Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele is accustomed to the bright lights of high fashion but has stepped into a different sort of spotlight after revealing she is intersex.
The 29-year-old said in interviews published this week that she wants to raise awareness and end taboos surrounding the topic.
“At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this,” Odiele, who has walked runways for brands like Chanel and Prada and starred in campaigns for Mulberry and Balenciaga, told USA Today.
Intersex people have characteristics, such as chromosomes or sexual organs, that don’t clearly fit the typical definitions of male or female.
According to the United Nations, between 0.05 and 1.7 percent of the population is intersex, a term used to describe a range of variations. Some are apparent at birth, others become noticeable at puberty while those linked to chromosomes may not be physically evident.
Odiele has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, meaning she is genetically male, with one X and one Y chromosome, but resistant to male hormones. She was born with undescended testes and without a uterus or ovaries.
“I will never know how it is to have a period, have a baby. But I also don’t stand up peeing! I don’t have a penis! I am intersex, but I am much more female. I am not facing a biological clock — I have no clock!” she told Vogue magazine.
“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,” she said.
Odiele has recorded a series of video messages for interACT, an advocacy group for children born with intersex traits.
In particular, she is speaking out against the practice of performing surgery on children too young to give consent in order to make them conform to traditional notions of male or female.
“I am proud to be intersex but very angry that these surgeries are still happening,” said Odiele, who had her testes removed at 10 and vaginal reconstructive surgery at 18.
“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.”