NBA superstar Dwyane Wade is in a legal battle with his ex-wife, Siovaughn Funches-Wade, after she filed an objection to him legally changing their 15-year-old trans daughter’s name to Zaya. Funches-Wade wants to delay the petition until Zaya is 18, according to the filing, which claims 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.”
This excerpt from Funches-Wade’s statement contains in it three fundamental problems with how we treat transitioning, especially of young people. First, it encourages adults to not listen to young people about who they are or what they want to do with their bodies — as though these huge themes that strike at the core of who we are only materialize or are to be believed after people surpass 18, the arbitrary age we’ve chosen to demarcate childhood from adulthood.
Second, and relatedly, it reinforces the idea that self-consent does not matter and that appeasing others to uphold existing power dynamics (both interpersonally and socially) is more important than doing what we want to with our bodies and how we present ourselves. Lastly, it reinforces the incredibly dangerous, flat-out lie that trans people are prone to regret transitioning (I’ll unpack the numbers but, in short, around 98% of trans people are happy they transitioned, and most often find it to be life-affirming).
I write this from personal experience. This year, I came out as trans and will be changing my name. While I’ve publicly only spoken of the joy this change has brought about in my life, I also want the opportunity to discuss the complicated reality of transitioning. Yes, it was one of the most euphoric decisions I ever made. It’s not hyperbole to say coming out felt like being able to properly breathe for the first time. But it was also followed by one of the darkest periods of my life. Not because I had any uncertainty or regret, but because of how people have reacted to my coming out.
It has been the focal point of much online hate in response to my work, with people writing such dehumanizing things to me that I cannot repeat them here. And it’s also generated a lot of upheaval for me, interpersonally; one parent has taken the news well, while the other has taken the news badly and insisted that their resistance to my coming out stems from concern for my well-being and how much harder my life will be. I appreciate that their heart is in the right place and they have made efforts to be proactive about this adjustment, but the hardest part of this experience is their difficulty supporting me.
Earlier this week, they pleaded with me: “I hope you’re not considering making any changes to your body.” They didn’t want me doing anything I might regret later, they said. I’ve already cut off my hair and changed my wardrobe, and I do intend on transitioning more — which brings me to my name. I have asked some people in my life to start calling me by my new name, but have hesitated on making it fully public because I dread having the conversation with my parent — an overdue conversation I’m compelling myself to have by writing this.
My objective here is not to shame anyone but to speak to the challenges of my reality and to share things I wish I and others around me had known before I embarked on this journey. Fundamentally, my parent’s reaction — and any resistance I’ve had from others — fall into one or more of the three buckets I mentioned above.
To the first point about believing people when they assert their identity, I will start by saying that being trans is not easy. This much I’ll concede. I’ve had unpleasant interactions in public toilets; I’ve had people I know well say really inappropriate and strange things to me; this will irrevocably change where I can travel or live; there’s the online harassment; the list goes on.
The more I discover about the trans experience, the more I learn the extent of online harassment and bullying as a near-universal theme. Zaya has a famous parent and her family lives in the spotlight, under intense scrutiny, making her even more vulnerable to attacks and harassment; one can only conclude, then, that she would not “subject herself,” as it were, to such backlash if she didn’t feel more stifled by the alternative. In fact, because of the extent of online harassment and vitriol, Wade disabled the comments on Zaya’s Instagram in September in order to protect her “mental health and privacy.”
That is all to say, you are probably going to be very sure about who you are before going down this road. As I told my parent in one of our fraught conversations on the subject, I would not subject myself to this kind of upheaval if it didn’t feel absolutely necessary (to be clear, it has also brought me an immense amount of joy — I don’t want to diminish that). The idea that a person can be coerced into adopting a different gender identity is in itself condescending, but it’s also nonsensical. I cannot imagine anyone would embark on this journey without utter conviction.
To the second point, when people exhibit resistance to someone transitioning — or to expressing themselves however they want to — it cuts at the heart of our collective murky relationship with consent. The first and most important lesson we can teach young people about consent has to do with self-consent: You should not be forced into doing something that crosses your own boundaries. I was at times forced to dress like a girl as a child, despite my fervid protestations, and then when I dressed like a boy, I was mocked. This is largely what led me to live my life as a woman for 36 years, a role I became particularly good at playing once I hit puberty.
It taught me a lesson I have been trying hard to unlearn: Making people comfortable — meaning behaving in a way that upholds existing power dynamics like gendered roles and my role as a perceived girl within the family — was more important than consenting to what I was doing. If we are trained from the earliest age that upholding (insert dominant group here: cisgender, heteronormative, patriarchal, white supremacist) values is more important than consent, no wonder this is an issue we collectively struggle with on such a profound level.
Lastly, let’s unpack the myth that transitioning is a decision often met with regret, a lie that is particularly powerful in the movement to deny young people gender-affirming health care. Three studies of those who transitioned in the U.K., the Netherlands and Sweden found that 0.47%, 1.9%, and 2%, respectively, regretted transitioning. Conversely, 98-99.53% of the people in those studies were happy with the decision. A study in the U.S. found that 8% detransitioned to some degree, but the vast majority did so out of familial, social or financial constraints. When you control for these, only around 3% expressed any kind of regret.
I can’t think of much in life that people are more sure of. For context, a range of studies show 7-14% of people regret having children, as reported in The Atlantic. Despite this, even in circles that don’t push a hard-line anti-abortion agenda, reproducing is almost always encouraged and celebrated. It is rarely met with any kind of the resistance I have personally encountered over transitioning. All of these arguments against allowing people to identify or present how they want ultimately have to do with a preoccupation with loss. I challenge people to consider transitioning not as the loss of something, but as an opening for possibility.
In defense of his daughter and her decision to change her name, Wade wrote that she’s been forced to navigate “all this unsolicited and harmful attention and debates about her gender and sexuality from those who are committed to not listening to her, much less even knowing her.” Whether you’re interacting with someone who is 6 years old or 60 years old, I implore you to take Maya Angelou’s approach: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” I wish someone had believed me.