In Brief

Model Hanne Gaby Odiele reveals she is intersex to 'break taboo'

Belgian says she is making announcement to help campaign against unconsented surgery on children

Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele has revealed she is intersex in the hope of raising awareness and putting a stop to unconsented surgery for intersex children.

"It's very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo," she told USA Today. "At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this."

The 29-year-old supermodel has featured in Vogue and Elle, starred in campaigns for Mulberry, Balenciaga and Vera Wang and walked the runway for Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Givenchy and Prada during her 11-year career, reports The Independent.

According to the United Nations Human Rights office, between 0.05 per cent and 1.7 per cent of the population is born with intersex traits – the upper estimate is similar to the number of red haired people.

The term refers to people who are "born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies", explains the UN.

Odiele was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and was born a woman with XY chromosomes more commonly found in men as well as internal testes.

At ten years old, she had surgery to remove her testes and then at 18 underwent vaginal reconstructive surgery.

Odiele said the procedures caused her distress and that she wanted to speak out in part to discourage other parents from putting their children through "unconsented, unnecessary and irreversible surgeries that cause way more harm than do good".

"I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening," she said.

She explained that doctors informed her parents that the surgery was necessary because "I might develop cancer and I would not develop as a normal, female girl."

Odiele said she didn't fully understand what was happening at the time and wishes she had been able to question the decision more.

"I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period. I knew something was wrong with me," she said.

"It's not that big a deal being intersex. If they were just honest from the beginning... It became a trauma because of what they did."

Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, says that Odiele will be an important champion for the intersex community and will help shine a spotlight on the medical procedures that try to "fix" intersex kids.

"I think her speaking out, having her voice added to the mix is going to culturally raise awareness in the mainstream," says Zieselman, noting that groups such as the UN and the World Health Organisation already condemn these surgeries as human rights violations.

Odiele will "help in raising awareness – and raising outrage", she added.

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