Model Hanne Gaby Odiele has revealed that she is intersex, meaning the sex characteristics she was born with, such as genitals or chromosomes, are not in line with the traditional definitions of male or female.


Odiele is part of the 1.7% of the population born with intersex traits in the United States. “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” said the 29-year-old Belgian supermodel. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”


A photo posted by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

Specifically, Odiele was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS, in which a woman has the XY chromosomes typically found in men. She also possessed internal, undescended testes at birth, which her parents were told could cause cancer or her to “not develop as a normal, female girl” if not removed. They were removed when Odiele was 10-years-old.

#tb ⛓

A photo posted by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

“I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period,” the model explained, as she was relatively unaware of the condition and its repercussions at the time of the surgery. At 18, Odiele underwent vaginal reconstructive surgery.

“It’s not that big of a deal being intersex,” she explained. “If they were just honest from the beginning… It became a trauma because of what they did.” Odiele experienced anguish and anxiety because of the two surgeries at a young age. The surgeries have been condemned as human rights violations, as a harmful way to try to “fix” intersex kids.

“There is a sense of betrayal when teens or young adults find out,” said Sue Sted, professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “Some individuals leave medical care altogether because they are so angry at what physicians did to them before they were the age of consent.”

Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, believes Odiele will be an inspiring voice for the intersex community. “I think her speaking out, having her voice added to the mix, is going to culturally raise awareness in the mainstream,” Zieselman said. “It’s amazing to me just in the last two years to see the difference in how many intersex young people are willing and comfortable to speak out at earlier ages. It is largely thanks to the LGBT movement ahead of us.”

She’s out! ? @interact_adv #intersex #StopIGM (Intersex Genital Mutilation) #intersexHanne #intersexy ??

A photo posted by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

Odiele’s husband and model John Swiatek said he is “incredibly proud and happy” for his wife. “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,” he said.

Odiele says being born intersex has given her a forward-thinking perspective on fashion. She describes her sense of style as “just being myself, no rules.”

“I didn’t fit into certain roles. I was able to kind of have a sense of being more of an individual,” she says. “You can be whoever you want, it doesn’t matter.”

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