Every baby is a bundle of personality traits, all in one sweet-smelling package. When you hold a newborn, it’s hard not to get lost in all the wonderful future possibilities. Maybe she’ll be brave and dedicate her life to fighting fires, or maybe he’ll be passionate about helping others and become a teacher. But no one can truly predict who their child will become, not even celebrities.
You want your child’s unique traits to serve them well in the real world, but what happens when who they are threatens the status quo? Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union answered this question themselves when their daughter informed them that what made her different was more ingrained than anyone knew.
By now, Dwyane Wade has established himself as more than a legendary NBA star. He’s had his own line of sneakers, he’s a life-long church-goer, and he’s passionate about being a philanthropist. More than anything, though, he’s dedicated to being a father.
Dwyane has been vocal about his dedication to fatherhood and how parenting isn’t always an exact science. “When a kid is born, they don’t come out with a pamphlet that’s like, ‘Okay, these are the directions for this kid,’” Dwyane once said.
His goal with raising his kids is similar to that of many parents. “You try to help raise someone who’s good and kind and just characteristics that you want your kids to hopefully have,” he added. However, this philosophy was put to the test in 2007.
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Jacobs
Dwyane is notoriously private about his family life. He married his high school girlfriend in 2002, but things soon went sour. Starting in 2007, he fought with the court for custody of his two kids. It was the courtroom battle that would seemingly never end…
But in 2010, Wade was granted custody of his kids. From then on, the dad focused on being there for them while being a pro basketball star. This was a fine, balanced way to live…but it all changed when he met Gabrielle Union.
After meeting in 2008, he knew he’d found the love of his life. The pair were married in 2014, and Gabrielle became a step-mother to Dwyane’s now-four children, one of whom is actually his nephew. Still, they dreamed of the pitter-patter of little feet….
And in 2018, Dwyane and Gabrielle announced that after years of miscarriages, the two had finally welcomed a baby daughter into their family with the help of a surrogate. Everything back in balance, family life continued as usual — until 2019.
Dwyane retired from the NBA after 16 years and spent as much time as he could with his five kids and wife. Having their dad back home for good should have been a joyous occasion for the Wade family, but one member was struggling more than anyone knew.
His daughter, Zaya, had always known that she was different, but it was something she chose to keep to herself and away from the public. As the 12-year-old got older, however, she knew it was time to ask her father and stepmother a fateful question.
“When our child comes home with an issue…it’s our job as parents to listen to that, to give them the best information we can,” Dwyane explained. For him and Gabrielle, understanding Zaya’s question meant going all the way back to 2008, when Zaya was born.
When Zaya was born, she went by another name entirely: Zion. Just like Zaya, Zion was outgoing, spunky, and full of life. The only difference between the two? Zion was a boy, and was referred to as such by everyone she knew.
The problem was, Zion was only a boy on the outside. On the inside, Zion was undisputedly, without-a-doubt, 100% a girl — AKA, Zaya. Zaya had always known she was a girl; it was just a matter of updating the world. Her first step was to tell her parents.
“Our 12-year-old came home and said, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you guys. I think going forward I’m ready to live my truth. I want to be referenced as she and her, I would love for you guys to call me Zaya,’” Dwyane shared on Ellen. This would come as a shock to any parent…
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Especially for Dwyane, who had always been vocal about his upbringing in the Catholic church, which has famously strict rules about one’s sexual and gender identity. From the moment he heard his daughter’s proclamation, he knew exactly how he had to respond.
I looked at her and said, ‘You are a leader,’” he revealed. “Now it’s [he and Gabrielle’s] job to go out and get information…to make sure that we give our child the best opportunity to be her best self,” Dwyane said. This meant doing some extensive research…
He and Gabrielle gathered research about what it means to be transgender from everywhere they could, including from the cast of the TV show Pose, which is made up of primarily queer and transgender performers. Still, the parents couldn’t pretend they weren’t a little nervous.
“You’re afraid because you don’t want to mess up; you don’t want anything to happen to them,” Dwyane said of the toughest part of parenting. It’s no secret that despite how far the U.S. has come, it can still be a scary place for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
So for the time being, Dwyane and Gabrielle will be advocates for Zaya as she grows up, hopefully as far from the public’s prying eye as possible. “Right now, it’s through us, because she’s 12 years old, but eventually, it will be through her,” he told Ellen.
Gabrielle has made her own pride for Zaya clear on Instagram, where she wrote that it’s “OK to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are.” When asked what her advice is to people facing judgement for their own identities, Zaya had a wise-beyond-her-years response.
“What’s the point of being on this Earth if you’re going to try to be someone you’re not?” Zaya told Dwyane in a rare video of the pair posted to Instagram. For her and her parents, it all comes down to one thing.
Pride! “When you can look in the mirror and say ‘hi’ to yourself, like, ‘Nice to meet you,’” is the moment, Zaya explained, when someone in the LGBTQ+ community feels the most free. But every kids’ journey is different, even when they’re part of Hollywood’s first family.
When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt first announced their relationship, the world was obsessed with two things: Their unparalleled beauty, and what the heck their children would look like. Even just glancing at the stars, this question was understandable.
After all, they were known as the most beautiful people in Hollywood, and their offspring were sure to carry on their legacy. Because of this, when the couple announced Angelina’s pregnancy in 2006, the news didn’t just travel — it exploded.
People Magazine (2005)
You always wonder who the baby will end up looking like the most — the mother or the father — but this wondering reached astronomical proportions when it came to Shiloh, even with Brangelina doing everything they could to protect her from the spotlight.
But as they knew all too well, the spotlight would be nearly impossible to evade. As Angelina’s due date loomed, the couple made a strategic decision. Giving birth in even the most private of hospital rooms would be too risky…
So they flew to Namibia, where Shiloh was born in May of 2006. Even though the public was ravenous for photos of the little star, Angelina and Brad kept their daughter’s privacy at the forefront — as well as their dedication to human rights.
They combined both of these passions by selling the first pictures of Shiloh with each dollar being donated to UNICEF. And as is now famously known, Brangelina’s family only kept growing.
Even as more kids were adopted into the Jolie-Pitt clan, the spotlight remained on Shiloh. She even made history as the youngest person to have a wax figure created at Madame Tussauds, with the museum calling her “an iconic figure” from birth.
She and her entire family are iconic, especially for their looks, something Angelina herself commented on. “Shiloh looks like Brad,” Angelina once announced. “It’s funny because she’s almost going to be [an] outcast in the family because she’s blonde and blue-eyed.”
Shiloh truly bears a striking resemblance to her father, but genes are only a portion of someone’s identity. As time passed, Brad and Shiloh started to look more and more like each other in a different way.
Dresses just weren’t Shiloh’s red carpet style. She preferred to step out in a dapper tailored suit, surrounded by her smiling parents and siblings. As her red carpet appearances became more frequent, she debuted another change to her appearance.
Instead of rocking her natural blonde waves, she shortened her hair to a traditionally boyish cut. She looked more like Brad — and appeared happier — than ever before…not that the tabloids saw past her unconventional style choices.
Of course, the most engaging headline was also the most damaging. Magazines plastered with “Why Is Angelina Turning Shiloh Into A Boy?” filled grocery store checkout lines, fueling rumors about Angelina’s parenting skills — and Shiloh’s personal gender identity.
The tabloids were opening Shiloh up to ridicule, something Angelina wouldn’t stand for. So the private star did the unthinkable: She opened up to Vanity Fair. Angelina said that Shiloh’s decision to deviate from the norm started way earlier than anyone knew.
At just 3 years old, the famous parents noticed how Shiloh wasn’t drawn to particularly “girly” things, especially clothing. “She likes tracksuits, she likes regular suits,” Angelina said. And according to Angelina, Shiloh’s tomboyishness may not be a phase.
”She wants to be a boy,” Angelina said candidly. “So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything.” Though some people found Angelina’s nonchalance about Shiloh’s choices alarming, she didn’t let that deter her.
In fact, Angelina made a point of mentioning other things about Shiloh that make up her unique personality. “[She’s] goofy and verbal, the early signs of a performer,” Angelina said proudly. Shiloh’s personality has even inspired Angelina’s unconventional parenting style.
”The part of us that is free, wild, open, curious can get shut down by life,” she said. Because of this, she’s made it her mission to encourage anything about her kids that makes them different — from their talents to their identities.
”As parents, we encourage our kids to embrace all that they are, and all that they know in their hearts to be right,” Angelina said. And when Shiloh was just a few years old, she went to her parents with an unusual request.
”She only wants to be called John,” Brad told Oprah in 2008. Some parents would chalk this up to a phase, others would just ignore it, but Brangelina has one goal when it comes to their kids.
”I think my kids need to be able to say, ‘Here’s who I am, and what I believe,’” Angelina said. For the famous mother and daughter, being comfortable with one’s identity is the top priority — and tabloids will never tell the entire story…
“We can’t prevent [kids] from experiencing pain, heartache, physical pain, and loss. But we can teach them to live better through it,” Angelina concluded. The Jolie-Pitt kids were taught to lead with love, a philosophy that will outlast even the harshest tabloid.
And truth be told, the Jolie-Pitt kids have endured a lot over the past few years. The world collectively gasped when the news broke that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were splitting up, but what we didn’t see was the struggle the couple had endured for years.
In her eyes, what would save their marriage was simpler than couple’s counseling. She had a plan, but it meant looking back to the past. And there were moments in her past that were especially painful to revisit…
After disastrous marriages to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton, Angelina Jolie just wanted to raise her newly adopted son, Maddox, and move on with her life and career. But in 2005, she met someone who shook up her entire plan.
“Brangelina” famously began on the set of the film Mr. & Mrs. Smith, where they high-kicked their ways into each other’s hearts. Both of them were gorgeous, international movie stars, so they seemed like the perfect pair. There was just one problem.
Brad was already married to America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. The scandal forced them to keep their relationship private. But after a year, Brangelina had to let the world in on their romance, and for a very obvious reason…
Angelina was pregnant, and Shiloh ended up becoming one of the most famous babies in Hollywood history. By 2008, when Angelina again gave birth, this time to twins, it seemed like Brangelina was as happy as ever.
But all wasn’t as it seemed in the Jolie-Pitt household, as Angelina revealed a year after their divorce. Angelina opened up about how she felt as her marriage fell apart…and the plan she hoped would save their love.
Angelina’s only hope for their relationship was a shared project, the 2015 film By The Sea. “We had met working together and we worked together well,” she said. “I thought it would be a good way for us to communicate.”
But the reviews for By The Sea were not kind, with many critics calling Brad and Angelina, though “dazzlingly gorgeous,” totally devoid of any emotional weight. Their performance as a couple was called “empty,” an opinion that would soon prove to be ironic.
“There was a heaviness probably during that situation that carried on and it wasn’t because of the film,” she said. The couple couldn’t rekindle their love, despite Angelina’s strongest efforts. What’s worse, this “heaviness” didn’t seem to lighten over time.
In fact, the weight had been around for a while. “Over the span of that decade, I did lose my mother,” Angelina pointed out. It only got worse: during her decade-long relationship with Brad, she started contending with serious medical issues.
She found out she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer…so she made a difficult decision. In 2013, Angelina underwent a double-mastectomy. But after such a life changing experience, Angelina did the opposite of what was expected of her.
She spoke candidly about her health, from her personal experience with a double-mastectomy to her 2015 ovarian cancer-prevention surgery that resulted in her inability to have biological children. Angelina’s frankness about her health is credited with redefining standards of beauty for women.
As she contended with serious, life-changing medical issues, she raised six children, focused on humanitarian issues, and maintained what the public saw as a happy relationship with Brad. But all the while, she knew things weren’t right.
“I did have my mastectomy, and I did then have an ovarian cancer scare and have that surgery as well,” she said, confirming her medical problems as relationship-stressors. Still, Angelina hoped that By The Sea, bad reviews and all, would keep them together…
And, though the movie itself was a flop, it did help them come to a decision. “A piece of art can be something that’s healing or something that’s difficult,” she said. “We did communicate something that needed to be communicated to each other.”
See, Angelina considers art to be a “common language,” one shared between people who both love the medium. Perhaps it’s the language she and Brad once shared, but somewhere along the way, things were lost in translation.
The making of By The Sea was a cathartic, but ultimately unsuccessful, experience for the couple, but there was one upside. By speaking this “common language,” Angelina has started to rebuild her relationship with another important man in her life…
Her father, actor Jon Voight. “Through art is a way we’ve been able to talk,” she said of their rocky relationship. And it seems to be doing them a world of good, as she says they’re finding “a new relationship.”
But what exactly she and Brad “communicated to each other,” we may never know. What’s sure is that the two will always hold a special place among Hollywood’s elite power couples. Their chemistry is what made their 2016 separation so unexpected — and so gut-wrenching.