Top model Hanne Gaby Odiele believes intersex people are the ‘missing link’ the LGBTI community needs.
The Belgian model, who has walked the runway for Chanel, DKNY and Prada, has said ‘sex is a spectrum’, much like gender and orientation.
In an exclusive interview with Gay Star News, the Vogue star is speaking out for Intersex Awareness Day.
Odiele was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Her doctors told her at the age of 10 if she did not have the testes surgically removed, she ‘might develop cancer’ and ‘not develop as a normal female girl’.
So she had the surgery, and at 18, underwent vaginal reconstructive surgery.
Odiele came out in January this year, with the help of interACT.
‘The past few months has been truly amazing and also very healing for me as well,’ she said.
‘Comparing to many great examples we’ve seen in the trans community I think visibility is super important. Intersex is not the problem.
‘Too often intersex people are forced into unfair binary standards. I think intersex proves sex, gender and sexuality is on a spectrum.
Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele: ‘What’s not broken doesn’t need fixing’
She added: ‘We’ve been told to be ashamed of our bodies for a long time, there’s something wrong with us.
‘I’m very happy being intersex and I wouldn’t want to change it for anything else.
‘I do think we have an urgent need for intersex children to decide for themselves, and we need a law protecting us from harmful invasive unnecessary surgeries.
‘I think visibility is super helpful not just for the 1.7% of people around the world, but also for their parents, peers and their partners.
‘What’s not broken doesn’t need fixing.’
GSN: How has coming out been?
Hanne: I haven’t faced discrimination. I feel like my story is confusing to people at first for them to understand.
I’m lucky I live in New York City and I work in the fashion industry which is an open-minded world. It was easy for me to come out because of that.
What has dating been like?
I married my wonderful husband last summer. It’s difficult for a lot of intersex people because they feel like they need to be ashamed of their bodies or there’s something wrong with their bodies.
There’s a lot of trauma because of the surgeries that have been happening. It’s difficult but I do think if you can find an understanding partner, the right person, it’s totally possible. A lot of people are scared but I’m very lucky.
Was it difficult to tell guys before you met your husband you are intersex?
It was very difficult in the beginning. But my partner has been nothing but patient. We’ve been together for 10 years. I could be open with him in the beginning.
Before I could never really tell anybody, I couldn’t be honest with them. Whenever the relationship went a bit further, I almost sabotaged it.
But if you find the right person the person will accept it too.
A lot of trauma happens because of surgeries and that will put strain on relationships and on sex.
Sex and sexuality is not just being able to fit a penis in a vagina or whatever. Too often those surgeries are based on heterosexual norm of having sex, saying “Oh you won’t be able to have normal penetration we need to change this.”
Do you feel you were traumatized from the surgeries?
Yes I feel like I’ve been. I wasn’t able to consent to the situation. The surgeries were medically unnecessary.
I have the consequences for the rest of my life because of it. I have androgen insensitivty syndrome which means I was born with internal undescended testicles.
But they were producing my hormones, the testosterone, and those hormones were transformed into estrogen. I would look completely the same today if I still had them.
‘You can’t just fuck up people’s genitals. It’s fucked up.’
But when doctors decided at age 10 to take them out, I had to be put on hormone therapy for life. It’s like a piece of my body is missing and it’s never going to be the same.
It shouldn’t be happening. It’s cruel. You shouldn’t go around mutilating genitals. You can’t just fuck up people’s genitals. It’s fucked up. You hear stories of girls having their clits cut off. It’s barbaric.
It’s awful. If it’s happening as a baby or as a kid, you can’t give informed consent about that.
Parents aren’t informed enough. Parents should be told they have a healthy child and it’s fine. They can decide for themselves when they’re older and nothing has to happen. Most cases of intersex there’s no medically necessary surgery. It needs to stop.
It does need to stop. How can LGBT people be better allies to intersex people?
It’s about understanding what it is. Intersex proves so many things like how sex is on a spectrum. Sexuality, gender, everything is on a spectrum. It’s like a little bit of a missing link towards acceptance. Even conservatives understand intersex because it’s literally nature, it’s black and white.
I agree with you. There are so many religions that are so binary in their treatment of gender and gendered roles.
We prove sex is a spectrum. It’s all on a spectrum. I hope the LGBT community can see that. The LGBT community has paved the way and breaking so many boundaries. But still, intersex people are not protected in the vast majority in the world. There’s only one country in the world that has it – Malta.
What are other common intersex experiences?
Everyone has a different experience but we all have a shared history. We all felt out of the box and we all felt the same experience of being outside. I can’t speak for anyone else.
What are some misconceptions about intersex people?
A lot of people have an issue with the word hermaphrodite, mainly because it’s not relevant to a lot of intersex people. I don’t really have an issue with any word as long as it’s accurate. You probably shouldn’t use hermaphrodite because it’s misleading. It’s like saying I could reproduce myself but I definitely can’t! It’s not really the word that’s important but it’s our rights.
Is there anything else you’d want people to know about being an intersex person?
It’s pretty awesome! I’ve met amazing people because of it. I wouldn’t want to be anything else. We need to be protected so we can be our authentic best selves.