Meet the proudly intersex model rocking the fashion world

By Kim Abrahams
28 April 2017

Intersex is a term given to people who are born with both male and female reproductive organs.

Throughout her childhood, she was made to feel there was something horribly wrong with her.

Numerous visits to the doctor, where her private parts would be fiddled with, coupled with the fact that no one ever flat-out told her what was wrong with her, left her traumatised.

Today, Hanne Gaby Odiele is making waves in the fashion industry as an intersex model who stalks the runway for some of the biggest names in the game.


Oh Marc, this show was everything!!! Thank you @themarcjacobs @kegrand @bitton @guidopalau @diane.kendal ????

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

What an honor to be on the very first cover of the BELGIAN VOGUE by #sergeleblon thank you @dominiquemodels_official ???? A post shared by Hanne Gaby Odiele (@hannegabysees) on

Earlier this year, the 29-year-old Belgian-born beauty shared thee story of her painful and confusing upbringing and how she’s now unashamedly intersex.

“The medical world tells us that we should not talk to anyone about it,” she tells The Guardian.

“Always, I was told to hide. There’s a kind of shame placed on our bodies. But I’m proud intersex.”

There are about 30 different ways of being intersex, but in Hanne’s case, she was born with internal testes and without a womb or ovaries.

Her body produces testosterone, which is then converted into oestrogen. This is because her body is resistant to male hormones, which is why she appears to have feminine features.

Despite her girlish appearance, Hanne describes her childhood years as extremely difficult. She was forced to undergo an operation that would make her female. Making intersex children female is common because it’s easier for doctors to remove the body parts than add them.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we can just change her by surgery, she’ll never even know. It’s all going to be okay,’ ” Hanne explains.

“But those surgeries were never explained to me. They didn’t tell the full story, like the harm that could happen. They always said I was the only one, which is not the truth.”

In fact, close to two percent of the world’s population is intersex. To put this into perspective, two percent of the world's population are redheads.

Growing up in a small Belgian town left Hanne feeling isolated. Her parents kept the news of her medical condition under wraps, not telling any family members or friends. They even tried to keep it from her.

It wasn’t until she turned 17 that she finally put the pieces of the puzzle together. She came across an article in a Dutch teen magazine about an intersex woman who couldn’t have children.

“I showed the article to my doctor and he said: ‘Yeah, this is you.’

“It’s weird because I went to psychologists my whole life and even when I had a question, everyone just dismissed it.”

Finally finding out why she constantly had to visit the doctor and have her private parts examined, brought relief for the then-teen.

She pursued a career in modelling as part of her healing process.

“The most female job in the world is modelling,” she admits. “I felt like I was playing the system a little bit.”

Last July, she married her long-time love, John Swiatek, a DJ and model.



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

Hanne has made peace with the fact that she won’t be able to bear children one day and the couple has decided to adopt.

“He’s adopted and had a great relationship with both sets of parents,” she says.

“I will never know how it is to bear a child; never know how to have a period. But my identity is female and the energy that I carry myself is mostly female.

“Energy – that’s how I think I see gender; as an energy level.”


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