hanne gaby odiele says she's intersex in powerful public statement

'I want to tell intersex youth to ‘just be you!’' she shares with i-D.

by Alice Newell-Hanson
23 January 2017, 10:35pm

Photography Jason Lloyd-Evans. 

Hanne Gaby Odiele is no stranger to making brave statements. She pioneered fashion crocs and recently got married wearing Balenciaga by Alexander Wang cargo pants. Today, though, the Belgian model broadcast a message of a more personal, powerful nature.

In an exclusive interview with USA Today, Hanne publicly disclosed that she was born with the intersex condition Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which means she has the XY chromosomes more commonly associated with men. She decided to speak out, according to a press release shared by her modeling agency, "in an effort to be true to herself and spotlight an often invisible human rights issue."

"I have reached a point in my life where I feel ready to share this important part of who I am," she said in the release. "It is 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."

When asked if she had a message for intersex youth, Hanne told i-D: "I want to tell intersex youth to 'just be you!' Be proud of who you are, and get informed and connect with other intersex people. It's important to find other intersex people that you can communicate with, as it was so helpful to me growing up. What better way to remove the negative stigma that there is 'no one else like you.' I want them to know that they can be whoever they want to be, even walk the runway!"

This is the first time Hanne has discussed being intersex with anyone beyond her close friends and family. The model disclosed to USA Today that she was also born with undescended testes that were later removed, at age 10, before she underwent reconstructive surgery at 18, a year after her modeling career took off. While she said that "it's not that big of a deal being intersex," she also admitted that the surgeries were deeply distressing, saying, "If they were just honest from the beginning... It became a trauma because of what they did."

In a further effort to spread awareness, Hanne is partnering with interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, a nonprofit that campaigns for the rights and visibility of intersex people worldwide. Hanne is particularly concerned with ending the unnecessary and often harmful surgeries performed on intersex children, to make their bodies conform to binary notions of gender. (Intersex individuals are born with sex characteristics that don't match the typical definitions of male or female.)

"We congratulate Hanne for her courage in sharing her intersex status with the world," said interACT's Executive Director Kimberly Zieselman, "[She] understands firsthand the harm caused by unnecessary medical intervention routinely done to 'fix' intersex children. 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."

According to interACT, an estimated 2% of the population is born with intersex traits, which is around the same number of people who are born with red hair. "People want to put us in boxes: male or female. But in reality sex is on a spectrum," Hanne says in a new video for the nonprofit. "It's important for me to speak out now. These surgeries have been going on for way too long and I want it to stop now [...] It's time to break the stigma."

Last month, New York City issued the nation's first-ever intersex birth certificate, to 55-year-old New Yorker Sara Kelly Keenan. It was a big step in the fight for intersex rights, but there's still a long, long way to go.


Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Jason Lloyd-Evans

hanne gaby odiele