By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK Feb 10 Belgian fashion model Hanne
Gaby Odiele knew from a young age that she was different from
other girls but did not understand why until she was 17 and read
a magazine story about an intersex girl.
Her doctor soon confirmed that Odiele, too, was born with
sex characteristics that do not fit the typical definitions of
male or female.
Now the 29-year-old veteran of runway shows for designers
including Chanel, Dior and Tommy Hilfiger, Odiele is telling her
story in hopes of boosting awareness of the condition.
"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," the New York-based model said ahead of New York
The tall, willowy blonde is speaking out as Americans'
understanding of sex and gender identity is changing rapidly.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 established the right of
homosexual couples to marry, and advocates for lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender people have continued to advocate for
Intersex is a separate issue, not referring to sexual
orientation but rather covering a spectrum of body and
chromosome variations. Up to 1.7 percent of people are born with
intersex traits, according to figures from the United Nations.
Odiele has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. She was born
with a pair of XY chromosomes typical of a male and had
internal, undescended testes that were surgically removed when
she was 10 years old.
"I was always told there was something wrong with my
bladder, so I really didn't know," Odiele, who was discovered by
a fashion scout weeks after learning she was intersex, said in
More surgery followed in her late teens. She cannot have
children and takes hormone replacement drugs.
Surgery for intersex children is controversial and has
pitted doctors against intersex advocates who say the procedures
can cause lasting physical and psychological damage.
Kimberly Zieselman, the executive director of the non-profit
group interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, said Odiele's story
was not unique.
Zieselman had finished college, law school and married
before she uncovered medical records that showed she was
"It is a very poorly understood condition," she said.
"Before we can change the hearts and minds of policy makers and
the medical community, we need to have a better understanding in
(Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)