By: Shane Embury
Student Life Editor
Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed to USA Today that she was born intersex, and although she does not shy away from that part of her life, she has mentioned some regrets associated with it.
“It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” said Odiele in the interview with USA Today. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly alright to talk about this.”
If someone is born intersex, it means that he or she is born with ambiguous sexual anatomy that does not exactly fit the typical male or female characteristics. Odiele specifically was born with the condition Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which caused her to have some male XY chromosomes instead of only female XX chromosomes. As a result, she was born with an external vagina and a pair of internal testes.
When she was a child, doctors told her parents that she ran the risk of getting cancer if she did not have the testes removed. Therefore, at the age of 10, Odiele underwent surgery to remove her testes–yet research can now show that cancer is not a major concern for intersex children. The doctor convinced her family to have the procedure done simply for cosmetic reasons, and Odiele never had the chance to give her informed consent.
The surgery did not cause only emotional damage. Sue Stred, a professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, shared that the removal of testes causes permanent infertility, urinary tract infections, reduced sexual sensations and the loss of bladder control. Stred also said “the possible percentage chance of cancer is vastly overwrought.”
Odiele underwent a second traumatic procedure at age 18, when she had vaginal reconstruction surgery. However, a year before, she was able to begin breaking out of her shell. Modeling scouts discovered her at a Belgian music festival when she was 17 years old, and her modeling career skyrocketed from there.
The now 28-year-old has modeled for top designers such as Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang, and in a 2014 interview she said, “Clothing is a celebration of self-expression. It is one of the best ways to translate how you feel on the inside, or perhaps to shield you from the outside. With clothing, you can become anyone, especially these days when we are pushing the boundaries beyond gender and cultural expectations.”
Odiele’s habit of pushing the boundaries has continued into 2017 now that she is speaking out about her intersex condition and the struggles she faced during childhood. She has also declared that she is going to join interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth in an effort to raise awareness of the condition and stop unnecessary child surgeries.
“It is an important part of my life to talk about this,” said Odiele. “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening.”