Dwyane Wade’s 12-year-old daughter, Zaya, who was assigned the gender of a male at birth, knew from the age of three that she was transgender. The former NBA star revealed during an appearance on “Good Morning America” that Zaya has “known for nine years,” and that she is leading their family on the journey to understanding and educating them on the transgender community. Many suggested that Zaya is too young to identify herself as transgender, but experts have stated otherwise, noting that is it common for children to be aware of gender identity at a young age.
“Based on our knowledge of childhood and adolescent development, we know that most people understand their gender and the gender of those around them between the ages of 3 and 5,” Errol L. Fields, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told NewsOne during a recent phone conversation.
“If their gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth, children may or may not have the words to articulate that difference or fully understand it until adolescence or beyond. Some children are able to express their feelings earlier and others are not. I’ve often had patients whose parents described observing or understanding this difference before their child was able to express it to them and other parents who were completely surprised by their child’s gender identity. There’s a range of experiences and they are all normal.” Fields added.
While on “Good Morning America,” Wade also acknowledged the importance of supporting his daughter, Zaya. “My daughter was my first interaction when it comes to having to deal with this conversation,” he explained. “Hopefully I’m dealing with it the right way. … Inside our home we see the smile on my daughter’s 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.”
Renata Arrington-Sanders, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union’s approach in supporting their daughter is “spot on” and precisely what is required.
“The first step when we’re talking about gender affirmation, it’s really important and critical to support your child, or adolescent, or young adult,” Arrington-Sanders told NewsOne. “Taking the first step of just taking a pause and telling that adolescent, or child, or young adult that you love them, that you’re there for them, that you support them, that you accept them for who they are is really critical.”
Arrington-Sanders went on to explain that it is expected for parents to be concerned about the steps they’re taking to understand their child’s gender identity journey.
“It’s not uncommon for parents to not understand the concept of transgender, or of gender diversity, or something called gender dysphoria – where individuals have internal conflict between their assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. Some questions or concerns may be, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” she said. “But, by taking that first affirmative step to really say to the adolescent, the child or young adult that you’re entirely acceptable to be whoever you are is really critical.”
Arrington-Sanders also said the second step is seeking a facility that will provide the right information as well as identifying resources, websites and experts that will enable parents to better support their child or children.
Wade shed light on that step during a separate interview on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last month.
“First of all, me and my wife, Gabrielle Union, we are proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community and we’re proud allies as well. We take our roles and responsibilities as parents very seriously,” Wade told the talk show hostess. “So, when our child comes home with a question, when our child comes home with an issue, when our child comes home with anything, it’s our job as parents to listen to that to give them the best information that we can, the best feedback that we can, and that doesn’t change because sexuality [and gender] is now involved in it.”
Wade continued: “Once Zaya, our 12-year old came home — first Zion, I don’t know if everyone knows, originally named Zion — Zion born as a boy came home and said ‘hey, so I want to talk to you guys. I think going forward I’m ready to live my truth. And I want to be referenced as she and her. I would love for you guys to call me Zaya.’ And so internally, now is our job to one go out and get information.”
Both Arrington-Sanders and Fields noted that people often conflate gender identity and sexual identity, but there are distinct differences between the two.
“Sexuality and sexual orientation, the concept of sexual orientation really includes attraction, behavior and identity, so that really speaks to who you’re attracted to sexually,” Arrington-Sanders said. “And the larger affiliation group that you identify with, lesbian, gay, bisexual, not including T for transgender, so it really speaks to the sexuality of someone.”
She continued: “Whether or not they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, queer, that’s different from gender identity. Gender identity is really unique in itself and that’s really the identity as a person – a male, or a female, or other, someone’s internal sense of who they are as an individual.”
There is also the case of parents wanting to protect their children from harsh criticism — such as social media, where Rapper Boosie BadAzz recently made disparaging comments about Dwyane Wade embracing Zaya identifying herself as transgender — but as a result, end up preventing their child from being their true authentic self.
There has been very good “data that demonstrates that family acceptance is actually critical to the health of these kids, more than anything else” because it “fosters positive attachment and resilience,” Arrington-Sanders said. That means making sure there is both a balance of ensuring “your health is in order” and that “you and your family are all on one accord in how you’re going to support your child or adolescent.”