Dwyane Wade‘s 12-year-old daughter Zaya knew from an early age she was different, it just took her father a little longer to catch up.
On Tuesday, the retired NBA star opened up to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America about how he and his family are supporting Zaya, who recently revealed she identifies as female.
In their candid chat, Wade revealed that Zaya — who he shares with ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches — had long been aware of her gender identity.
“She’s known it for nine years. She’s known since she was three years old,” Wade, 38, said. “Along this way we’ve asked questions and we’ve learned. But she’s known.”
Asked how long he’s known, Wade said that he was keenly conscious in the beginning of one thing and one thing only: that he needed to confront some of his own biases and open himself up to his child’s feelings.
“I knew early on that I had to check myself,” he explained. “That’s what I knew. I knew early on that I had to ask myself questions.”
“I’ve been a person in a locker room that has been a part of the conversation that has said the wrong phrases and the wrong words myself,” Wade continued. “As I got older and I watched my daughter grow, I had to go and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Who are you? What are you going to do if your child comes home and says, “Dad, I’m not a boy … I’m a trans girl.” What are you going to do?’ That was my moment of real.”
Part of the reason why Wade turned inward was because he hadn’t ever had anyone else in his life come out “as gay, as trans, as anything.”
“My daughter was my first interaction when it comes to having to deal with this conversation,” Wade said. “Hopefully I’m dealing with it the right way. Some people feel that I’m not. But inside our home, we see the smile on her face. We see the confidence that she’s able to walk around and be herself. And that’s when you know you’re doing right.”
The athlete told Roberts that Zaya actually helped educate Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union, 47, on what it means to be transgender, after doing the research herself.
“She is our leader,” Wade said. “I think when the conversation we had — the one thing about it, for parents, is have conversations with your kids. Zaya, early on, knew two things. She knew straight and she knew gay. But Zaya started doing more research.”
He continued, “She is the one who sat down with us as a family and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think I’m gay.’ And she went down the list. ‘This is how I identify myself, this is my gender identity, I identify myself as a young lady. I think I’m a straight trans because I like boys.’ So it was a process for us to sit down with our daughter and find out who she is and what she likes, and not put something on her.”
“As parents, we put our hopes and we put our fears on our kids,” he said. “With Zaya, we decided to listen to her. And she’s walking us on the journey.”
“I’m not going to sit here and act like we have all the answers,” Wade shared. “I’m not going to sit here and act like before our child sat us down that we weren’t ignorant parents. When I say we’re learning from our 12-year-old, we’re literally learning from our child.”
Wade — who is also dad to Kaavia James, 15 months, Xavier Zechariah, 6, and Zaire Blessing Dwyane, 18, as well as the guardian of nephew Dahveon Morris, 18 — said Zaya is a part of his new documentary, D.Wade: Life Unexpected.
He told Roberts on Tuesday that he struggled about how much he wanted to talk about Zaya in the documentary, recognizing that the move would be a “big conversation” and would open Zaya and their family up to criticism.
“We struggled with what people would say about a 12-year-old making a decision about her life,” Wade said. “But we also know our child, right?”
Ultimately, he saw the move as a chance to help others going through something similar.
“One thing we do know as a family, we’ve been through so many different things that other people and other families go through and they say, ‘Thank you guys for speaking out on it. Thank you guys for being the face and the voice of it because we can’t,’ ” Wade said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do. We know there’s other families out there that’s dealing with their kid, finding themselves and learning who they are.”
His biggest advice for those families? “Have an open mind,” Wade said. “Go out and research, ask your child, ask other people questions about this. Because this conversation is real. Our 12-year-old deals with this every day. This is her life. This is no game to us. We’re about protecting her heart, we’re about protecting her joy, and to do that, we have to support them.”
Speaking of protecting her, Wade said on GMA that his whole family has been showering Zaya with love throughout every step of her self-discovery journey.
“Our family, we love. We’re imperfect but we love each other for who we are and whatever we’re going to become in life,” Wade said. “I think we understand that we have to protect each other. We get amazing support from people. We get a lot of hate from people. But along the way, inside, together, we as the Wade family, we have to be the ones to have each other’s back. For us it was important that Zaya understood that her family has her back.”
As for how she is handling everything now that it’s public, Wade says Zaya is focusing on what’s important: her schoolwork.
“She’s a kid that wants to focus on school,” he laughed. “Today she has a mock trial at school that she’s stressing about. And she’s like, ‘Dad, I came out to everyone cause I wanted to be me. And I’m thankful that I’m able to be me, but I need to focus on my trial at school.’ She’s focused. I think for her and myself and my wife and my family, we love the fact that she doesn’t have to hide who she is.”
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