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Model Hanne Gaby Odiele Talks About Being Born Intersex

Roughly two per cent of the world’s population are intersex.

In a powerful video, Belgian fashion model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed that she was born intersex. The clinical term for this condition is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), and it’s considered a disorder of sex development (DSDs). According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that, “doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”

Up to 1.7 per cent of the population is born with intersex traits  — about the same percentage of the population that has red hair — but little is known about the condition which can lead to invasive treatments with long term physical ramifications, not to mention lifelong shame and stigma over being different.

In the case of 29-year-old Odiele, she had internal, undescended testicles at birth and no uterus or ovaries. Her parents were told that if she did not have her testes removed, she “might develop cancer” and “would not develop as a normal, female girl.” She had the removal surgery at the age of 10 (and was told it was for “bladder problems”), and vaginal reconstructive surgery at age 18.

Both the procedures were traumatic and distressing for Odiele, which is why she decided to speak out to protect other intersex people “from unconsented, unnecessary and irreversible surgeries that do more harm than good…It’s time this mistreatment came to end.”

“I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening,” she told USA Today. “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.”

#tbt 1year ago #laserbeameyes

A photo posted by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

The model, who has walked the runway for Chanel, Givenchy and Prada and starred in campaigns for Mulberry and Balenciaga, hopes she can use her platform to “break the taboo” and to raise awareness on the medical procedures many intersex children go through without their consent in order to make them appear more typically male or female. She has partnered with the advocacy group interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, whom she made her inspiring and informative video with.

“It was important for me to make this declaration now, based on where I am in my life,” she told Vogue. “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.”

Right on Hanne! Ultimately the more people who know about this condition, means there are more parents, doctors and friends aware of what it means to be intersex, and hopefully, as Odiele put it, this will leave treatment in the hands of the people living it.

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