During Gottmik’s final runway of season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, it almost seemed like she was going to take the crown. RuPaul began to tear up as she spoke about Gottmik being an example to younger viewers, as the first out trans man to compete on the show, and congratulated the queen on her progress throughout the competition. Gottmik would’ve been crying too, she says, “except I was on way too much testosterone.” Her Drag Race run was a series of breakthroughs, from learning how to use her natural sense of humor to figuring out she didn’t have to act a certain way to represent trans people on the show. That moment with RuPaul marked a final one. “Over the past few weeks before that, I could tell she was really listening to me and understanding what I was saying, and was just wanting to understand every part about my journey and my drag,” Gottmik says. “And at that moment, I was like, She actually heard what I was saying and related to it.”
Gottmik didn’t end up winning — she lost her first-round Lip Sync for the Crown, of Britney Spears’s “Gimme More,” to Symone. But to hear her tell it, what she learned during the competition was more valuable. Along the way, she won three of Drag Race’s most iconic contests: the Ball, the Snatch Game, and the reading mini-challenge. And she became a fan favorite thanks to her fabulous confessionals and sweet moments with fellow queens. Ahead of the finale, Vulture spoke to Gottmik about learning to let go, her most iconic moments, and crashing the cis-tem.
You’ve filmed the finale already, and now you’re just waiting for all of us to see it and see what finally happens. Are you nervous, are you excited, what’s your vibe right now?
I’m not nervous at all. I think that is something I learned on Drag Race: There is no point being scared. I’m like the most carefree angel of life nowadays, ’cause I’m just so proud of every single thing I did. The finale — you have no idea — it makes my looks on the show look like I didn’t even know how to put a look together. I’m so proud of everything I did.
I was just talking with my editor and another writer about this interview, and they were all saying, “I just want to know Gottmik’s secret to staying chill on the show.”
[Laughs] The secret is Valium. No, I’m just kidding. I think it’s maybe because I went in not with that attitude. I went in so making sure I looked a certain way and said the right things. I was overthinking everything. The second, around the Rusical, that I was just like, I’m with one of my best friends, Denali, right now, we’re going to have the most fun of life, and I just started letting go and having fun, is when everything started clicking. Then the next week was Snatch Game, where I did the exact same thing, and it worked. I was like, Oh my God, all I have to do is not care and just have fun and trust in myself. That’s why I got on the show in the first place, so like, Chill out!
You talked on the show about this journey from worrying about being the perfect example of trans representation into realizing that you just needed to be yourself. What was it like to see the reaction to that part of you being on the show?
It’s amazing, because it’s like, you’re on the show — especially during the pandemic, you’re like the most isolated human to ever live on this planet. So you’re doing this journey with yourself, and then times ten because we’re in a pandemic. Watching it back on TV, you can see every single moment that it clicks for me. That person that walked in the room and just daintily said, “Time to crash the cis-tem” — that person had all the pieces to be America’s next drag superstar, she just didn’t know how to put them together. And now, I have put them together, and it’s so fun to watch it back and see it all start clicking for me at different points. Then to see me not even competing with anyone else, I’m just competing with myself, like trying to put the puzzle together, and it was so fun. I think that’s why I loved being there so much, ’cause I didn’t want that journey to end for me. I was like, I just want to keep putting all those pieces together. And this show forces you to do it so fast, and it was so fun, like, it was everything.
You did makeup for a lot of Drag Race queens before you were on Drag Race. I was curious if you got any advice from any of them, or had anything you learned from them that you brought in.
I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong, is that they actually take advice from past drag queens. [Laughs] The advice that I got would not have applied to my personal journey. I have friends that have been on the show that are like, “Watch out, because if you say one thing, it could look like you’re talking about someone else!” But I was in the show and I forgot the cameras were even rolling this whole time. I was just there living life and having fun, and that’s what needed to happen to me for me. But I’m sure if Kandy Muse did that, it wouldn’t have been the best.
It’s funny that you say you forgot the cameras were even there. From the very beginning, I was watching your confessionals and just falling in love. Then to hear you say that you didn’t know that you were funny — I’m like, did you see your confessionals?
When I said I didn’t know I was funny, I knew I was funny, but I had never actually sat down and written a joke. I thought you had to be a seasoned professional, like a Bianca del Rio or a Bob the Drag Queen, to get up there and be like “So … ,” and do a full stand-up moment. But I tapped into my natural timing and my natural humor that I have.
One of your funniest and my favorite moments was impersonating Paris Hilton in Snatch Game. You talked about having worked with Paris before and doing her makeup. Were you worried about offending her?
I was a little bit worried. I don’t know her on like, the level of life. I have hung out with her a couple of times, and I know she has a really great sense of humor, and she also loves Drag Race and loves the community. So she wouldn’t be mad, but I did want to be super-respectful at the same time. I remember getting ready, and I was like, Okay, Snatch Game’s coming up. We’ve got to make sure the jokes are funny, but we’ve got to be respectful. It almost made me switch my character like same day, ’cause I was getting nervous. I stood at the mirror with two pictures in my hand and I was like, Okay, here we go, I’m just gonna go balls to the wall with Paris, and hopefully she’s fine. And turns out she was, she lived!
And you did Paris in front of Raven, who had also done Paris Hilton before for Snatch Game. What was that like for you?
Oh my gosh, okay. First of all, Snatch Game Day, I was full, like, a method acteur. The cameras weren’t even rolling, and everyone was dying laughing — I was wearing full heels under the table, like, I’m going for it. I was in Paris Hilton mode since the makeup was on. And then, the only moment that I stepped out of the method acting that I was doing, for one second, was when I saw Raven was there. I was like, You have got to be kidding me, what are the odds of that? It made me nervous a little bit; I was like, No, not Raven right now. But it turned out gorge.
One of the other specific moments I wanted to ask you about was this Hercules look for the Haute Pockets runway that we all gagged over. How does that idea come to you in the first place?
That movie, I would quote that, weirdly, at times. I am very good at a theme, and I do have amazing friends that have taught me to have a gorgeous Rolodex of references in my brain, and I’m pretty good at making them my own. So when I got a theme for a runway, I would be like, Okay, the theme is pockets, what is every type of pocket in the world? And I’d be like, Pocket, pocket watch, watches, and then just spiral out into that, and I was like, Okay, wanna buy a sundial? And then, there it was! [Laughs] I’m like a psycho when I’m thinking of looks.
I love it though. Have you thought about any other Disney looks?
That’s my only one so far, but I grew up being a Disney fan, so I’m sure if you give me a theme one day, another one of those will pop up for sure.
So as of this call we don’t know who wins yet. What would the win mean to you?
I came into Drag Race to show a new side of drag, and a new story that hasn’t been told. And I came in and did more than I even thought I could do, and I’m so proud of my journey. I feel like I’m ready to inspire and fight for, to crash the cis-tem and destroy this box that society has tried to put us in. I feel like we’re starting a revolution, with Bimini over in [Drag Race] U.K., and me here, and I feel like there’s amazing trans women that are in our Drag Race futures, and we’re gonna crash the cis-tem like no others. I came in and did what I needed to do and I’m so proud of it. I feel like I won with or without a crown. I’m living.
I feel like you’ve won too, and it’s just been a joy to watch you every week, so congratulations on that.
I feel like such a pageant little, I feel like little Olivia [Lux] saying that. But it’s so true.