Taken from the spring 2023 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here.
Zaya Wade, a girl whose very public transition at the tender age of 12 became an emblem of living in one’s truth, is the future. The second child of former NBA Player Dwayne Wade and stepdaughter of actress and author Gabrielle Union has already become an activist, fashion darling and, now, cover girl.
Wade and Union have been fierce supporters of Zaya and have shown the world the magic that can happen when you cover your children in unconditional love and support. When they needed more information, they reached out to the cast of Pose. When Union took her stepdaughter to her first Pride event in 2021, Zaya wound up riding on a Bring It On-themed float with friends and family in tow. Through it all, they have been unwavering champions of her becoming. To see two Black cultural figures support their trans daughter is undeniably powerful.
In a moment when the American right is working overtime to push life-threatening bills targeting trans youth, stories like Zaya’s become imperative. To see her flourish and have autonomy over her life is a joy to witness. When we allow children the space to be themselves, it doesn’t mean that their lives are automatically a breeze or that they instantly get the answers to the Sats. What it does mean is that when they come home, no matter what strife is in the world, they come home to a foundation rooted in love. And that is a mighty ground to stand on.
Watching the Wades send Zaya off to winter formal was a win, because she is getting to bask in the teenage experience she deserves. And let me ask you a question, how many other 15-year-old girls are giving fash-un like she did that night? Pulling up to the function in a floor-length white-sequinned Rodarte gown? Sounds iconic to me!
One of the most exciting parts of her journey is watching Zaya fall in love with clothes. When she made her solo front-row debut at the Miu Miu spring 2023 show, it was clear that a star was emerging in front of our eyes. Her hair in a bob with the perfect flip, she was clad in a cropped, frayed denim jacket, plaid brown miniskirt and white penny loafers – all in head-to-toe Miu Miu, including their signature matelassé bag. The budding fashionista stole the show and, quite frankly, ate the girls up.
What strikes me most in talking to Zaya is her wisdom and her ginormous heart. She is committed to using her platform to better this world for her community. Her voice is commanding, and her style is sickening. Baby, this is Zaya Wade.
Hi Zaya! Thank you so much for doing this. First of all, you looked so magnificent and angelic at your winter formal in January. How is high school going?
Zaya Wade: Really good! I was really scared in middle school to go to high school, but I’m loving it. I’m loving my classes and my school. It is such an amazing opportunity to have this work-life balance.
It’s so special: you get to be in algebra one day and then do shoots on the weekend. You are a fashion icon and activist, but you are still just 15. What are the activities that bring you the most joy?
Zaya Wade: Reading. Probably just talking to my friends, having fun and sleep!
Mood! Watching you experiment with fashion and consistently shut down the ’gram has been such a joy to see. That Coperni moment on Instagram the other day was *chef’s kiss*. Can you talk to me about your relationship with fashion and how it has strengthened your identity?
Zaya Wade: My relationship with fashion has really evolved over the years. It started out as, “Oh, my parents are super fashionable, and I want to dress up and be as fashionable as them.” But, as time has passed and I’ve become more integrated into the fashion world, it’s become a really important part of expressing myself and my identity. Whether I’m wearing a dress for winter formal or wearing a suit for a shoot, it’s just a way to level up my iconic-ness, I feel.
Who are some of your fashion inspirations?
Zaya Wade: Aside from my parents, I’m going to choose a model, Anok Yai.
Zaya Wade: Black Queen! She’s amazing; she is definitely top three for me.
One thousand per cent. Can you tell us what are some of your favourite fashion brands right now?
Zaya Wade: As I’ve been growing into my understanding of the fashion world, I’ve definitely grown to love Miu Miu – I’m obsessed. I’d say Puma is a classic; I have loved it since before I was a part of [the fashion] world. And I love Tiffany & Co. I love a good Tiffany bracelet; it can always [help you] stunt on everyone.
And that shoot you did for Tiffany – let’s talk about a stunt…
Zaya Wade: Right!
That’s what I call a moment! I want to talk to you about beauty for a minute. Your stepmum, Gabrielle Union, is a beauty icon for Black girls everywhere, but she is also an activist. What has she taught you about beauty and self-love?
Zaya Wade: The lesson has changed over time, but more recently it’s that beauty is in yourself. It’s about being you and expressing yourself the way you want to. She tries to teach me that beauty standards are arbitrary and that they don’t mean anything. They don’t matter any more; what people thought was the standard is not. And just that being myself is the best technique out there.
I think that’s such a great mindset to have so young because as soon as you can say, ‘Those beauty standards are not my business, they are a you problem, not a me problem,’ your life becomes so much more enriched.
Zaya Wade: Yes!
When do you feel most empowered?
Zaya Wade: When my family surrounds me. They are such a giant support system and have always been there for me. No matter what happens, I feel strongest when I’m with them.
Watching your family support you and show unconditional love has been beautiful to see. I love how they’ve said they don’t have all the answers but they’re committed to learning. Could you talk about learning and growing as a family?
Zaya Wade: So many big changes have happened over the last couple of years with me, but also just in general. I think it’s not my job, but it’s my honour to continue and further my family’s education and appreciation for the entire LBGTQ+ community as we grow together. As our understanding of acceptance has broadened over the past couple of years, we have made the strides to keep ourselves educated and combat the ignorance.
“Fashion has become an important part of my identity. Whether I’m wearing a dress for winter formal or a suit for a shoot, it’s just a way to level up my iconic-ness” – Zaya Wade
Period, and doing it stunningly. What has it been like growing up in the public eye for you?
Zaya Wade: There are some highs and some lows. I mean, a lot of attention equals a lot more hate, a lot of transphobia, and [there is] a lot of pressure on me, but I’m also able to reach more people. The positives of having such an inclusive platform completely outweigh all of the negativity online, which my support system has enabled me to filter out. It has allowed me to let in the positivity and distribute it to all of the trans people in the world who need a voice and give them a platform to get inspired to live with themselves without being afraid.
You talked a bit about the internet. How do you enforce boundaries on social media, and what does self-care look like to you?
Zaya Wade: I tend not to interact with social media in an excessive way. Boundaries are super healthy. On Instagram, I have a filtered comment section so only the people I trust and love and know love me can comment and share positivity, because unnecessary negativity causes stress. Stress gives you acne and wrinkles, and no one likes that! No one has time for that. Emotionally, [it’s about] knowing that if you are going to put yourself in a situation where you get hate, you should take yourself out of it, or at least have emotional support from friends and family.
Protecting your space is crucial. You interviewed former first lady Michelle Obama, what was that like?
Zaya Wade: I mean, it was Michelle Obama! It was crazy even to get the opportunity, it was such a privilege and an honour to even be considered for the interview. Then to be there and see Michelle Obama, and talk to her, was so inspiring. I was so nervous the whole time but it was such an amazing experience.
It was so good. You inspire people of all ages to live their truth. I know you are young and still figuring it out, but what advice would you give anyone looking to live a more authentic life?
Zaya Wade: I would say to protect your peace. Discovering that part of yourself and then having the courage to share it is stressful in itself. It’s a lot of stress, pressure and tension. [You should] recognise that you have gone through a life-changing experience and that you deserve peace. You deserve a moment – multiple moments – to step back and take some time to sit with yourself, and in any manner of way just escape negativity as much as you can. I know people have many different circumstances, and I am privileged to have so many people [who] are really in my favour. There are people who don’t [have that], and that’s why I try to give a message of hope to let people know there are others out there who can really just help them protect their peace.
That’s so beautiful. Even in how you speak, you take your experience and try to make the world a better place for others; you are a role model. What does that title mean to you?
Zaya Wade: It means to me that I’m a microphone. I am my own person and I have my own experiences, but for me, as a role model, I try to use my personal experience to broadcast the positives and also the negatives in life, because a lot of LGBTQ+ youth go unrecognised in every way. I think I am here to share those experiences: to voice them, but also to enhance them. So the world can know, ‘We are here, we are queer, we are here to stay, and we aren’t going anywhere.’
I thought it could be amazing for you to answer some questions from young members of the trans and gender non-conforming community. I have a few questions for you from young trans people, most of whom are from communities around two amazing organisations in the UK, Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence.
Zaya Wade: Let’s do it.
The first is from Willow Killeen, 22 (she/her): ‘Have you ever felt the sensation of magic, and how did it feel?’
Zaya Wade: YES! My first experience of magic was laying down my first wig, rocking out a good pump and saying, “I’m here.” I was able to see myself in a way I had always wanted to see myself. It felt amazing: so new, unfiltered and raw. It was really impactful and emotional as well.
Not me crying, OK? Here’s one from Cait, 18 (they/he): ‘What or who do you turn to for sanctuary when things get overwhelming?’
Zaya Wade: Who: I would say my friends and family. Having a big support system is so helpful. They will calm you down and [give you] a [greater] point of view, because it’s all about perception. Being able to perceive life in a different way can help better the situation. Or at least go at it head-on with a different point of view. As for what: books, whether fiction or non-fiction literature, have been everything to me for the longest time. It’s a space you can retreat to; you can really be yourself and find characters who reflect you and your experiences.
“I think I am here to share [my] experiences: to voice them, but also to enhance them. So the world can know, ‘We are here, we are queer, we are here to stay, and we aren’t going anywhere’” – Zaya Wade
Reading can help take your mind off you are going through, too, which is fab. This one is from Jamie, 20 (he/him): ‘What’s the one thing you wish all younger trans kids knew?’
Zaya Wade: You’re not alone! There are so many people out there. I wish I knew that as a kid because I felt so isolated, thinking there was no one else like me. And the percentage of trans adults versus trans children is such a wide difference. [When you’re] a child at school you’re like, “I’m trans, and I don’t see many trans people, so I feel isolated, I feel different from anyone.” But that is not the only community. There are thousands of communities waiting [for you], and the trans community is forever growing. Even if you can’t have direct contact with them, just seeing their experience is so accessible because of social media. Other people can inspire you.
Here’s a question from Luan, 19 (he/him): What item would you choose to show an element of trans joy? How would you explain its significance?
Zaya Wade: I would choose an origami folding crane, because it not only represents how multifaceted our community is, but it also holds many many years of culture within it. Even if it’s hard to understand, in the end, it’s a beautiful thing.
Finally, this one is sent in from Gendered Intelligence. ‘How can I support my friend who has come out as trans?’
Zaya Wade: Oh, easy! This knowledge is from my best friend, who supported me in so many ways. The easiest [way] is just to be there. It is so easy to be there, as a shoulder to cry on or even as a sounding board. There are other ways, too, like researching. A lot of people don’t know what it means to be trans, and even if they do, they don’t know what it means to that specific person. Learn about your friend: they are different, and they are so much more. Also, there are a lot of new fears they could have. Just be there to support them through anything: negativity, transphobic hate, but also the fear of coming out to people they love, [which] can be so stressful. To have someone who is like, ‘I got you’ is priceless.
Phenomenal. They will be so happy to hear those answers. I have a little lightning round of questions to finish off. If you could have one designer do your prom dress, who would it be? I’m all about the power of manifestation.
Zaya Wade: One designer? I feel like I have two.
You can do an outfit change!
Zaya Wade: I have two proms, so for one I would say Miss Prada, but also Valentino. If I had a Valentino personally designed dress, I would die!
And you look amazing in Valentino, so let’s put it into the universe.
Zaya Wade: Yes, manifesting.
What do you want to achieve in 2023?
Zaya Wade: I want to do more for my community. I went through a journey of self-discovery, and even though I am a voice, there is so much more I can do. I’m a teenager, so there are limitations, but I want to push past that to set the foundation for those in need. This year I plan to do more and be there for people like me.
You turn 16 in May. If you have a Sweet 16, who would you want to perform?
Zaya Wade: Oh, easy, SZA. Princess Solána, she’s an icon. I have been obsessed with her since forever, since pre-CTRL, so I’m an OG. That would be a breathtaking experience.
What is one mantra you live by?
Zaya Wade: I’m me, and not a single person on this planet can change me.
And that’s that! My last question for you is this. This issue is about the future: what excites you most about the future, and what are your dreams?
Zaya Wade: All the possibilities. There is so much in the future that can be done, so much that can be changed. It’s inspiring to know that we are a new generation. Gen Z is so special. As I am getting older and I’m realising more about this world, I think this generation that’s up and coming is everything. Being able to educate the next generation so they can educate the next generation. We can make strides to normalise acceptance through education.
Hair MILES JEFFRIES at THE WALL GROUP using ORIBE, make-up DANA DELANEY at THE WALL GROUP using M.A.C, set design PATIENCE HARDING at NEW SCHOOL, photographic assistant FALLOU SECK, styling assistant GEMMA VALDES-JOFFROY, hair assistant JABARI MALCOLM LOGAN, set design assistants AALIYAH DOMINGUEZ, BIANKA BASIC, production ICE STUDIOS, executive talent consultant GREG KELENSTEIN