Becoming Gottmik: How Kade Gottlieb Uses Drag to Find Joy in Artistry—And Himself
Cover Story

Becoming Gottmik: How Kade Gottlieb Uses Drag to Find Joy in Artistry—And Himself

“I have this crazy alien punk rock mask that I could go out and be a new persona in, and I love that.”

Ryan Pfluger at Supervision
Shalev Lavan
Makeup:
Gottmik
Hair:
Michael David Warren
DP:
Alex Themistocleous


For many artists, a blank canvas can often be intimidating. Where and with what do you begin crafting your art? However, for RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 finalist and makeup artist extraordinaire Gottmik—whose blank canvas is her face painted in white—it’s an exciting symbol of starting anew.

When applying her makeup, Gottmik uses her thick, white foundation as her base, then adds gray contouring that resembles a mime, Hellraiser’s Pinhead, and a little bit of the rock band KISS. The focus, however, is on her eye makeup, which is oftentimes a grayscale of different shades of black. The lines of her cut crease and eyebrows are both sharp and delicate. Her lips are black and upturned in the corners—almost a nod to the impish playfulness of the person underneath the drag, Kade Gottlieb.

“[When I] paint my face white, it not only [gives] me a really gorgeous canvas to play with the makeup and the colors, [but I] just don’t see my old self in my face at all,” Gottlieb tells me over a Zoom call. For him, the makeup becomes a way to protect himself as he discovers who Kade is, while Gottmik shines bright under the stage lights.

Gottmik proved to be a fashion queen from the get-go during her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she not only became the first trans man contestant in the show’s history, but she competed so well that she made it to the finals. Aside from enamoring RuPaul with her humor and charm (including her impersonation of her friend Paris Hilton), her style was incredibly noteworthy, taking nostalgic high fashion trends and twisting them in a way that serves the contemporary eye—a boxy suit with crystal pinstripes and white ruffles around the silhouette; a little black dress so little it only covers the groin.

She takes references from ‘90s John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander McQueen that are reputedly familiar and pulls the audience into the unfamiliar without losing her fashionability. Overall, her style can best be described as a punk splatter on classic and referential glamor. At her core, Gottmik is Gottlieb dressed up to the nines, possessing an acute awareness of what is considered tolerable, acceptable, and turning it inside out.

“Before I [transitioned], I did not care what I looked like at all because I was trying to hide my physical traits I didn't like and also just hide away in the background, which is so bad for a Leo like myself who desperately wants to be at the front of everything,” Gottlieb explains. “But now that I'm really comfortable with who I am outside of drag, I've been able to explore [fashion] more and obviously, being best friends with [RuPaul’s Drag Race season seven winner and ‘No Gorge’ podcast co-host] Violet Chachki, she doesn't let me be ugly anytime anyway. I love [taking Gottmik, and applying aspects of her onto] my boy self.”

Shirt: Versace; Latex Gloves and Bow: Vex; Dress: Anna Kiki

Prior to the birth of Gottmik, Gottlieb, 25, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he attended Catholic high school. As president of his class, Gottlieb bore the irony of being a school leader who would often get in trouble for pepping up his school uniforms to fit his means of expression. One second he’s giving a speech at school, the next he’s leaving the podium only for the principal to pass him a detention slip for violating dress code.

“I was always the one talking in class,” Gottlieb says. “On the report card they [would] write that I'm a natural born leader, which is just a code for saying that I won't stop talking. I’ve kept the friends and families that [have always supported] me around, but [overall], people weren’t the most accepting.”

During his early years, Gottlieb spent a majority of his free time as a visual artist painting, drawing, and telling stories. Makeup eventually became a similar medium for Gottlieb, who could apply the art of painting and drawing through cosmetics, with the catharsis of experimenting his art directly on his face. The more he practiced his makeup, the more he practiced understanding who he was behind the foundations and shadows.

Rather than moving to New York—one of the fashion capitals of the world and home of many rebels, like himself—Gottlieb left his hometown of Arizona at 18 years old to build his career in Los Angeles, and hasn’t left since. Had he moved to New York after high school, according to Gottlieb, it would have meant that the chaos of the city would have only added to his already fast demeanor, as opposed to being a place for him to slow down.

“It’s perfect now [in hindsight],” he explains of his choice to move to L.A. “A friend had told me that when you’re busy, going to Los Angeles is like [going to] your own vacation home.”

Moving west also allotted him the opportunity to pursue fashion studies at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). While in school, Gottlieb grew his own following online for his makeup artistry, and launched his then-mostly online drag persona, Gottmik.

As Gottmik’s social media presence grew, a woman casting actors and performers for a Hunger Games red carpet event discovered Gottmik’s Instagram account and invited Gottlieb to attend the movie premiere dressed as one of the “extravagant people of the Capitol.” In queer fate, Mathu Andersen—who at the time was one half of RuPaul’s personal glam team responsible for hair and makeup—was enamored by the cosmetic artistry of Gottlieb, approached him at the event, and encouraged him to paint faces of drag queens in addition to his celebrity clientele that included Paris Hilton and Heidi Klum. Andersen took Gottlieb under his wing, and eventually introduced him to several drag queens—most of whom were alums of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Freelancing as a makeup artist became a steady career for Gottlieb as he simultaneously figured out who his drag persona Gottmik was as her own standalone artist and queen.

Top and Pants: Akira; Gloves: Wing & Weft Gloves

Although Gottlieb has been a dedicated viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race since high school, the possibility of him getting on the show didn’t seem likely with the show’s tradition of casting cis men (at the time, he had already been out as trans but had yet to medically transition). But that didn’t stop him from auditioning. He auditioned for season nine and season 11 before finally landing a spot on the cast for season 13. He transitioned not too long before his season 13 audition, which according to him is why he finally got casted. Gottmik may have been auditioning for the show, but it was Gottlieb that needed more time to flourish and settle into himself.

“Even though I love drag so much—[the] punk side of it and pushing the boundaries of drag—at the same time I hadn’t physically transitioned at all, so dressing up as a girl was just not the funnest thing for me even though I love the art form,” he says.

As seen on Gottmik’s RuPaul’s Drag Race season, what stamps Gottmik as Gottmik isn’t the enlarged safety pin worn as a fascinator, nor is it the exposed body-bag dress of a torso cut open with exposed organs. Hell, it isn’t even her red anal beads look. It’s her pure white foundation, only in her facial area. Gottlieb came up with the idea of giving Gottmik a white face as a way to cope with his gender dysphoria.

“It was just so different. It was like a mask I was painting on as opposed to just doing my makeup and looking feminine,” he says. “I have this crazy alien punk rock mask that I could go out and be a new persona in, and I love that.”

Rebuilding is not an uncommon journey for trans people. What people don’t discern about transitioning as a trans person is that your surroundings take on their own shift, too. So much of transitioning is just as much external as it is internal—explaining yourself to people over and over again, coming out of what seems like infinite closets, and remaining still when the people around you slip and fumble. Of course being Gottmik can trigger dysphoria for Gottlieb. For someone who was bound to the expectation of living life as a cis girl, to not only come out as a trans man but to also refuse to let go of his joy in femininity, he disrupts so many of the erroneous rules that fabricate society—sparking conversations that move the trans and drag communities forward in the process.

Suit: Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili; Shoes: Piferi

“[Being Gottmik] is empowering because I'm able to play with femininity and push boundaries. That's what I'm all about,” Gottlieb says. “Gender is stupid and I want to tear it apart and play with it and confuse people.”

As for what’s next for Gottmik, she wants to do it all. She recently wrapped up DragCon and is on tour with Chachki. Occasionally, she updates her YouTube channel, where she films makeup tutorials based on her runway looks from RuPaul’s Drag Race along with newer content and collaborations. Some notable celebrities she’s made over include Ariana Grande and Cara Delevingne. Ultimately, nothing is off the table for the queen, from acting to music to becoming a fashion icon herself.

While Gottmik rises further to fame, Gottlieb has a plan for himself too. He wants to continue his makeup artistry (he showcases the various photoshoots and videos of celebrities he works with on his Instagram account @beatbykade) and be an advocate for other trans men who want to “crash the cis-tem,” as he notably proclaims on his Drag Race season. It’s because of Gottmik’s voice that Gottlieb feels empowered to step into the light.

“Kade is going to do it all, too,” he says coyly. “He just has to work a little harder because he’s not as pretty [as Gottmik].”

As much as they have their respective stories, at their core both Gottlieb and Gottmik are punk rock because punk rock, in a sense, is an attitude. It’s unapologetically showing up on national television declaring to disrupt society, unafraid of the world’s blank canvases.

Photo Asst: Nicol Biesek / Photo Asst: Travis Chantar / Styling Asst: Arlen Vaerla / AC: Tre’len Johnston / Sound: Gabe Linkiewicz / Gaffer: Eric Larson / Video Editor: Marykate Schneider / Color: Manuel Vinas Barreras

Production Director: Jess Sisco / Creative Director: Phuong Nguyen / Associate Producer: Claire Flanagan

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