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How Gottmik, the 1st trans man on 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' became a pop culture icon

After slaying the competition this last season on the popular VH1 reality series, the 24-year-old transgender man and drag queen is ready for what's next.
This LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is highlighting the LGBTQ trailblazers in pop culture who paved the way, along with the trendsetters of today who are making a name for themselves.
This LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is highlighting the LGBTQ trailblazers in pop culture who paved the way, along with the trendsetters of today who are making a name for themselves.TODAY Illustration / Marco Ovando
/ Source: TMRW

During a rather sweaty workout session at a bootcamp fitness class, I found myself struggling.

I had fallen behind in dong my workouts amid the pandemic and, after going back to in-person classes, I was having a hard time keeping up. The trainer walked past me and decided to give me a boost of confidence.

He told me: “You got this. Keep going, gorge.”

I smiled, not because of his treadmill motivation, but because I knew he was saying “gorge” in reference to Gottmik, who used the word so much during this past season of ”RuPaul’s Drag Race” that it has become his signature. That trainer was most definitely part of the LGBTQ community and likely a fan of “Drag Race,” but language can be a signifier that something powerful and long-lasting has entered the zeitgeist. I'd argue it applies to the word “gorge” and the performer Gottmik.

Gottmik attends the "RuPaul's Drag Race" season 13 finale at Ace Hotel on April 8, 2021.Emma McIntyre / Getty Images for VH1

TMRW had the opportunity to chat with Gottmik, real name Kade Gottlieb, as part of TODAY’s 2021 LGBTQ Pride Month series profiling the pop culture trailblazers who have paved the way for the trendsetters of today.

As the first transgender man to ever compete on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Gottmik became a top four finalist on the most recent season of the popular VH1 reality series and grew a devoted fan base along the way, consisting of every prism and ray of light in the LGBTQ rainbow.

“How society has this weird box of what people can and can't do, especially people in the LGBTQ community, and that box literally doesn't exist in any way.”

GOTTMIK

“Gottmik made history and quickly became a fan favorite for their undeniable talent as a dynamic entertainer," Anthony Ramos, head of talent for LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, told TODAY via email. "Although Gottmik didn’t win on the series, it’s clear that he will have many opportunities in the entertainment business. Gottmik has also made it a top priority to use their platform and growing fandom to influence change on important LGBTQ issues.”

He broke one million followers on Instagram, and said it's on social media where where he feels the support from his fan base, which includes famous names like Ariana Grande and cast members of the TV show “Pose.”

“I've had a really crazy amount of love and support in my DMs and I'm so honored to be where I am because of my fans,” Gottmik told TMRW.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t also been some haters along the way. “I do see this one comment all the time,” he said. “The majority of my hate comments are just people thinking that I should not be doing drag because I'm trans or whatever and they think I should have been disqualified.

“Some think I have this whole unfair advantage that is so weird to me, and I'm like, 'Girl ... I'm sitting here cinching, padding and painting harder than 90% of these bitches in this workroom but OK, you can have that little narrative.'”

Gottmik performs during Drag N Drive San Francisco on May 7, 2021.Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images

That online discourse and backlash against him doing drag because he was born female is what pushes Gottmik to go farther and reach higher. As a transgender man, some would assume he wouldn’t be interested in impersonating a woman, but Gottmik is.

“It doesn't upset me in any way. It actually like makes me kind of want to fight harder because that's exactly what I'm fighting for and what I speak up about,” he said. “How society has this weird box of what people can and can't do, especially people in the LGBTQ community, and that box literally doesn't exist in any way.”

Sometimes that narrow-mindedness is within the LGBTQ community as well, and that is what Gottmik challenges with his sheer presence in the drag world.

“I'm super excited to keep fighting and keep pushing forward and being as loud as possible, and show everyone that you can do whatever you want and your feelings are completely valid because these few people are just uneducated and they don't know what they're talking about," he said. "It's up to us to be ourselves and educate these people who are just ignorant and scared.”

Originally from Arizona, Gottmik didn’t see himself (a feminine queer trans man) represented in media growing up, until he started watching the show that ended up making him famous. The 24-year-old is part of a generation that grew up with “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which first aired in 2009.

“Isn't that crazy?” Gottmik replied when I asked about this full-circle moment. “It's so weird that in eighth grade I was watching ‘Drag Race,’ so RuPaul was definitely a major, major LGBTQ role model in my life, through high school and finding out who I was.”

Gottmik, Symone, RuPaul and Michelle Visage, winners of best reality cast for "RuPaul's Drag Race," at the 2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards.Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for MTV / ViacomCBS

From there, “Drag Race” inspired him to look for more queer icons on the internet. This is where he discovered Amanda Lepore, Leigh Bowery and beloved allies like Cher and Dolly Parton. He said, “l just had the most amazing queer icons in my life from such a young age that I was looking up to, and I feel like that's why I became the most psycho rhinestone-obsessed clown possible.”

He also was inspired by Lady Bunny after discovering the trailblazing drag queen in the film "Another Gay Movie"

"I am actually going to be going on tour with her this year, and I am seriously going to die that I will get to perform with her," he said.

"The art of drag is really for everyone to do and experience, and that's why I think I love it so much."

Above all, Gottmik advocates for drag being inclusive as possible, and hopes he sees more transgender people, especially trans woman, on the popular VH1-reality show in the future. (On May 26, VH1 announced the season for "All Stars" season 6 that includes not one but two trans women.)

“Drag is for everyone," he said. "Drag is for the community. Drag queens are the vanguards of life. We are political statements going out there to fight for what's right and to move our community forward with a touch of campiness and humor. The art of drag is really for everyone to do and experience, and that's why I think I love it so much. It's just a melting pot of every type of person in the world showing their art and manifesting their art in the craziest way you could ever manifest it.”

When saying goodbye after these last thoughts, Gottmik reminds me that I am beautiful, even though he has never seen me in person. I say thank you, and I thank him for taking the time to speak with me.

He simply responds, “Of course, gorge.”

Spoken like a true icon.

This LGBTQ Pride Month 2021, TODAY is highlighting the LGBTQ trailblazers in pop culture who paved the way, along with the trendsetters of today who are making a name for themselves. By examining their experiences individually, we see how all of their stories are tied to one another in a timeline of queer history that takes us from where we were to where we stand today.