Photography Inez & Vinoodh

hanne gaby odiele fights for intersex youth: 'we need to fix the binary'

On Intersex Awareness Day, Hanne Gaby and Adam Eli tell us why the world needs to #EndIntersexSurgery.

by Hannah Ongley
26 October 2018, 6:45pm

Photography Inez & Vinoodh

Conservatives are obsessed with forcing trans kids to live in the bodies they were born with. But when it comes to kids who are intersex — having physical sex characteristics that don’t fit typical notions about male and female bodies — it’s a similarly regressive view on gender that results in them being subjected to non-consensual sex changes to “correct” the bodies they were born with. Belgian runway queen Hanne Gaby Odiele has been a powerful advocate for intersex justice since coming out as intersex last year. Tomorrow, October 27, she’s taking part in a demonstration outside New York-Presbyterian Hospital, calling for an end to the medically unnecessary surgeries. Because of the risks — including PTSD, sterilization, and assigned sex not matching gender identity — intersex surgeries are now considered human rights violations. Yet they are not directly prohibited in the United States.

“Intersex people (who are born healthy) don’t need to be fixed, we need to fix the binary. What’s not broken doesn’t need to be fixed,” Hanne says ahead of the protest. “By the time I was old enough to relive what was happening it was already too late,” she adds — she had already been subjected to all the surgeries. “All I got was shame.” Hanne was born with the intersex trait of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which means she has XY chromosomes, typically associated with men, as she explained to i-D last year.

The protest march is organized by LGBTQIA+ activist group Voices 4, founded by Adam Eli, and the POC-led Intersex Justice Project. “As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community I feel a responsibility to fight for intersex rights,” Adam says of focusing his activism across the full spectrum of queer identities. “As a community we have an obligation to stand up for our most marginalized members and that includes the often silenced intersex community.” To his point, many people still aren’t sure what the “I” stands for in the LGBTQIA+ acronym.

It’s also because of this silencing that we’re only now learning how common intersex really is. According to the Intersex Campaign for Equality, some groups still cite an old statistic that says intersex people make up 0.05% of the population. But the United Nations estimates that 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits — roughly the equivalent to the number of people born redheads. The internet is also helping to raise awareness, and to cultivate support groups for intersex youth, so they don’t have to find out by stumbling across articles in Dutch teen magazines — which is how Hanne finally came to realize she was intersex. Up until that point, even her parents had never even heard of the term.

"The world is very binary," Hanne told i-D last year, just weeks after coming out as intersex. "You either have to be male or female. That's why I was subjected to unnecessary surgery, just out of fear of having a non-binary body. But none of us should be forced into boxes. Thankfully things are starting to change."

Other attendees at tomorrow’s rally include intersex activists Sean Saifa Wall and Pidgeon Pagonis, Ru Paul’s Drag Race’s Milk, and sexual assault activist and artist Zeke Thomas. Join them at E 61st Street and York Avenue from 2-4pm.

Protest for Intersex Rights
hanne gaby odiele
Adam Eli