Op-ed

“Let kids be kids” includes letting them explore gender

Photo: Ben Wicks via Unsplash

To most, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade are not new names. Wade, a former NBA star who spent most of his career playing for the Miami Heat, and Union, an actress known for her roles in fan favorites such as “Bring it On.” They are both names that have been around for quite some time now.

One name that is a bit newer to the scene, however, is Zaya Wade, Wade’s 12-year-old child and Union’s step-child who, as of last Tuesday, publicly announced her new name as well as the fact that she will now go by she/her pronouns.

Born in May of 2007 as Zion Wade, she had spent the first 12 years of life going by the he/him pronouns that she had been given at birth, along with her old name.

According to Wade, by the time Zaya was three, both he and his then wife noticed that their child was not traditionally masculine, despite being born male. From there, she continued to explore gender, eventually adopting a more traditionally feminine presentation and then coming out as gay in 2019. Last week, she made the formal announcement of her new name and pronouns last week.

Both Wade and Union have been very open, passionate and vocal in their love and support for Zaya as she continues to grow into herself, a lesson that many parents should learn when assessing and raising their children.

In an interview with the NBA podcast “All Smoke,” Wade spoke out about his experience as Zaya’s father, stating, “Well first of all, you want to talk about strength and courage? My 12-year-old has way more than I have. You can learn something from your kids… In our household, man, that’s all we talk about. We talk about making sure our kids are seen by each of us. Me and my wife, we talk about making sure our kids understand the power in their voice. We want them to be whoever they feel that they can be in this world. That’s our goal. Understand you can be whoever, you can be whatever.”

In addition, both Wade and Union have been quick to clapback at any negativity and hatred that they have received about Zaya. Following a photo posted on Thanksgiving by both Wade and Union in which Zaya was wearing a crop top and leggings along with painted nails, the family was heavily critiqued by raging internet homophobes who shamed the parents for allowing their child to explore and express their gender identity.

Having none of it and once again being the most wonderful father, Wade tweeted two days later, “I’ve seen some post-thanksgiving hate on social about my family photo. Stupidity is a part of this world we live in — so I get it. But here’s the thing — I’ve been chosen to lead my family not y’all. So we will continue to be us and support each other with pride, love & a smile.”

As the Wade-Union family continues their journey, I believe they exemplify the standard for good parenting. Anyone can be a parent, but if you set conditions on the love that you have for your children, you are failing them whether they adhere to your standards or not.

A parent should advocate for their children and make them feel comfortable and confident in being themselves in whatever form that takes. Too often, we see parents who express their love and care for their child until the child embodies someone or something that they do not understand or choose to agree with. If your love for your children is conditional, perhaps you should reconsider your decision to be a parent because frankly, you’re doing it wrong.

People are never too young to explore themselves. At any age, we know who we are and should never be doubted when it comes to how we choose to express it.

Zaya, who came to her parents at the age of 12 and stated that she was ready to take on the challenge of becoming the gender that felt most natural to her, was met with nothing but true love and kindness. This is what all children deserve to experience when they learn to be who they truly are.

Though they may continue to face a heartbreaking amount of backlash, the Wade-Union’s are an example to all families that to truly love your child, you have to respect them too.

Ali Kochik is a second-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in journalism. AK908461@wcupa.edu

Leave a Comment