Model Hanne Gaby Odiele on Why She Came Out as Intersex


One of the most misunderstood letters in the LGBTQI acronym is the letter “I,” which stands for intersex. Intersex is an umbrella term that covers 30 different variations of birth defects wherein someone has male and female sexual organs. Historically, intersex people have had a relatively low profile in the queer community’s push for civil rights because as small children they are often assigned a gender and given corrective surgery. A large number of intersex people grow up being told to keep their surgery a secret and are faced with a lifetime taking prescription hormone pills.

One of the first people to come out as intersex in the fashion industry was Belgian model, Hanne Gaby Odiele. A major name in the industry for over a decade, her face, if not her name, is probably familiar to you: Odiele’s in Alexander Wang’s most recent advertising campaign and walked in shows like Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein this past Fashion Week for Fall 2017. The model, who says she identifies more as a „she,“ came out as intersex in January 2017.

Revealing that she was born genetically male, Odiele said that as a baby she had internal testes in place of a uterus and ovaries. In addition, her body tested resistant to the male hormone, testosterone. What followed next was a series of painful childhood surgeries, which were never explained to her by her parents or her doctors. Aged 17-years-old, Odiele said she figured it out for herself, but didn’t have much time to make peace with it. Less than a year later, she was flying around the world booking big modeling jobs.

In a new interview with The Guardian newspaper this past weekend, the 28-year-old model went into more detail on why she chose to come out this year. “There’s a kind of shame placed on our bodies, like we’re not supposed to talk about it,” she said of breaking down the taboo surrounding intersex people. “I will never know what it is to be a cis-gender woman, I will never be able to talk about a period or having a child, but I’m not a man either–I’m proud intersex.” Odiele went on to disclose her hopes of becoming a public intersex advocate. She wants to end the corrective surgeries she had to endure as a child, which are typically medically unnecessary.

The conversation surrounding intersex people has gained some traction in the past year–and voices like Odiele’s are sure to only help further the general public’s acceptance and understanding of the community. In 2016, the United Nations declared October 26 as Intersex Awareness Day and published an announcement urging governments to prohibit harmful gender procedures on intersex children.


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