11 Famous Intersex People Defying Gender Norms
Everyone deserves to have the freedom to be true to themselves. We don’t live in a perfect world, but more communities are finding acceptance to be themselves. For instance, intersex people along with transgender people, bisexual, and non-binary folk are gaining more recognition around the globe. Famous intersex people include athletes, models, writers, and activists who are breaking down gender barriers. Of course, it’s not easy as they encounter many obstacles and uphill battles. An intersex person is often born with an intersex condition and ambiguous genitalia. In the past, doctors often advised parents to allow their infants to undergo corrective surgery and assign them a gender at birth. It’s also common for an intersex person to not even know that they were born with an intersex trait and underwent medical procedures. Intersex people can also identify as nonconforming gender, transgender, and non-binary.
While intersex people have made great strides worldwide, they still struggle to have their voices heard. For instance, top-tier athletes face questions about their gender, while supermodels are outed in the tabloids. They still face a great deal of discrimination. At the same time, intersex athletes are the very best at their sport. Supermodels rise to the top of the fashion industry regardless of the gender they’re assigned at birth. Brilliant writers open up and share their struggles with gender identity in best-selling memoirs. Plus, each of these people is an activist fighting for intersex equal rights and publicly supporting each other. They use their platforms and fame to knock down barriers. They’re paving the way for generations that will continue to fight for equal rights. Here’s a look at 11 famous intersex people defying gender norms.
1. Hanne Gaby Odiele
Belgium supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele has graced the covers of Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, and Vogue Italia. In 2017, they publicly revealed their intersex condition, Androgen insensitivity syndrome, for the first time. Born with a female body, they had male DNA and internal genitals at birth. As a child, Odiele had several corrective surgeries but noted they and their parents didn’t understand the true nature of the procedure.
Speaking to Dazed and Confused, they said. “(My parents) weren’t told fully about my condition or about why these procedures were being performed. 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.” An activist for intersex human rights, they identified as intersex in 2017. Later, in 2019, they came out as non-binary using the pronouns they/them.
2. Hida Viloria
Author of Born Both: An Intersex Life, Hida Viloria, is an outspoken writer and human rights activist. Born in New York with enlarged female genitalia and a form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, their parents chose not to have them undergo corrective surgeries when they were an infant. Their parent’s decision was uncommon at the time as most parents would elect to have the surgery. Their father, a physician, felt the health risks involved with the surgery were unnecessary.
Raised female, Viloria now identifies as intersex, nonconforming gender, and non-binary using the pronouns they/them. The critically acclaimed author was the first person to come out as intersex non-binary on a mainstream level. Viloria dedicates their life to fighting for equal rights and discrimination. For instance, Viloria was a strong supporter and advocate for athlete Caster Semenya.
3. Caroline Cossey
English supermodel Caroline Cossey is one of history’s most famous intersex and transgender celebrities. During her childhood, her parents raised her as a boy despite her feminine appearance due to XXXY syndrome. The future model endured intense bullying due to her appearance. When Cossey turned 17, she began receiving hormone therapy and had breast augmentation surgery. Eventually, she had sex reassignment surgery while working as a showgirl.
Using the name Tula, Cossey soon started her modeling career but kept a low profile after a journalist threatened to out her. In 1981, she took on a small role in James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only, starring Roger Moore. She fell into a deep depression after the British tabloid News of World outed Cossey as transgender. She continued her career while fighting for her rights at the European Court of Human Rights. In 1991, Cossey graced the cover of Playboy and was featured in a pictorial as well.
4. Caster Semenya
Two-time gold medalist Caster Semenya dominated the Olympics games and the World Championships in the women’s 800m and 1500m races. However, the middle-distance runner ended up in the middle of controversy when questions about her gender came up. Assigned female at birth, she was born with male internal genitals, 5a-Reductase 2 deficiency, naturally elevated testosterone, and XY chromosomes.
The IAAF forced her to take a sex test to prove that she was female. She returned to competition but the IAAF introduced a new rule In 2019. The new testosterone rule prevents intersex women from entering the 1500m, 800m, and 400m races unless they take medication to suppress their testosterone levels. Regardless, Semenya hasn’t come out as intersex publicly and views herself as a female athlete. She added, “I am who I am, and I am proud of myself. I see the controversy as a joke. It doesn’t bother me.” She continues to fight for intersex athletes’ human rights. Later, she filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in 2021.
5. Taylor Lianne Chandler
Taylor Lianne Chandler gained fame for being involved with the most decorated Olympic gold medalist in history, Michael Phelps. Born David Roy Fitch, Chandler was assigned male at birth but behaved like a girl. Therefore, she had corrected surgery and took testosterone blockers and estrogen enhancers. In 2014, she had everyone talking when she came out as intersex. Eventually, she became an activist for intersex and transgender rights. Chandler is one of the most famous and vocal intersex activists today.
6. Dutee Chand
The women’s national champion in the 100m faced the same uphill battle as Caster Semenya due to her intersex trait. Chand competed at several major sporting events in the 100m sprint, including the 2016 Summer Olympics, Jakarta Asian Games, and more. Possibly the fastest woman in India, she proudly represented her country in various races.
As India’s first open LGBTQ+ member, the IAAF banned Chand from competing due to the testosterone rule change. Their policy on Hyperandrogenism noted that any woman with high testosterone levels would have an advantage. Chand appealed, and the court ruled in her favor. Chand openly supports Semenya as she continues to fight specific rule changes.
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7. Thea Hillman
The intersex community still struggles to have their voices heard. However, activists like Thea Hillman are working tirelessly to fight against discrimination and fight for equality. The world-famous author published several books, including her memoirs Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word and Depending on the Light.
Her memoirs detail her life growing up intersex and struggling with her gender identity. The San Francisco poetry slam champion is also the Chair of the Intersex Society of North America. Plus, she produced several popular events, including ForWord Girls and Intercourse: A Sex and Gender Spoken Word Recipe for Revolution, at the 2001 National Queer Arts Festival.
8. Dana Zzyym
Dana Zzyym grew up in the military and joined the U.S. Navy as an adult. They spent their entire life around the armed forces and never considered any other lifestyle. Later, they began identifying as non-binary and intersex using the pronouns they/them. After discovering the truth about their birth, the navy veteran became an activist and associate director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality.
In 2021, Dana became the first non-binary person to get an “X” marked on their passport in the space for gender. It took six long years, but they finally achieved the impossible goal.
9. Pidgeon Pagonis
Writer and activist Pidgeon Pagonis was unaware of their intersex trait until later in life. Pagonis was born with Androgen insensitivity syndrome or AIS and was assigned female at birth. They also underwent a series of surgeries as infants related to their gender. They now identify as intersex, queer, and non-binary using the pronouns they/them.
Misdiagnosed at birth, Pagonis discovered they have an intersex variation called NR-5A1. Now, Pagonis dedicates a good portion of their time to fighting for intersex rights and fights against nonconsensual intersex medical procedures.
10. Lady Colin Campbel
Royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell has dived deep into the lives of the Royal Family’s most fascinating people, including The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, The Queen Mother, and Princess Diana. She’s had an immensely successful career as an author and television personality, appearing on numerous reality shows.
Growing up in the Colony of Jamaica, Campbell was born with an intersex condition and ambiguous genitalia. Despite being female, the doctors advised her family to raise her as a boy. After moving to New York City in the 70s, Campbell’s grandmother helped her pay for the corrective surgery at the age of 21. She legally changed her name from George Wiliam Ziadie to Georgia Arianna Ziadie.
11. Erick Schinegger
Assigned female at birth, Eric Schinegger is an intersex skier that dominated the sport throughout the 60s. Born with ambiguous genitalia, his parents raised him as a girl, Erika Schinegger. In 1966, he won the women’s downhill ski world championship.
However, before the 1968 Winter Olympics, an examination revealed that Schinegger was born with male internal genitalia. With his gender not correctly assigned at birth, he decided to have corrective surgery and changed his name to Eric. He’s married with kids and currently runs a ski school.
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