Hanne Gaby Odiele, a Belgian top model who has worked with designer brands such as Alexander Wang, Chanel and Dior, has revealed that she is intersex. In an interview with USA Today, the 29-year-old said, “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo.” Additionally, she announced that she will be teaming up with InterACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of intersex individuals.
According to the United Nations, approximately 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits; however it is not something that is commonly or publicly talked about. Odiele is one of the first high-profile people to come out as intersex, and she is hoping she can help open dialogues about it. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this," she says.
Odiele was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, which means that she had XY chromosomes and internal, undescended testes. At the age of ten, her parents strongly encouraged her to undergo surgery to get these testes removed, warning her that she could get cancer and would be unable to generally develop “as a normal, female girl.” She recalls, “I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period. I knew something was wrong with me.”
A child is not capable of making a decision that crucial. Oftentimes children are forced into the surgeries, without giving consent or fully understanding the consequences and severity of such a procedure. In many cases, these surgeries are not even a medical necessity; they are simply performed so that the intersex child can appear to be “more male” or “more female.” Organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization have already designated these surgeries as “human rights violations.” Odiele claims that she is proud to be intersex, “but very angry that these surgeries are still happening.”
Odiele’s story is not uncommon. Kimberly Zieselman, the executive director of interACT, had a similar experience at the age of 40, when she obtained her medical records. The surgery that she thought she had to remove a partially formed uterus and ovaries that could become cancerous was actually to remove her internal, undescended testes. However, in this situation, Zieselman’s parents were unaware of what was happening, as the hospital performing the operation blindly led them with the same misconceptions.
Odiele's proud husband spoke on the topic, saying, “I am very impressed with her decision to advocate for intersex children in order to give them an opportunity to make up their own minds about their bodies, unlike the lack of options and information Hanne and her family (and many others) were given.”
Let's hope that Odiele’s brave announcement spurs some healthy conversation about this taboo topic.