Zaya Wade, the 15-year-old transgender daughter of former pro basketball player Dwyane Wade and stepdaughter of his current wife, the actress and activist Gabrielle Union, was born a male named Zion and came out as trans in 2020. Since then, Zaya (who has more than 600,000 Instagram followers) has appeared at catwalk shows, modeled in fashion campaigns, and even photographed her own stepmother for the cover of Self magazine.
Zaya, to borrow a phrase from the younger generation, is getting paid. But is she being pressured by her father to medically transition to female in order to get paid even more? Her mother, Siohvaughn Funches-Wade, thinks so and is suing Dwyane Wade to prevent Zaya from legally changing her name and undergoing gender-reassignment surgery until she turns 18.
Legal challenges to the transitions of minors have already been waged, and Zaya Wade is not the first transgender child of a celebrity couple. (Cher and Sonny Bono’s son, Chaz, is trans, and so is Warren Beatty and Annette Bening’s son Benjamin, among others.) But Funches-Wade v. Wade marks what is likely the first time that a famous family has ended up in court over the issue. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for December 12.
According to court documents, Funches-Wade has “concerns that [Wade] may be pressuring our child to move forward with the name and gender change in order to capitalize on the financial opportunities that he has received from companies.” Trans social-media stars like TikToker Dylan Mulvaney, who has partnered with major brands such as Crest, Instacart, and Ulta Beauty, can now pull in well into six figures annually through endorsements across their various platforms. Dwyane Wade, according to the New York Post, is already brokering deals on Zaya’s behalf with consumer giants such as Disney.
Although Wade, who has primary custody of Zaya, has categorically denied his ex-wife’s allegations, Funches-Wade v. Wade could potentially have Roe v. Wade–size implications. Much of this has to do with the Biden administration’s support for gender-affirming treatment. More than pronouns, or L.G.B.T.Q.+ library books, or gender-neutral bathrooms, surgery for young people has become a lightning-rod issue in America—and even within the trans movement.
For proponents of treatment for teens, the issue is literally a matter of life or death. As they see it, aligning the physical bodies of trans young people with their gender identities is crucial to preventing stigma, depression, and suicide—all of which transgender youth suffer at disproportionately higher rates. According to a recent report by the Trevor Project, for instance, nearly half of all transgender and non-binary youth have considered suicide in the past year, and young transgender men are almost four times more likely than their cis-gender counterparts to have attempted suicide in the past year.
Opponents, however, insist that minors are too young to make medical choices that are often irreversible and potentially dangerous. What’s more, academics such as Nicholas Kardaras, author of Digital Madness: How Social Media Is Driving Our Mental Health Crisis—and How to Restore Our Sanity, argue that a deluge of trans-focused social-media content has created a type of “social contagion” that encourages merely gender-curious young people to become convinced that they are transgender. And though there aren’t many reliable statistics, some of them have since “detransitioned.”
More than pronouns, or trans-focused library books, or gender-neutral bathrooms, surgery for young people has become a lightning-rod issue in America.
Teenager Chloe Cole, for instance, told the New York Post how exposure to “a ton of LGBT content” online helped spur her eventual transition from female to male—including hormone shots and a double mastectomy that have left her chest permanently scarred and her long-term fertility in doubt. Five years later, Cole, who grew up in Northern California, chose to “detransition.” Stories such as Cole’s illustrate why many on the right—and some on the left—believe that with teens required to obtain parental consent for a nose job, they should need it for gender-affirming surgeries as well.
Although the number of teens seeking gender-affirming surgery remains relatively small (last year, fewer than 5,000 young people in the U.S. received hormone therapy, and fewer than 300 underwent breast-removal, or “top,” surgery, according to Reuters), the number of trans teens is rising steeply. A June 2022 report from the Williams Institute, at U.C.L.A. School of Law, estimates that roughly 300,000 youth aged 13 to 17 identify as transgender—double the figure from 2017.
Wade and Union have been very public about their support for Zaya, wrapping it tidily into their larger brand of progressive, intersectional, social-justice-tinged activism. The couple is unapologetically woke. Which means that if the Wades do go to trial, the case is almost fated to become a political litmus test for both the left and the right. And, really, how could it not? Thanks to Biden’s championing of gender-affirming care and Wade and Union’s penchant for promotion, lines will be drawn and sides will be taken. Even though, as with abortion, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle.
Zaya Wade is one kid, but she’s become a battleground in a broader culture war.
David Kaufman is a New York City–based editor and writer