Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele, 29, has worked with designers like Alexander Wang, Chanel, and Dior. And now, she’s making her voice heard about another part of her life: she is intersex.
In an interview with USA Today, Odiele revealed she was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, meaning she had XY chromosomes and internal, undescended testes. When she was 10, her parents told her that if she did not have those testes removed, she could get cancer and wouldn’t develop “as a normal, female girl.” So she had the surgery, and at 18, she had vaginal reconstructive surgery.
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Odiele is speaking out now because she wants to show how intersex kids can sometimes be forced into having surgeries either without their consent or without their full understanding about what is happening. Sometimes these surgeries are done to make them appear either more male or more female, and not because the procedures are medically necessary. “It’s not that big of a deal being intersex,” she told the newspaper. “If [my parents] were just honest from the beginning… It became a trauma because of what they did.”
According to the nonprofit interACT, which is teaming up with Odiele, intersex people, who make up nearly two percent of the population, are born with hormones, genitals, and/or internal organs that don’t fit the typical “female” or “male” standard. And despite how common being intersex is, many people who are intersex are subject to surgeries like Odiele’s.
“Intersex people should be able to make their own choices about their bodies,” she said in a video for interACT. “I’m speaking out because it’s time this mistreatment comes to an end. It caused me way too much pain.”