Pop culture

There's More to Gia Gunn Than RuPaul's Drag Race

*Sips tea*
Reading time 7 minutes

“Absolutely.” “Let me feel my oats.” “Just landed like fresh tilapia.” These are just a few of drag queen and trans activist Gia Gunn’s most infamous television catchphrases. The RuPaul’s Drag Race and RPDR All Stars alum became known for stirring captivating drama on the small screen, appearances that led her to become one of the show’s unofficial villains. However, while she may have gained significant recognition thanks to the title of such, the focus has never really been on her being Japanese American. But is that all she is? Perhaps it signals how far we’ve come with regards to representing more complex PoC personalities.

Outside of reality TV, Ichikawa (Gunn’s real last name) fervently pursues trans-rights activism. One of the many ways she does is having shared her transition journey with World of Wonder’s #30DaysinTransition series, in addition to launching an underwear line that caters to trans women.  Yes, Gia Gunn is a complex character, indeed, and makes for a perfect interview subject.

In a candid conversation with L’Officiel USA, Gunn shares many enlightening tidbits, from the journey of her transition, living up to a television persona, her budding music career, and her hopes for 2019. So sit back and put on your reading glasses, children. And, if you have no idea who Gia Gunn even is, allow us to introduce her to you.   

FEI LU: After Drag Race, when did you realize you were trans?

GIA GUNN: Before Drag Race, I always had thoughts of transitioning, but I was scared and knew little about the actual process. Touring the world and experiencing LGBTQ spaces really helped with my self-discovery and accepting my trans-ness. I was on Drag Race in 2014, started hormones in 2016, then came out on Instagram during Trans Visibility Day. That moment was incredibly significant to me, and I received amazing feedback. That's when I realized that I could offer more than just drag.


FL: Some say to be trans, you must have gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy, while others believe saying you’re trans is enough. As a trans woman, what are your thoughts?

GG: I believe trans is a state of mind, not a state of being. It’s only fair to keep an open-minded heart when it comes to other's journeys since we move at different paces. We should just accept people for how they identify. And, I believe trans-people are just as trans with or without surgery.


FL: Some may say you were very privileged with an already-feminine appearance, helping your transition. While trans-people who resemble their biological sex more may feel pressured to undergo multiple operations to “fully” transition. What are your thoughts?

GG: I think every trans-person feels very differently. I am by no means, “finished” transitioning—I don't believe anybody ever is. Despite having surgery, my journey’s not over. But am I blessed? 110 percent. I'm very aware, and thankful for my supporters and resources that made my transition successful, healthy, and safe. That’s why I decided to show by example how transitioning can look like. But I’ve also invested a lot in myself. Unfortunately, it’s not all materially visible, compared to things people focus on, like physical appearance, social media followings, and etc.


FL:  So who is Gia Gunn beyond the character [portrayed on the show]?

GG: I’m vulnerable, real, funny, and authentic. However, to protect myself, I don’t always show that side of me.


FL:  You’re very fluent in Spanish, which is very rare for Asian Americans both in American media. What’s it like being a Japanese American engaged in Spanish media?

GG: It’s both amazing and difficult to simultaneously engage in English and Spanish. It's hard because I’m so engaged with my Spanish speaking fans, but a majority of the world also speaks English. I’m careful to not leave anybody out. I’m very proud to be Japanese American and fluent in Spanish, as it’s something unique not everyone can claim.


FL: What spaces do you feel most authentic in?

GG: I feel very appreciated in Spanish-speaking environments. People are much warmer, affectionate, and more emotional than I’d say Americans are. The fact that I can share my art in multiple cultures is amazing. But I’d be lying if I didn't say that I definitely feel very accepted in Latin settings. I also feel very accepted in Japan.


FL:  Can you tell me about the process behind #LaChinaMasLatina?

GG: That was actually my hashtag during The Switch 2. I envisioned a Spanglish song that would reference my hashtag and experience out there, as the show did a number of things for my personal life and career. I wanted to incorporate Spanish, English, and drag culture. Alaska represented American drag culture, while I showcased Spanish language and Japanese culture.


FL: Many people identify you as Drag Race’s “villain.” Where do you see yourself in all this?

GG:  I feel drag has always been a playground where I can have fun and deliver the Gia Gunn character. She’s always been glamorous, a little shady, and blunt. Of course, people expected a totally different person since I’ve obviously transitioned. But going to All Stars brought me back to a dark time in my life again. Being the only trans person there, I felt cornered. Being a woman, I had to meet drag standards too, alongside drag queens who were mixed with my presence. Being cold and shady was my fun defense mechanism. As I said, drag isn’t that serious for me. People need to realize that drag is about having fun, inspiring, but also being who we are. But ultimately, Gia Gunn is very different than Gia Ichikawa.


FL:  Even before your unaired argument with RuPaul, many have referenced RuPaul’s transphobia. Do you think he will face repercussions during Drag Race’s international expansion?

GG: I don’t think she will. People, including myself, have to decide whether to support her brand or not. I joined All Stars expecting negative backlash and accepted that risk to represent the trans community. It was a great first step for me to debut Gia the woman, without losing my drag character. But I do wish that I had time to present a vulnerable me plus the trans-experience.


FL:  What are your plans for 2019?

GG: I’m planning my one-woman show, and writing a corresponding book. I’m also diving into the activist side to advocate for the [Trans] community. I’m doing more shoots and releasing content that’s related to my life outside of drag. Ultimately, focusing on projects that make me happy and not just money.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity .

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