What Does "Intersex" Mean? These 5 Women Were Born BOTH Male And Female!

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Born with both male and female characteristics, these intersex personalities make it clear that gender isn't as binary as many think.

Even though more people are informed about the many nuances of gender identity, intersexuality is still something that isn't often discussed. These famous intersex people have made us more aware of this rare condition.

The experiences of these famous intersex people vary from empowering to heart-wrenching, but they're all worth learning about. Read on to find out more.

Hanna Gaby Odiele

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Thx @allure For including me in this #beautydisrupters If the word “intersexuality” is new to you, Hanne Gaby Odiele would like to meet you. In January 2017, the Belgian model, who’s fronted Vogue and W, came out to USA Today as intersex, which the Intersex Society of North America defines as “a person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Doctors have historically responded to these individuals by surgically altering their anatomy to be male or female, often without the informed consent of the patient or their guardian. It’s what happened to Odiele at age 10, and the United Nations now considers this a human rights violation. “We’re subjected to surgeries because nobody knows about [intersexuality],” she says. “Every child has the right to decide about their own body.” Odiele works with interACT, an intersex-rights organization. “It’s time for the binary to be over. It’s 2018 — we can do this.” @interact_adv #stopigm #intersexhumanrights #4intersex

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Weeks before she started modelling, Hanne Gaby Odiele found out that she was intersex. She was born with a female external body, but her DNA and internal genitals were male — she has no uterus, and has XY chromosomes.

When she was a child, she underwent surgeries related to her condition, but neither she nor her parents were fully informed about these procedures.

Much of these procedures that intersex children are subjected to are simply cosmetic and carried out so they can fit into heteronormative categories. Most of the time, the children and their parents do not fully understand the situation or the possible repercussions of these procedures.

"[My parents] weren't told fully about my condition or about why these procedures were being performed," she told Dazed and Confused in 2017. "I just thought I was a weirdo who had to go to the doctor a lot and show my body to doctors and their students. You know, the United Nations now agrees that this is a human rights violation."

Now, Odiele is an advocate for intersex human rights, and is one of the most recognisable famous intersex people today. 

Hida Viloria

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Latin American writer Hida Viloria is the author of Born Both: An Intersex Life. Viloria's parents chose to raise her as a female without forcing her to undergo cosmetic genital surgeries.

Viloria was only 26 when she learned the word "intersex", and immediately sought out other people like her. She was shocked at what she found out.

"When I finally found an intersex community to connect with I was shocked, and then deeply upset, to learn that most of the people I met had been scarred, both physically and psychologically, by infant surgeries and hormone treatments meant to 'correct' their bodies."

As one of the most outspoken famous intersex people today, Viloria has made it her mission to bring an end to these harmful practices, fighting for intersex rights.

Caster Semenya

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Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya made headlines in 2009 after questions about her sex were raised. She was asked to take a sex verification test to find out if she really is female, and though the text results were never officially publicised, the world has inferred that Semenya is intersex.

Semenya has neither confirmed nor denied being intersex, but simply sees herself as a female athlete.

"I am who I am and I am proud of myself," Semenya, then 18, said in a magazine interview. "I see [the controversy] as a joke, it doesn't upset me," she added. "God made me the way I am and I accept myself."

Pinki Pramanik

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Former Indian track athlete Pinki Pramanik won a total of eight medals representing India — five of them gold. But in 2012, when a female friend accused her of rape and claimed that Pramanik was, in fact, male, she had to undergo medical tests to determine her gender.

The results found that she was a "male pseudo-hermaphrodite", or intersex, and that she was incapable of having penetrative sex and rape. She admitted to taking testosterone to boost her athletic performance, claiming that she didn't know that it was illegal to do so.

She was manhandled by policemen on live TV, and a video of her physical exams were leaked on the internet. The humiliating ordeal drove her to depression, and she was also disqualified from racing.

“You can’t ever forget such an episode. Memories from then often haunt me. Why did the police behave like that with me? I still think of it sometimes,” Pramanik told The Bridge in a July 2018 interview.

Caroline Cossey

English model Caroline Cossey bears the distinction of being the first trans woman to pose for Playboy in 1991. But she's not only trans, she's actually one of the most famous intersex people in contemporary history.

Yes, Cossey was raised as a boy, but was "distinctly feminine" because of the intersex condition Klinefelter's Syndrome. This means that instead of the XY male chromosome pattern, she has the genotype XXXY,.

She started transitioning at the age of 17, and completed her transition at the age of 20. It was only then that she began to feel like her "true self". Under the name Tula, she began working as a model, appearing in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

But after she landed a bit part in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, a tabloid revealed that she was born a boy. She fell into a deep depression, even contemplating suicide.

It was a humiliating interview with radio DJ Howard Stern that spurred her on to fight for her rights. 

“Everything changed when I went on Howard Stern. He came out dressed up as a woman in order to interview me and joked that he’d gone through the surgery, and I didn’t know he’d do any of that," she told Cosmopolitan in 2015. "He also made a joke about cutting off his penis and then handed me a sausage, and I just felt like, I don’t need this. I need to keep my sanity.”

She fought for her right to be recognised as a woman, and in 1991, she appeared in Playboy as an openly trans woman.

These famous intersex people have made it clear that gender isn't as binary as many of us think. What do you think of intersexuality?

(Featured images: @hannagabysees and @carolinecossey on Instagram, Youtube)