“It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” she says. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”
A long-time favourite of Alexander Wang, the Belgian model has walked for countless labels including Dior, Gucci and Prada, and has also been featured in Dazed on several occasions.
Odiele was born with a trait known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), which occurs in as many as 1 in 20,000 births, and means that she is genetically male (has one X and one Y chromosome). She was born with testes and, after her parents were told that she “might develop cancer” and “would not develop as a normal, female girl,” she had surgery to remove them when she was just 10.
“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. When she was 18 (a year after being scouted at a music festival in Belgium), she underwent another procedure – vaginal reconstructive surgery. “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,” she adds.
Because society still views intersex traits as negative, babies and children are often subjected to irreversible “corrective” procedures. This is something that Odiele is hoping to change and was actually her primary motivation for disclosing her status. “I am proud to be intersex,” she says, “but very angry that these surgeries are still happening.”