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Hanne Gaby Odiele Breaks the Intersex Stigma

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Hanne Gaby Odiele Breaks the Intersex Stigma

"Sex is on a spectrum"

BY HILARY SHEPHERD

NEWS  -  JANUARY 24

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Photo: BFA.com. View more at BFA.com.

“Today might be one of the most important days of my life,” wrote 28-year-old runway veteran Hanne Gaby Odiele on Instagram. In an exclusive interview with USA Today, the Belgian model revealed that she’s intersex, making her one of the very first high-profile figures to come forward. According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex individuals are born with a reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit into the typical categories of what it means to be “male” or “female.” For example, a person might be born with “mosaic genetics” or genitals that appear to be in-between male and female. (This is different from people who identify as transgender or transexual, which stems from an internal experience involving gender identity.) In Odiele’s case, she was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), an intersex trait in which a woman has XY chromosomes that are often found in men. “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” she said. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”

Odiele, who was discovered at a music festival at age 17, said she was born with internal testes, which were surgically removed at age 10 after her parents were told she might develop cancer and would not develop as a female girl. “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 said. (A side effect of removing such organs is permanent infertility.) At age 18, she had to have vaginal reconstructive surgery. Both procedures, she said, were distressing and unnecessary (the data behind whether cancer is a real concern for intersex people with AIS is “vastly overwrought,” according to experts) and stemmed from an unfortunately common need to “fix” or “correct” children born with genitals that do not "fit the typical definition of male or female." “It’s not that big of a deal being intersex. If they were just honest from the beginning… It became a trauma because of what they did,” she said.

Odiele is not alone—up to 1.7 percent of the population (roughly equivalent to the percentage of people born with red hair) are intersex. In addition to bravely opening up about her status, the super also announced that she’s partnering with InterACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, a non-profit group for the intersex community, to shed light on non-consent surgeries and intersex genital mutilation. “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry these surgeries are still happening,” she said.

It may only be day three of a rather troubling administration that seems to alienate individuals who differ from heterosexual norms, but as millions of men and women around the globe proved this weekend, and Odiele made clear via her very personal announcement today, we are not a one-size-fits-all society. "People want to put us in a box—male or female—but in reality, sex is on a spectrum," said Odiele in a video on her Instagram account. "Intersex is just proof of that." Here's to tossing those neat little boxes and, as the supermodel noted, "just being you."




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