[June is Pride Month, and this year we're celebrating by honoring 30 LGBTQ firsts. To see the full list, visit nbcnews.com/pride30.]
When Gottmik walked through the workroom doors on the 13th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he never imagined his appearance on the award-winning VH1 reality show would have such a powerful impact on the LGBTQ community — and on him personally.
“Looking back at the season, it's just so super surreal to me,” Gottmik, whose real name is Kade Gottlieb, told NBC News. “The person that walked into the workroom on that first day is not the person that left. I grew so much in such a small amount of time, and I just can't believe that the show has the ability to pull so much out of a person.”
Gottmik’s inclusion on the drag competition show was a historic one: He was the first transgender man to compete, and one of just a few openly trans competitors in general. In fact, the show has been criticized in the past for its lack of transgender inclusion, so Gottmik’s casting was an especially noteworthy milestone.
The 24-year-old makeup artist and budding performer said being “a first” scared him, and he revealed that he had to overcome the fear of not being perfect and of saying the wrong thing.
“I walked in there overthinking everything,” he said. “I wanted to be the perfect trans role model and wanting to do the exact right thing and say the right things for everyone, and then the second I just let go and have fun and was open to learning the most amount of stuff possible, it ended up working.”
Work well it did. Gottmik not only made it to the final four, he also grew a beloved and devoted fan base along the way, crossing the million-follower threshold on Instagram before any other queen on season 13. One of his biggest fans is the drag superstar RuPaul herself, who appeared especially smitten by Gottmik during the season.
“I was surprised,” Gottmik said of his connection with the “Drag Race” host. “Going into the show, I obviously heard so many rumors about who RuPaul was and what she's like and had so many friends on the show that told me certain things, so I was really so nervous, because already I was trying the hardest to be the perfect role model and say the right things.”
Gottmik said RuPaul was the one who helped assuage his fears, telling him, “Just being yourself is all that needs to happen, because that's what people are going to connect with.”
Originally from Arizona, Gottmik moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion. After becoming immersed in the local LGBTQ community there, he finally decided to transition, he said.
“Growing up, I obviously had never seen anyone like me on TV, or even trans people really at all on TV, so that prevented me from transitioning for a really long time,” he said.
When he finally overcame his feelings of not being “valid” and not being “enough,” he transitioned and then subsequently started to perform in drag. He acknowledged that a transgender man performing as a drag queen may seem confusing to some, but he said it makes perfect sense to him. It has also made many fans of drag rethink the art form and who it’s available to, making it more accessible to people of varying gender identities.
“When I found my way and became who I was always meant to be and went on the show, then it kind of hit me,” he said. “I can be this person that I've always wanted to see and be that for so many people. I just want to be myself and share my journey and my story, and I feel like that's why people have connected with it.”
While Gottmik is the first trans man to compete on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he said he hopes he’s not the last. He also said he’d like to see more transgender women, a sizable part of the drag community, be featured on the series.
“I'm really excited to see the next few seasons because there's so many insanely amazing trans women that I would live, breathe and die to see on the show,” he said. “I have a full list of trans women and trans people that I am manifesting to get on the show because I want so many trans people at the highest level of drag possible.”