Gender Talk Realness: What It's Like Being An Intersex Woman

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“It’s one part of you, but it’s not who you are.”

Last year, the 28-year-old Belgian supermodel, Hanne Gaby Odiele, became one of the first few persons to come out as intersex. The globally recognised model—who has walked the runway for luxury brands including Chanel and Prada—opened up about becoming an advocate for intersex awareness.

She even addressed the quintessential question of  "what does intersex look like?" and even announced her work with InterACT, an organisation that works towards spreading awareness about intersex and advocates their rights. 

“It was important for me to make this declaration now, based on where I am in my life,” Odiele told Vogue. “I want to live authentically as who I am and help to break down the stigma that intersex persons face ― but also to use the profile that I’ve built through modelling to give back to those without a voice.”

“I want to be there for people who are struggling, to tell them it’s OK,” she added. “It’s one part of you, but it’s not who you are,” says the model who two days back walked the runway for brand Alexander McQueen at the Paris Fashion Week

Her interview started a global debate on the subject and encouraged many to come out as well. But what does intersex look like? How are they different? 

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A post shared by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

What Does Intesex Mean?

You'll be surprised to know that many children are born intersex. Unfortunately, not much is known of it and it continues to remain a mystery to some and taboo to others. 

Generally speaking, intersex persons are those whose anatomy and genetic makeup does not meet the expected gender norms set by the society. In other words, these persons are born with atypical sex anatomy.

What Does Intersex Look Like?

There are typically 30 variations wherein somebody could be born with a female genetic makeup but have male genitalia. Or somebody else could be born with a mix of both male and female genitalia but have male genetic makeup. Alternatively, a girl could be born with a large clitoris or without a vaginal opening. 

As The Huffington Post reports, "At least 1 in 2,000 babies ― and possibly as many as 2 in 100, according to some estimates ― are born with ambiguous sex traits. For some, the condition is clear at birth, while others don’t discover that they’re intersex until puberty or later."

Or for instance, somebody could have a genetically male body (X and Y chromosomes), but their physical features resemble that of a woman. 

As is the case with Odiele, who was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Because of this medical condition, Odiele her body is genetically male, but it is resistant to male hormones known as androgens. She was born with internal testes but no ovaries or uterus ― but her genetic makeup is that of a man. 

In her interview to Vogue Odiele described how she found out that she was different and how that revelation changed her life. She shared that during her younger years, her confused parents got her internal testes removed. This, as a precautionary measure to stop them from becoming cancerous.

But as it turns out, she didn't need to have that surgery, or any for that matter. 

How Odiele Found Out She Was Intersexual

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A post shared by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

She was even given hormones and said that at age 17, she felt like “a sad mess—the hormones they gave me were fucking up my body. I knew something was wrong.”

A few months later, she was leafing through a Dutch magazine and saw an intersex model. The woman in question also went through similar surgeries and was also given hormones. Odiele instantly connected with the story.

“I contacted the magazine, got in touch with that intersex girl, and then found a self-help group in Holland. It was the most amazing thing. You think you are alone—there is no one like you—and then you get to talk to other intersex people!” she told Vogue.   

This revelation pushed Odiele to come out to her family and confront them about the surgeries. Luckily for her, her parents Franke and Annie Termote supported her and today, discourage other parents from following in their footsteps. 

Today, Odiele is married to the love of her life model-DJ John Swiatek, and is an advocate for intersex persons. But she is not alone. There are many famous intersex personalities who have come out and are now advocates for a cause that still needs more voices.

Fighting For Intersex Rights Is Crucial 

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A post shared by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

Although it was unfortunate the Odiele had to undergo irreversible and nonconsensual genital surgeries, it is to be no more. In 2016, United Nations condemned nonconsensual genital surgeries and even urged countries to classify them as torture.

As it should. 

We too believe that by awareness about what it is like to be intersex, can push educated citizens to support their rights. Being different is a human right too. 

As Odiele says in her InterACT campaign, “I hope that by telling my story." "More people get outraged at the human rights violations suffered by intersex children around the world,” she adds. 

Also read: Famous Intersex People On What It's Like To Be Born Both Male & Female

(All images courtesy: Instagram)

Written by

Deepshikha Punj