In a new interview with Good Morning America, the 38-year-old athlete opened up about how Zaya (whom he shares with ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches) told him about her gender identity, his own journey accepting the concept and being educated by Zaya after starting out as an “ignorant” parent.
“She’s known it for nine years,” Wade revealed. “She’s known since she was three years old. Along this way, we’ve asked questions and we’ve learned. But she’s known.”
Wade added that it wasn’t until Zaya, who previously went by the name Zion, did her own research that she helped educate Wade, who hadn’t experienced anyone close to him coming out “as gay, as trans, as anything.” The experience is chronicled in his new ESPN documentary, D. Wade: Life Unexpected.
“Zaya, early on, knew two things -- she knew straight and she knew gay,” he said. “But Zaya started doing more research. 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,” continued Wade, who is married to actress Gabrielle Union. “As parents, we put our hopes and we put our fears on our kids. 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. 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.”
While Zaya knew she was different from an early age, Wade indicated that he sensed long ago that he should prepare to deal with her choices, whatever they may be. Mentioning locker room culture, he explained that throughout his sporting career, he had been guilty of holding conversations and attitudes that wouldn’t have necessarily supported Zaya’s choices.
“I knew early on that I had to check myself,” he said. “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.”
“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?’” he continued. “That was my moment of real.”
“Hopefully I’m dealing with it the right way,” he also said during the interview, which aired on ABC on Tuesday morning. “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.”
Amid that natural parenting self-doubt, Wade said he questioned sharing Zaya’s journey in his documentary and wondered “what people would say about a 12-year-old making a decision about her life.” However, ultimately he recognized an opportunity to help other families experiencing similar situations.
He echoed those sentiments while talking with ET at the premiere of D. Wade: Life Unexpected last week.
“We're not the only family that deals with all the things we've spoken about. We're not the only family that had to deal with surrogacy, to bring our daughter into the world," Wade began, referencing his and Union's struggle to welcome their baby girl, Kaavia. "We're not the only family that's had to deal with gender expression, gender identity, sexuality, with their child."
"We understand the position we've been put in, especially in our community, and even though it's not always a popular thing to speak out on issues that people are uncomfortable with or not as educated on, this is the platform that God gave me and my family," he explained. "So, we use it."
Wade also shared that Zaya’s journey was helping him become the man he has always "dreamed" of becoming.
"For me, it's always about being able to adapt and being able to learn, and always being able to grow," he explained. "I think coming from the inner city of Chicago early on, I was kind of closed-minded on a lot of things. And I've been with my wife, traveling the world, meeting people, going to different places, I've learned to keep my mind open, keep my eyes open, keep my heart open, keep my thoughts open. That's what I've been trying to do as I'm growing into the man that I've always dreamed of becoming.”
Wade also has an 18-year-son, Zaire, with Funches; a 6-year-old son, Xavier, with ex Aja Metoyer; and 1-year-old daughter, Kaavia, with Union, his wife of five years. He is also the guardian of his 18-year-old nephew, Dahveon Morris.
In his documentary, Wade discussed welcoming Xavier while he was on a break from Union.
"I had a child with someone else and I had to tell her,” he shared. “Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is man up and tell Gabrielle Union that I’ve had a child with somebody else. I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t eating."
"When you hold something in that you know is going to come out and you have this information and you know it’s gonna f**k somebody’s life up, that you care about, that you love, if it don’t hurt you, then you’re not human," Wade continued. "Me and Gab just went through something that you never want to go through and we still came out of it."
See more on Wade and Union below.