Gabrielle Union Shares Her Most Vulnerable Moments—Including a Life-Changing Misdiagnosis
"One of my biggest fears is not being understood," Gabrielle Union says when asked about the motivation for writing her new book, You Got Anything Stronger? (out September 14). It's a follow-up to her 2017 memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine, and while that book touched on a few personal topics, this latest effort feels exponentially more vulnerable. It's as though the actress is laying herself bare and diving deep into some of her pivotal life moments so that you know exactly who she is.
For example, Gabrielle revisits the sense of loss and trauma she felt after being raped at 19 years of age by an armed assailant in the back room of the shoe store where she worked. She also details her yearslong journey with infertility and her hesitancy before deciding to enlist the help of a surrogate to welcome daughter Kaavia in 2018. And for fans of Gabrielle's star-making role in 2000's Bring It On, there's an entire chapter dedicated to her character.
The 48-year-old is a mother and stepmother to five kids she shares with her husband, former NBA star Dwayne Wade. Along with Kaavia, there's 19-year-old Zaire, 14-year-old Zaya, 7-year-old Xavier, and 19-year-old Dahveon, who is Dwayne's nephew. Together, she and Dwayne have had honest and, at times, difficult conversations with their kids about topics like racism and prejudice. Specifically, she reveals how they've fostered a home filled with love, support, and acceptance for their daughter Zaya, who is transgender.
Throughout the book, you get a true sense of Gabrielle's strength, power, and sensitivity. Here, she talks to Health about sharing so much, so honestly.
What made you want to write a second book?
In writing the first one, there were a lot of chapters that I wrote that I just wasn't ready to share. I realized that some things that I covered in the first book were topics that, especially for women and specifically women of color, make you feel like you're on an island by yourself. And [the book] was creating community. So, after a lot more therapy and my daughter being born, I revisited some of those chapters. I find that the more painfully honest I am, the more impactful I am. You just have to talk about it. And finally I'm ready. I'm as ready as I'm going to be.
You are very candid about your experience with infertility, sharing how many people chalked it up to your age. After years of trying to get pregnant, you were finally diagnosed with adenomyosis, a condition that causes the uterus to thicken and enlarge and can make it difficult to carry a pregnancy to term. Was being misdiagnosed for so long frustrating?
It's maddening. You get so focused on the thing that they're saying that it is, and there's not a lot I can do about being my age. When the reality is, it's something that has nothing to do with that—it's something that's been plaguing me for over 25 years, and no one ever got to that issue. By the time I got the answer, it was just like, "Are you f---ing kidding me?" Then, it went from shock to anger. Rage, really—an all-consuming rage. And then relief that it wasn't me. I felt like there was a thing that I could tag as the problem other than myself.
In the book, you discuss the realities of racism and what your children may face while moving around in the world. How do you talk to them about that?
In some instances, we've had to play catch-up. You want to just try to give them hope, to keep those flames of hope from being extinguished. But we were late. And they were not prepared. The jolt of when you face [racism]—every time, it just feels like you've been electrocuted with a cattle prod—it's beyond alarming. This is especially true when you have hope, and you buy into the American dream of having a good work ethic and just being a good person. You think if you just follow all these rules, there's this promised land of milk and honey. But then [your kids are] like, "I did that. And it's vinegar. You told us…" So, we've had to adjust our approach, especially in the last year.
How have you done that?
With the older kids, we talk about how the world is, I'm not going to say changing, but at least acknowledging certain truths that we've known for the last 400 years. People might say different things, but the proof is always in the pudding. You have to watch their actions. If someone says, "We value diversity," go to their homepage and click on the picture of their board. That will tell you about their commitment to diversity. We teach those lessons to the older boys. With Zaya, it's hard because there's so many roadblocks for her and her life. All we can say is, "We're not going to leave you on the road by yourself. We'll be here. But this is what it is. And it's OK to still be shocked and hurt and surprised when people that you thought you could count on to be better aren't—whether that's teachers, administrators, friends, parents, family members, strangers on the street."
Switching gears, how do you take care of your own mental health?
Therapy. I started maybe four or five days after being raped at 19. I think for everyone, it was about wanting me to be OK as fast as possible. Then, when I went to UCLA, I sought the help of the UCLA Rape Crisis Center. That was my lifeline—you're with people who can relate to everything you're talking about. When my therapist from home knew I was going to college, she told me to go there for resources and said, "Know where it is. Map your route." [On the large UCLA campus], there are tens of thousands of people—it's just full of triggers. So her even telling me how to map out the route that I would walk was helpful.
And you stayed in therapy after college?
When I finished college, that's when you had to get off your parents' insurance. I started acting pretty quickly, so I had to find a therapist in my network. I didn't know you could be specific about the kind of therapist you wanted. For the longest time, I just used therapists that were convenient to my insurance. When I started making more money, I was like, "There aren't enough Black women therapists in my network, and I really want one—I feel like it could make a difference." So I found my therapist who has now been with me for, like, 20 years.
Are there other forms of self-help you participate in?
Oh, yeah. Over the years I went through a phase of just searching for answers, for peace. I finally got confirmed after my divorce from my first husband—I was a fallen Catholic. That was soothing for a while. I've seen psychics to take out some of the guesswork and anxiety about the what-if. Literally anything you can imagine, I have done. Because I realize that there's not one way. It's kind of like every other part of my life. My therapist is awesome, but there have been different times in my life when I felt like there were more answers out there, and I wanted to uncover every stone. And as someone who has the ability to travel the world, I know that answers don't always have to live in the Western world.
You cut your hair right before your cover shoot—what inspired you?
Especially as a Black woman, the length of your hair is somehow tied to your worth and your beauty. Every time I thought, "F--- it, I'll just cut it, it's just hair," that idea of worth would override my wanting to cut. But then I was working on a movie, and my character was coming to peace with who she is, and how she loves, and how she wants to move through the world—and it made me just want to go through with it. If I want to grow it back, cool. If I want to shave it off, awesome. To free myself from the fear that I would be less-than to the world was, well, freeing.
Last question: Do you think you'll write a third book?
I'd love to believe that so many more cool, exciting, thought-provoking things will happen that are worthy of a whole book. My first book was like an eighth-grade graduation. And now I'm like, "All right. I'm graduating from high school. I've learned a lot over the years." So let's see what these next four years bring. If it feels like I'm having profound shifts that are worthy of greater discussion, then I'm totally open to it!
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter