Dwyane Wade, former member of the Miami Heat, spoke about his 12-year-old daughter, Zaya, coming out as transgender to him and his wife, Gabrielle Union, when he appeared on “The Ellen DeGenerous Show” to promote his new documentary, “D. Wade: Life Unexpected.”
The sports world had a mixed reaction to Wade supporting his daughter’s new name, identity and pronouns, some congratulating the three-time NBA champion’s parenting, while others remained in the fixed, binary perception of gender and masculinity that are often associated with athletics. For a young trans person like me though, it was touching and empowering to see parents strongly support their trans child in a way that most of us are not allowed.
Wade and Union approached Zaya’s coming out much like any other issue a child might have, by normalizing it.
“We take our roles and responsibilities as parents very seriously,” Wade said on the show. “When our child comes home with a question or an issue … it’s our job as parents to listen, to give them the best information that we can, the best feedback that we can, and that doesn’t change now that sexuality (and gender) is involved.”
Though Wade and Union are both cisgender and heterosexual, they have taken the opportunity of Zaya coming out to educate themselves and grow as self-described allies to the LGBTQ+ community. Instead of shaming their daughter or assuming that they have more knowledge than she does, they have allowed her to lead and educate them. They are asking the right questions.
They ask these questions in their joint article written for Time Magazine where they discuss Zaya’s journey and their parenting more in detail. Wade and Union go deeper than most cis people in questioning the role of gender and gender roles in their parenting.
“There are lots of things we still argue about, like what it is to be a ‘lady,’” the couple wrote for Time. “Are we trying to teach Zaya a very specific and ‘traditional’ way of performing ‘femininity,’ like shaving your legs and armpits? How many things that we do are rooted in misogyny, sexism and forcing women into these boxes?”
However, not everyone has been as supportive as Zaya’s parents. Zaya and her parents were slammed by American rapper Boosie Badazz in a video posted to Instagram.
“Dwyane Wade, you gone too f— far, dawg,” he said in the video. “That is a male, a 12-year-old. At 12, they don’t even know what they next meal gon’ be. They don’t have shit figured out yet.”
The rapper then said more graphic comments, implying that Zaya would be getting a phalloplasty, a procedure where the vaginal area is reconstructed into a phallus, despite none of the family mentioning such a procedure. He touches on a common transphobic trope that assumes trans children are making irreversible changes by coming out, despite only transitioning socially. These sorts of comments were what I was anticipating to find when I first heard about Zaya, which is why I avidly avoided looking at replies to tweets about Zaya that appeared on my timeline for a long time.
Unfortunately, as I expected, Badazz’s comments were not singular. Twitter users took to the platform to criticize the family and perpetuate transphobia.
Dwyane Wade really on a press tour promoting his 12 yr odl son’s sexuality” Twitter user @boluxxxx wrote. “Even if you know your son was some type of way why are you on a broadcast mission? Weirdos.”
Comments like these are not surprising considering Wade’s prominence in the sports world. He was recently honored at a ceremony where his Miami Heat jersey was retired and his children, minus Zaya, were in attendance. Fortunately, despite the reputation basketball has for excluding LGBTQ+ people, sports commentator Sarah Spain has spoken out in support of the family.
“(Wade) gives an example to all the people out there who feel like they know him and may not ever meet someone who is transgender in their lifetime, who are afraid of it, who don’t understand it,” Spain said on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable.” “Because of (fans’) connection to sports and Dwyane Wade, a little bit of the door is opened for them to step in and try to understand.”
Wade and Union have been trying to protect Zaya from these comments, but are also balancing the importance of social media in the life of someone her age, especially as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Social media has been difficult,” Wade and Union wrote for Time Magazine. “She’s in junior high, and those years are so critical and can be brutal. But for a lot of LGBTQ+ kids, it’s their only lifeline to their community. We’re trying to figure out that balance of not taking away her community but also protecting her from being inundated with negativity and ignorance.”
Union has been using Twitter as a way to retaliate against these harmful comments and fill the platform with support for her daughter. Her words are emblematic of what I wished my parents would have said after I came out to them, and in response to other adult’s asking about my gender.
“Huge huge huge THANK YOU to everyone whose dms I slid into, friends, & family who provided information, resources, love & encouragement,” Union tweeted on Feb 11. “We are humble LGBTQ+ allies with A LOT to learn & grateful for all the support. We encourage y’all to check us as needed. Again, thank you!”
Wade and Union understand their daughter’s situation much better than many parents do, even if they are still searching for answers. In a society with cis-normative standards, we are all expected to be cisgender from birth.
It is only by experimenting and trying on different identities that trans people can truly figure out who we are. Even if Zaya discovers later on that she is not a woman, this process has helped her and her family grow, as well as expose a culture nearly devoid of trans people to a positive representation of transness.
Much like most trans people, I went through puberty without blockers, which inhibit hormone levels, and grew up in a family that assumed I was cis. I was challenged and not listened to when I first came out as nonbinary to my parents. It has been a difficult road, one that I am still exploring. Trans people face systemic oppression and shockingly low life expectancies. This context is what makes Wade and Union’s wholehearted acceptance and willingness to learn so powerful.
Trans kids deserve to have parents like Wade and Union, ones who will respect their gender expression and go to bat for them. Cis children deserve the same love and ability to explore their genders. It is promising to see love and support for a trans kid come from an unexpected place: a basketball star whose career was rooted in masculine, binary expectations of gender.