Model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed that she is intersex, and was born with undescended testes that doctors removed when she was 10.
“It’s very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” Odiele, 29, tells USA Today. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”
The runway and fashion supermodel from Kortrijk, Belgium, hopes that telling her story will help the 1.7 percent of people born intersex, and lower the rate of surgeries to remove unformed reproductive organs that often occur before children can give consent.
“I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening,” Odiele says.
She explains 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.”
But at such a young age, Odiele didn’t fully understand what was happening, and wishes now she had more of a say.
“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 says. “It’s not that big of a deal being intersex. If they were just honest from the beginning … It became a trauma because of what they did.”
Odiele, who married her husband, model John Swiatek, over the summer, started opening up about being intersex, and doesn’t expect her announcement to create problems in the modeling world.
“They will see me as they have before,” Odiele says. “Nothing should change.”
But she hopes things do change for others born intersex.
“It is an important part of my life to talk about this,” she says. “You can be whoever you want. It doesn’t matter.”