hanne gaby odiele

Hanne Gaby Odiele.

photo: Instagram/hannegabysees

On Monday, January 23, Belgian model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed in an exclusive interview with USA Today that she's intersex — and ready to break taboos around it.

Intersex individuals are born with sexual anatomy that might not fit the typical XX or XY anatomy. Some may even have "mosaic genetics," meaning their cells' chromosomes actually could be a mix of XX and XY expressions.

The frequency of individuals who are born intersex is anywhere between 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 — roughly the same frequency with which someone is born with red hair.

How can something be so common, yet be talked about so little?

"It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo."

Odiele, who had modeled for fashion brands like Dior, Chanel, and Alexander Wang, told USA Today that, "at this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this." Yet Odiele may now be one of the most high-profile people to reveal being intersex.

The reason? Many doctors, and even the families of intersex children, believe the best approach to "dealing" with intersexuality is to conceal it and present the child as whichever side of the gender binary that they "look" the closest to.

In Odiele's case, it meant one surgery to remove internal, undescended testicles, and another to reconstruct her vagina — surgeries which, she says, "became a trauma" for her.

"It’s not that big of a deal, being intersex."

Since revealing her intersex identity, the 29-year-old model has become a proud and outspoken advocate for people to talk about it, and to voice their opposition to intersex surgery.

"I want to bring awareness and put to light the irreversible, unnecessary non-consensual surgeries we often go through as kids," Odiele said on Instagram. "These surgeries cause way more harm than good."

"People want to put us in a box: male or female," she said. "But sex is on a spectrum; intersex is proof of that."

Read more of the interview with Odiele on USA Today.