Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele has become one of the first high-profile celebrities to come out as intersex.
The 29-year old from Belgium has walked runways in New York, Paris and Milan since the start of her career in 2005. She’s modeled for brands including Chanel, Dior, Alexander Wang, and more.
Now Odiele has joined with US group InterACT to become a proud advocate for intersex youth.
Intersex people are born with internal or external sex anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of “female” or “male”, and physical variations in intersex people can include chromosomes, internal organs and genitals.
InterACT says nearly two-percent of the population is born with intersex traits, similar to the number of people born with red hair, but young intersex people often undergo irreversible surgeries that potentially cause lifelong health issues and cause psychological harm.
The surgical interventions are often driven by the fear of non-binary bodies, rather than medical necessity, and groups including the UN and the World Health Organization condemn them as human rights violations, InterACT says.
“I have reached a point in my life where I feel ready to share this important part of who I am,” Odiele said.
“It’s time for intersex people to come out of the shadows, claim our status, let go of shame, and speak out against the unnecessary and harmful surgeries many of us were subjected to as children.
“Intersex children born today are still at risk for these human rights violations. I will use my voice and platform to help end such abuses.”
Odiele explained to USA Today that she was born with an intersex trait known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) in which a woman has XY chromosomes more typically found in men.
She was also born with internal, undescended testicles which were removed when she was 10 and at age 18 she underwent “traumatic” vaginal reconstruction surgery, she said.
InterACT Executive Director Kimberly Zieselman congratulated Odiele for her courage in sharing her status, and were grateful to have the model advocating for intersex youth.
“She understands firsthand the harm caused by unnecessary medical intervention routinely done to ‘fix’ intersex children,” Zieselman said.
“Using her passion, her voice and her notoriety, she will undoubtedly further the cause of protecting intersex youth, and help put an end to the human rights violations far too many have suffered.”
The model posted two videos to her Instagram, one of which is a message for intersex youth. Watch below:
Today might be one of the most important days in my life, I've decide to announce with you all I'm #intersex, read my story in USA Today (link in bio) I want to bring awerness and put to light the irreversible Unnecessary non consent surgeries we often go trough as kids ✌️FEEL FREE TO SHARE #intersex #StopIGM (Intersex Genital Mutilation) #intersexHanne #intersexy @interact_adv
(Top photo via InterACT)