“What’s the point of being on this earth if you’re going to try to be someone you’re not?” – Zaya Wade
I felt a true form of Black joy this past week when I watched Zaya Wade speak her truth. She’s the daughter of the legendary actress, Gabrielle Union, and former NBA player, Dwayne Wade. On February 11th, during an interview on the Ellen Degeneres Show, Dwayne shared with the world that his daughter’s name is now Zaya and her pronouns are she/her.
Later that same day, Zaya’s mom posted a video of her where she shared some powerful words with her dad. I admire Zaya’s power of knowing who she is and being able to express that to the world in the face of racism, homophobia, and now the transphobia that this 12-year-old has faced by thousands of people online. This is a courageous act of bravery. Of love.
What really stood out to me about this situation is how supportive and understanding her parents and siblings are. Coming out — or deciding not to — is a difficult thing for the vast majority of queer and trans people, because the announcement is not always met with acceptance. LGBTQ+ youth, especially young transgender folks of color, are disproportionately abused, kicked out and left houseless because their families disown them. So when Dwayne Wade said, “Me and my wife… we are proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community. And we’re proud allies as well. And we take our roles and our responsibilities as parents very seriously,” during his Ellen interview, it felt radical to me. When queer and trans people are able to stand up and defend themselves, it’s powerful but it also sets a great example for people outside of the community to proudly provide support as well.
In addition to that, Zaya’s brother, Zaire, posted a heartwarming Instagram post dedicated to his little sister. He states, “I’ve told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth. I don’t care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there’s no love lost on this side.” Bring out the tissues right now; I’m completely in my feelings!
In all seriousness, public examples of unfiltered acceptance and love for Black folks are what we need to see on a regular basis and practice in all of our lives. I want to clarify that I do not identify as transgender or non-binary and do not claim these identities in any form. However, I do know that Black trans women are disproportionately victims of intra-communal violence and hate. I do hear how some Black people, from elders to kids, degrade LGBTQ+ folks — especially trans folks. The transphobic aggressions that Black trans women face, both systemically and personally, are not few or far-between. This is definitely not a problem that is unique to just the Black community but happens to people within all racial groups.
This opens up the larger issue of highlighting the intersections of problems within communities. We desperately need the privileged (yes, cisgender heterosexual men and women of color, you do have privilege) to lift up those who are more marginalized and silenced. We need to pay attention to all issues pertaining to gaining power by centering those within the community who have the least power.
That is why seeing an example of Black heterosexual, cisgender folks fully accepting and loving their Black trans family member is so beautiful to me. They are setting an example for families to listen to one another. To take the time to educate themselves. To have an open mind. They are proudly sharing their journey of growing as a family and loving each other unconditionally through this process. As a community as a whole, I believe Black folks need to look at the ways in which we can do better at supporting the marginalized people within our already marginalized community. We have to love one another in celebration of our differences. Black life can’t matter until ALL Black lives matter, including Black trans girls. You are not free until we’re ALL free.