The 13th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” began last week, much to the excitement of eager fans who are hankering for a pop culture distraction amid the pandemic and other doomscrolling. The premiere episode of the hit VH1 reality series was the most watched episode in the history of the franchise. This could partially be due to the fact that this season includes a historical and inclusive casting decision, one that many loyal fans and followers of the show are excited about.
This season is the first time a transgender man has walked through the workroom.
“I walked into this thing with an idea of what drag is and the kids have a different idea. They keep changing it,” RuPaul said during an interview with Stephen Colbert earlier this week. “This season we have a trans man who is on our show who is competing with the other drag queens and this man is fantastic. Fantastic! So, I keep moving with what the kids are doing.”
That fantastic man is Kade Gottlieb, known as Gottmik (pronounced like the iconic advertising slogan, “Got Milk?”), the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident has already become a fan favorite after one episode.
“It might be one of the best days of my life hearing RuPaul say those words,” Gottmik said. “I mean, RuPaul is literally a punk rock drag icon, who started ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ as a punk rock statement to the world. And why would she stop now? She's literally gonna keep going. She’s going keep pushing boundaries and she's learning and growing just like every single one of us. So I just can't believe that I am here to help be part of her journey with that.”
RuPaul has a complicated record on the topic of transgender inclusion on “Drag Race." In the past, RuPaul has received criticism from some in the LGBTQ community who believed that the drag icon intended to include only gay men on the show.
“Trans drag is important and fierce,” Alaska, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season two, told NBC News back in 2018. “Since I started doing drag, I’ve been working with trans women who do drag, and trans women’s contributions to the art form and culture of drag have been essential and go back to the very origin of drag as we know it.”
But while transgender women have been a formative part of drag and have been featured on “Drag Race” in previous seasons, Gottmik’s inclusion on this next season is especially noteworthy as a transgender man. In general, there aren’t many transgender men who are drag queens.
“So many people all the time, even when they're nice, are kind of just confused by it because it is different concept I guess,” he said. “But to me, it's so weird that a lot of people can't wrap their heads around it because at the end of the day, I'm literally just a man in a wig ... like every single other guy that's there. Just because before you even heard of me or met me I was born a girl once upon a time, it, like, blows your mind or is too much for you and you can't handle it? That actually is what is a little confusing to me.”
Originally from Arizona, Gottmik said he knew something was different growing up, but he never really was able to identify that difference. “So my whole life, I felt very ... trapped in the wrong body,” he said. “I think around the time where everyone started hitting puberty and I just couldn't just hang out with the guys like I use to hang out with the guys. I was like, ‘OK, something's wrong here. Something isn't adding up and I have to figure this out.’”
Once he moved to Los Angeles after high school to pursue a career in fashion, he immersed him into the LGBTQ community of a big city. That is where it “really clicked” for him and where he discovered a new understanding of who he is. “I started meeting a lot of trans women who taught me about the trans experience and the second I heard of the trans definition for the first time, I was like, that is where I am," he explained.
But Gottmik still struggled because while identified as transgender, he still didn’t see himself, a man who embraces his femininity and queerness, portrayed in the media. “At the same time, because I was so feminine, it was very weird,” he explained. “I was struggling because basically I knew I was trans, I knew I was a guy, but the only men I saw in the media were so heteronormative and so masculine. I just clearly was not that. So I started to question, ‘Am I trans though because I don't see what I am perfectly in the media?’”
Gottmik, who identifies as pansexual, explains that he looked to his feminine queer and gay friends for inspiration on the type of man he wanted to be. "But one day, I just woke up and said to myself, ‘Every single one of your cisgender male friends are the most feminine people you've ever met in your life. And they're men. Like, just because you were born a girl once upon a time ... you're still allowed to be a feminine guy, too,’” he said. “Once I realized that, I paved my own way and then just everything clicked.”
Gottmik ended up pursuing a career in makeup artistry instead of fashion. He soon became a notable name in the industry, working with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Tinashe, Heidi Klum and Gigi Gorgeous. Another thing that clicked for him was his friendship with Gorgeous, who is also transgender, so much so it got them on the cover of Out magazine together in 2020.
“My friendship with Gigi is the most special thing I ever could have imagined happening in my lifetime,” he said. “It was so just easy just from the get go. She is such a trans icon that really paved the way for so many people and I think my different take on the trans experience, while still being feminine and fun that we can relate on that level as well, really inspired her. It was just game over. Best friend for life.”
In an email, Gorgeous described her friendship with Gottmik as her "first experience with the journey of a trans man transitioning and the complexities therein," adding, "While from the same community, we have very differing experiences and perspectives which further proves that identity is truly a spectrum; personal and unique."
On what she is excited for the world to see when they watch him on "Drag Race," she said "his creativity, or unmatched makeup skills, but to also see how outgoing and fun he is as a person."
She continued, "He has this incredible warmness that I know audiences will fall in love with, and will remove any pre-conceived stigmas or misconceptions they might have."
On what he hopes people take away from his story, Gottmik hopes that they separate drag and gender identity, and understand that drag is for everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.
“Gender is a crazy spectrum, and you can fall anywhere on it and however you want, and drag and gender are two different things,” he said. “Monica Beverly Hills said it the best when she said, ‘That trans is who I am and drag is what I do.’ Drag is drag and gender is gender. There’s nothing more I really need to say about it."
To anyone out there still doubting him or his art form, he says, “Hi gorg. This is drag. Get into it and get lost.”
You can watch Gottmik on "RuPaul’s Drag Race" on Friday at 8 p.m. on VH1.
This story first appeared on TODAY.com