Top Model Hanne Gaby Odiele Reveals She’s Intersex

Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele exits the Vera Wang show in on September 15, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)
Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele exits the Vera Wang show in on September 15, 2015, in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hanne Gaby Odiele is intersex, the model revealed in an inspiring interview with USA Today published Monday.

Intersex people are born with “sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads, and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical” ideas of male or female bodies, according to the United Nations.

Odiele is part of the (up to) 1.7 percent of the population born with intersex traits. That’s about the same percentage of the population that has red hair.

Known for her edgy street style and work with fashion houses like Versace, Marc Jacobs, Dior, and Alexander Wang, Odiele was born with an intersex trait known as androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) “in which a woman has XY chromosomes more typically found in men,” according to USA Today. She also had internal, undescended testes.

The fierce runway walker is one of the first high-profile people to reveal their intersexuality. “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” the 29-year-old supermodel from Kortrijk, Belgium, told USA Today. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”

Her main reason for sharing this, besides normalizing the biological variation, is to shed light on the unnecessary and detrimental procedures practiced frequently on intersex children to try to make their appearance conform to sex stereotypes, according to the UN. “I am proud to be intersex,” Odiele said, “but very angry that these surgeries are still happening.”

She speaks from experience. When doctors discovered her undescended testes, they told her parents if she did not have her testicles removed, she might develop cancer and she “would not develop as a normal, female girl.”

At 10, she had surgery to remove her testes, which she said she could barely process at the time. “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,” she revealed. Then, at 18, around the same time she was first discovered and signed as a model, Odiele underwent vaginal reconstructive surgery — an equally distressing procedure.

Odiele made a point to clarify that the trauma was caused by the two surgeries, not being intersex, which she said isn’t “that big of a deal.”

To help raise awareness and remove the stigma, Odiele will partner with interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth.

“It is an important part of my life to talk about this,” Odiele said. The blond beauty has been more open about her status in the past year with close friends and confidantes, but this is her first public announcement. She isn’t worried about the fashion industry’s reaction. “They will see me as they have before,” she said. “Nothing should change.”

And with the direction fashion is moving in, as gender-neutral clothing becomes more popular, she will fit right in — a first for her. But that’s kind of what’s beautiful about the creative world that the fashion industry can be; “I didn’t have to fit into certain roles,” she said. “I was able to kind of have a sense of being more of an individual.” She wants intersex youth to feel the same way, whether or not they are surrounded by creative people.

Odiele will continue to tell her story — next being an interview in the issue of Vogue that hits newsstands Wednesday.

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