News & Runway

2017 Might Be the Year of Intersex Visibility, Thanks to Model Hanne Gaby Odiele

On Monday, Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele took to Instagram to share that she is intersex. Some background: The term intersex can refer to over 30 different conditions in which an individual is born with sex characteristics that don’t fit the standard definition of male or female. (The United Nations estimates that up to 1.7 percent of the world’s population is born intersex.) Odiele, now 28, was born with undescended testes and without a uterus or ovaries. She’s genetically male, but resistant to male hormones, a condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

At age 10, Odiele underwent surgery to have her internal testes removed. Eight years later, she had vaginal reconstructive surgery. While specialists led Odiele’s parents to believe that these “corrective” surgeries were necessary, they were not. In fact, in March 2016, the United Nations denounced nonconsensual genital surgeries on intersex children, likening these procedures to acts of torture.

“Intersex children born today are still at risk for these human rights violations,” Odiele, now a spokesperson for intersex youth advocacy organization interACT, told Mic. “I will use my voice and platform to help end such abuses. These surgeries are often driven by fear of nonbinary bodies – people want to put us in a ‘male’ or ‘female’ box, but in reality sex is on a spectrum. Intersex is just proof of this. The United Nations has recently called these serious human rights violations — yet somehow the surgeries continue today around the globe!”

Hanne Gaby Odiele Shows Off Her Street Style Smarts ]

It wasn’t until Hanne reached 17 that she learned the whole truth about her body. And while she’s still coming to terms with her medical history, the Chanel, Givenchy, Prada and Alexander Wang runway staple feels she’s reached a point in her career — and life — where she’s ready to speak out. (She recently married her longtime beau, model-DJ John Swiatek, in a hipster Catskills wedding to end all hipster Catskills weddings.)

“It was important for me to make this declaration now, based on where I am in my life. I want to live authentically as who I am and help to break down the stigma that intersex persons face — but also to use the profile that I’ve built through modeling to give back to those without a voice. I want to be there for people who are struggling, to tell them it’s OK — it’s one part of you, but it’s not who you are,” the model told Vogue.

Odiele follows in the footsteps of models like Hari Nef and Andreja Pejic who’ve forced the fashion industry — and world — to adopt a more inclusive view of gender. However, as one of the first celebrities to come out as intersex, Odiele’s bringing non-binary visibility to a whole new level. Listen to her seriously inspirational voice in the video below.

[ via Vogue ]