Gottmik: "I always knew I was trans, I just never had the language to voice it let alone describe it"
Alice Gee | 26/09/2021
“Hi Gorge”, Gottmik greets me over Zoom from LA with her now-famous catchphrase. She became an instant star after her impeccable run on Series 13 RuPaul’s Drag Race, setting a new precedent for what it means to be a drag queen today. From the second she entered the werk room determined to crash the “cis-tem” she challenged the preconceived notions of what it meant to be a trans man in 2021. Blurring the lines between gender in a no fucks given way she was a visual advocate for throwing conformity out the window in a way that was entertaining, educational and fostered greater empathy. In a society where trans people are celebrated for “passing”, Gottmiks position in the middle of a constrictive spectrum, on international TV has given a voice to countless people around the globe and personifies the compassionate change we need so desperately in the world.
I sit with a cup of tea to catch up with Gottmik about her 2022 future endeavours, combating labels, and finding her true identity. As we exchange pleasantries I can think of no better place than to start than the success she’s found on Drag Race and how being the first trans male to appear on the show has impacted the trans community. “I think me going on Drag Race as the first Trans Male has impacted the community as a whole in a way that I didn’t see coming. I thought I was just going to go on there and tell my story, hoping whoever sees it connects with it, but since getting off the show I’ve been able to travel and meet so many people from every gender on the spectrum. I felt I was breaking boundaries and it opened so many more doors than I ever thought possible. I think it gave people hope, even if they didn’t connect with my story. I’m so grateful I could come and tell my journey on that platform.”
Gottmik, ever modest, seemed hesitant at times when talking about the journey she’s been through and the response she’s received from fans both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. I can’t help but wonder whether being a small-town kid who had to find their own way through their struggles has had something to do with it. I was keen to ask how drag has helped established her identity.“Drag was the way I found my identity across the board. I always knew I was trans, I just never had the language or the vocabulary to voice it let alone how to describe it. Although I wasn’t sure what my identity was, I knew that there was something there with my gender. So finding drag and expressing what I was feeling through a physical art form with my body and finding what I was comfortable looking like, has been such a monumental thing for me to figure out.”
“I just think I was so excited to just go on Drag Race and tell my story and just be me, I didn’t even think about how scary it actually was until after we started. It was probably best that way. Now that I am comfortable with me in and out of drag, my persona is just fully my art and I’m so much more down to explore different places that I wasn’t down to before.” We hover around the question of identity and the extended difficulties that come alongside finding who you are, falling into a discussion about labels and her personal opinion of how they have impacted her, having previously spoken about being labelled a ‘Tom Boy’ in her childhood. “For me, gender is just a crazy spectrum that can change every day. So even though I identify as a trans male, and I’m very binary in that way, I don’t love being forced into a label. One day I wake up, and I don’t necessarily feel this way or that way, and I just want to be free, especially with my sexuality. I don’t want to put any label on that so people can’t shove me in a box because I’ve labelled myself.”
With the pressures that come with falling into the limelight, and the unwanted opinions of unknown voices online I wondered if Gottmik had felt any pressures to be bold in her choices on Drag Race in a way to represent the community.
“Yes, when I went in and I saw the show, I was really scared about saying the right things and being the perfect trans role model. When I was talking to RuPaul, I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh’, this is such a moment for me, I have to be the perfect exemplary trans icon. The second that RuPaul said “the way people are going to connect with you is just by being yourself. You already got the job, you just have to show up” it just all clicked that the reason I’m here is that I have put in the work and I have worked hard to find who I am and now all I have to do is tell my story and that’s what people are going to connect with. It’s was as simple as that.”
Whilst we talk about the pressures she’s faced from becoming a household name, many of which adding what I imagine a heavy burden to her mental health at times, I asked when she first remembered or thought she was struggling with her mental health.
“Because of growing up trans and not having the vocabulary for it, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have any trans people in my life. Like, I’d never really seen on TV anyone that looked or identified as me, so I felt super alone. I was depressed for years. Once I moved away, I met a few trans people, and they just opened my eyes. I still hadn’t met any feminine trans men so I still felt I didn’t see anyone like me and that I was the only person in this world. And then I just woke up one day, and I was like, you know, you just have to trust yourself, no one knows you better than yourself. And so I started hormones. And I felt the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.”
“I started realising that I just needed that self-trust to be able to take that leap of like faith and choose happiness whilst saying fuck the rest. So that’s what I had to do, and I literally, was almost instantly happier the second I started hormones. I began a journey of self-love and started figuring it out. I remember thinking, one day, I’m going to look in the mirror and love myself, and it’s going to be everything. I feel like I’m finally there.”
As we continue to chat, we find ourselves talking about the horrendous waiting times when it comes to transitioning in both the UK and the US.
“I think it took me like six months to get into the LGBT centre because I didn’t want my family knowing. Thank God for them, because they worked with me and helped me but it did take a while to get an appointment for sure. It was really hard. My family’s super conservative and Christian, so I was so scared to tell them. Coming out was hard enough and then on top, I was like, “Oh my god”, I already put them through that, how can I put them through this, it was just like a weird mentality that I had. I feel like a lot of queer people have that mentality. When I came out, it wasn’t the easiest, but my family loves me and I’m really lucky for that.”
"I don’t want to put any label on that so people can’t shove me in a box because I’ve labelled myself.”
Later on in the interview, we found ourselves discussing the incredible outfits she presented on the Drag Race runway and the special items she’s got in the wardrobe ready to whip out on tour. She tells me about a Vivienne Westwood shirt that she proudly wears without a thought to her scars. Having previously battled with my own scars for many years (albeit caused by a very different reason) I found Gottmik’s brazen display of her surgery marks inspiring. I was curious to hear how she has coped with the scars from her top surgery and the expectations she felt towards herself when it came to transitioning and whether she is aware of the inspiring effects it’s having on others watching her journey.
“I am. I definitely at first, when I was getting top surgery, was kind of scared to have scars. I was planning on the second I was out to have laser in the hope they would go away forever. I felt I needed to hide them. But I think being on Drag Race helped me a lot because it made me realise how many people I was helping by just like having my chest out. I had fans message me and say that I inspired them to have their scars out. It’s really empowering for them to see that on TV. I didn’t realise the power that I had by just showing my scars. It kind of made me realise, I worked hard to get to this point. And I worked hard for those scars, and in a way, I’m so proud of them.
“It’s mad how people see scars as a negative and how many feel they should hide them but it’s as part of your journey. Whatever happened to get those scars, you should be proud of how you got to where you are today with them.”
I’m grateful Gottmik was so open and honest in her answer, it was the first ever question I was nervous to ask, worried I may trigger difficult feelings and memories. But I’m glad I did in the hopes others can learn to love their scars. As I bring up her future plans Gottmik tells me she has just signed to Elite Model Management and has some exciting things in store for 2022.
“I was filling documents the other day, and I wrote 2020 on everything. I can’t believe it’s nearly 2022. I’m so excited to get into the world again and to just kill it. I want to do everything so I’m just going to throw myself into every form of art I could ever have imagined. I’m such a fashion freak I always have been and I just want to dive into the fashion industry as hardcore as I ever could this year. Me and Violet Chachki also started a show together where we’re talking about fashion together all whilst working to release a podcast.”
As we wrap Gottmik tells me about her upcoming UK tour with fellow drag star Rosé, whilst I move at the speed of light to check my calendar so I don’t miss it. The excitement is more than apparent. Seeing Gottmik in her element is better than I could have ever hoped from the interview, not only that but the fact she is inspiring so many at the same time as living her dreams and desires. Her easygoing nature is a testament to herself and her journey, which is only going to continue to have a positive impact on those around her.
*We confirmed with Gottmik that while presenting in their drag persona they prefer to go by She/Her*