Gia Gunn Opens Up About the Pressure of Representing the Trans Community on ‘Drag Race’ (Exclusive)

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Gia Gunn is feeling her oats, more than ever.

“Still feeling my oats!” the Drag Race personality tells ET of coming out as transgender after her first season on the show. “Not landing like quite fresh tilapia. I think we’ve upgraded now. So, I’m more like a caviar.”

The insanely quotable season six alum returns to the RuPaul’s Drag Race werk-room for All Stars 4, becoming the first transgender contestant to compete in a full season of the Emmy-winning series since RuPaul made some controversial remarks regarding casting trans queens on the hit series, for which he has since apologized. (Sonique, who transitioned after appearing on season two of the show, returned for a one-off holiday special that aired earlier this month).

“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul told The Guardian in March. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”

At the time, the host said he and his team would “probably not” cast queens who had transitioned on the series. However, transgender queens had previously competed on the show, most notably season nine’s Peppermint, who was out as trans to her cast during filming.

“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” RuPaul said at the time. “So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

“I don't think RuPaul is transphobic,” Gia tells ET. “I do think that the comments were taken that way. I just simply think that she sees transgender people and drag queens as totally different things and if you ask me, yeah, I would never want to be compared to a drag queen or a crossdresser.”

“This is not a fantasy for me,” she says. “This is my reality.”

After a wave of backlash for the comments, RuPaul walked back his statements in a tweet: “Each morning I pray to set aside everything I THINK I know, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers.”

That idea of teaching people was the key to getting Gia to return to the world of Drag Race.

“Obviously, me being trans is a big part of who I am, but also such a little part of who makes me who I am,” she shares. “I think it's time we see trans representation on this show … [it's] pressure just to make sure that I am representing my community, but also remembering where I come from and, most importantly, just being truthful to myself.”

The 28-year-old credits her original experience on the show, which she filmed back in 2013, with helping her discover her true self.

“Because of Drag Race, I was able to dive into my self discovery and really discover my trans-ness,” she recalls, but admits it’s been a difficult journey, filled with bouts of depression. Gia concedes it’s not easy to reconcile being trans and being a drag queen.

“Drag sometimes raises these questions that are confusing because somehow, when I'm in drag, I feel less than a woman, right?” she notes. “Nobody wants to feel less than what they are. So, for awhile there, it was very confusing. I actually contemplated quitting drag, not wanting to do anything with drag anymore and just kind of living my day-to-day life, just as a woman. Maybe getting a job at Starbucks, and just kinda hanging up the lashes and, you know, being very that girl.”

But, Gia realized “you can never run from who you really are, and drag is such a big part of my life.” That’s why she accepted the call for All Stars, to share the lessons she’s learned over the last five years with the world.

“I think I've been given this opportunity, and this blessing, to really have a big voice, and use that voice for those that don't have one,” she says. “And just bring representation and visibility to my trans community.”

“I think the world, especially, has such a vague understanding of what drag is,” she says. “And what being trans is. And I think the sooner we can understand the difference between sexual orientation, gender identity and art, which are all very different things, I think we will get a lot closer to a world of understanding.”

Gia calls her experience this time around “educational,” and confesses she’s likely done doing drag on TV after All Stars 4. She also competed on a Latin American version of the show, The Switch.

“That was a promise that I actually made myself after filming The Switch in Latin America,” she reveals. “I said, ‘This is the last time that I will ever present as a drag queen on TV.’ And then All Stars called, right? Some may call it opportunistic, I call it activism, because I think any time any of us that have a platform, or any of us that are just trying to be trans activist have the opportunity to have a moment in our authentic skin and vocalize some of these things that need to be vocalized, we're doing our job.”

As for life after reality TV, Gia says she’s working on a memoir and planning a one-woman show to tour in 2019.

“I think I learned a lot by being on this season,” she admits. “I learned a lot about, you know, me and what drag means to me … I learned a lot about some of my other Drag Race sisters. and who they are personally as people. And I just think I learned that this will probably be the last time I present myself as a drag queen on television, and I think that's OK.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 4 airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.

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