup.” And then he introduced me to other drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Q GLAMOUR: How important has beauty and makeup been to you on your journey to self-expression and realising your identity?
A Gottmik: When I first started discovering who I was and starting my transition, I used drag makeup as a mask. And I started painting my face white like this, because it was not too feminine, but it was still drag. I felt like more of an alien clown, as opposed to me dressing up as a woman. Everyone thought I was just a boy in drag. I could get into all the clubs, underage!
I started experimenting with different eye shapes, practising my art. And then through that, I would just slowly get more and more comfortable.
Q GLAMOUR: Why do you think beauty and makeup is so important to so many members of the LGBTQIA+ community?
A Gottmik: It’s the easiest and most amazing way to express yourself. You literally go to Pride and you just put a little glitter on your face or on your body, and you just feel so much more glam, so much more powerful. And if you go the extra step, if you’re in drag, you’re the most powerful thing in the entire room. No one will be able to tell you no.
Being able to put some makeup on my face and experiment with gender, and crash the system and break these gender norms is just so funny to me. I put on a lash and everyone’s minds explode. It’s just a way to step into another art form, and step into your power and to just feel like our most amazing, most glamorous selves at all times.