Intersexism Finally Has a Boldface Advocate: Hanne Gaby Odiele

Her interview is making waves

01.23.17
Belgian model Hanne Gaby wears an orange and purple bohemian Dries Van Noten outfit and keeps the dramatic dark eye makeup after the Dries Van Noten show on September 28, 2016 in Paris, France.

Your probably know Hanne Gaby Odiele, major model and runway staple for the likes of Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Versace, Moschino and Marc Jacobs. Or perhaps you recognize her trademark street style, which magazines and blogs have been writing up for years. Today she made a name for herself in a new space: as a voice for intersexism.

This morning, in an exclusive interview with USA Today, Odiele revealed she was born intersex. “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo.” Intersexism — which describes people “born with sex characteristics such as genitals or chromosomes that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female” —  is part of the sex-spectrum that hasn’t received as much attention and education as it probably deserves. After all, as USA Today pointed out, “Up to 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations — a figure roughly equivalent to the number of redheads.” Did that surprise you as much as it did me? That’s undoubtedly part of the problem, which is why Odiele speaking out is so important. She can help give intersexism the normalization it so sorely needs.

For intersexism, normalization means more than tackling social stigma. In many cases it could be life-changing. Odiele describes being emotionally scarred by two different surgeries she underwent as a kid to “fix” her anatomy. Without it, she was told she might get cancer or fail to develop into what her doctor called “a normal girl.” “It’s not that big of a deal being intersex,” Odiele said. “If they were just honest from the beginning…It became a trauma because of what they did.”

Her experience is currently the norm. These types of surgeries are unfortunately still common and are usually done without children’s consent. In a 2014 feature titled “Should We ‘Fix’ Intersex Children?,” The Atlantic described such procedures as “largely unregulated and controversial surgeries that aim to make an infant’s genitals and reproductive organs more normal but can often have unintended consequences, according to intersex adults, advocates and some doctors.”

All signs point to an urgent need for a larger dialogue around intersexim. Odiele opening up is hugely brave and will hopefully have far-reaching impacts. “Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, says Odiele will be a powerful champion for the intersex community and will help thrust medical procedures that try to ‘fix’ intersex kids into the harsh focus they deserve,” reports USA Today.

Click here to donate to interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth.

Photos by Melodie Jeng via Getty Images

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