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Top 10 intersex celebrities you need to know

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Sep 05, 2023

Top 10 intersex celebrities you need to know
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Intersex people are everywhere. Many successful and impactful intersex celebrities have made major inroads into intersex visibility in mainstream media. This includes intersex activists, policymakers, actors, writers, athletes, and other major public figures.

Due to the serious lack of gender diversity in the media, many people don’t know what the actual lived experiences of intersex people are. 

Intersex erasure and stigma are not just confined to the mainstream media; many people within the LGBTQIA+ community are equally unaware of the issues that intersex people face. If there is anything that transgender and intersex people have taught us, it is that the biologically enforced male/female binary is false. 

Despite the lack of intersex awareness in the public, intersex people stay out here looking gorgeous, breaking barriers, and ending stigma just by living their lives authentically. So, which celebrities were born intersex? 

Here is a list of prominent intersex celebrities that you needed to know yesterday, like:

  •  Caroline Cossey
  • Mokgadi Caster Semenya
  • Hanne Gaby Odiele
  • Hida Vilora
  • River Gallo
  • Sean Safia Wall
  • Pidgeon Pagonis
  • Thea Hillman
  • Juliana Huxtable
  • Dutee Chand

1. Caroline Cossey

Caroline Cossey, transgender and intersex model, laying down on a linoleum floor in a black sequin dress with a red lip.

Source: Mirror

You might know Caroline Cossey if you know anything about James Bond. The British model and actress appeared in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Open. Cossey was born with an intersex variation that gave her a distinctly feminine appearance. She transitioned at seventeen and was publicly stealth in her career as an actress and glamor model, until she was outed as transgender by the British tabloid media.

She has since written two autobiographies and fought for her right to marry and be legally recognized as a woman. In 1992, she was also the first transgender woman to model for Playboy.

“Playboy was the number one platform for my activism.”

Cossey

“Their readers were the type of people that needed to be educated; the type of people that gave people like myself such a hard time.”

Cossey say

2. Mokgadi Caster Semenya

An image of Caster Semenya, an intersex black woman and world-class athlete, in a green and yellow South African jersey facing the sun, her brown skin glowing.

Source: 20 Minutes

Caster Semenya is a high-profile athlete, South African middle-distance runner, and winner of two Olympic gold medals and three world Championships. She is a household name in track and field. However, ever since she was 18, her performances have been under scrutiny due to how good she really is. Semenya identifies as a woman and has never openly identified as intersex. 

However, due to public pressure she was subjected to a slew of testing from the IAAF which revealed that she had “higher than average” androgens in her body. After being barred from competing in several events, Semenya said “I refuse to let the World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”


3.Hanne Gaby Odiele

An image of Hanne Gaby Odiele, intersex model. Her hair is big, blonde, and voluminous. She is wearing a bra in front of a black background.

Source: CTV News

Hanne Gaby Odiele is a 34 Belgian model who has walked runways from Chanel to Givenchy to Prada. Not only is she the face of Balenciaga, but she also bravely made history when she came out as intersex in January 2017. Odiele was born with a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome and underwent medical procedures as a child without her or her parents’ informed consent.

She went public to fight stigma and raise intersex awareness against non-consensual and irreversible surgeries performed on children. Odiele wanted to use her platform to tell people: “you can be accepted, however you happen to be! The ‘norm’ is not what you think it is.” She is currently one of the most high-profile intersex celebrities who is out. 


4. Hida Vilora

An image of Hilda Viloria taken by Pierre Redon. They are in a leather collar with straps everywhere holding what appears to be an animal skeleton head. The photo is somewhat out of focus.

Source: Twitter

Hida Viloria is a Latine American writer, producer and intersex human rights advocate. If intersex history had a great-grandelder, Vilora would be it. Born in 1968, they were one of the first people to come out in international media as a non-binary intersex person. Viloria has advocated against the use of medically unnecessary surgeries and hormone therapy on infants and minors, also known as intersex genital mutilation, for the last 25 years. They are one of the most prolific public advocates for the global human rights of the intersex community in legal recognition, healthcare, sports, and more.


5. River Gallo

River Gallo posing on a couch in blue overalls and white gloves. They are laying down, looking relaxed with their arms slightly bent, looking at the camera.

Source: Sissy Screens

I can’t talk about intersex baddies without mentioning the legendary River Gallo. Gallo is a multi-disciplinary artist, filmmaker, actor, and intersex rights activist. They wrote, directed, and starred in their debut short film Ponyboi, which was the first film to feature an intersex character played by an openly intersex actor. 

Gallo is currently developing Ponyboi into a feature length film. They live in Los Angeles, although they grew up on the east coast in New Jersey as a first generation Salvadoran-American. Besides being absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and beyond talented, they also identify as non-binary, queer, and a devout member of the church of Stud Country queer line dancing at Club Bahia in LA. 


6. Sean Safia Wall

An image of Sean Safia Wall in front of a black and brown tapestry. He is looking serious in blue glasses with salt and pepper hair, his brown skin glowing.

Source: Sean Safia

Sean Safia Wall is in Black queer transgender intersex activist and renowned public health researcher. Born in the Bronx, he is the co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project, which aims to end the harmful and invasive genital surgeries performed on children with intersex variations. He is also a full-time dad to his adorable dog Justice. It’s his life mission to end intersex oppression through the intersections of racial justice. 


7. Pidgeon Pagonis

Pidgeon Pagognis, mixed race intersex activist and writer. They are looking at the camera with soft eyes in front of a white background.

Source: Lithub

This wouldn’t be a list of famous intersex people if it didn’t include Pidgeon Pagonis. Pagonis is a legend. They are a mixed, queer, non-binary intersex person who writes fierce takes on identity politics for Everyday Feminism.

They co-founded the Intersex Justice Project with Sean Safia Wall, and successfully carried out the #endintersexsurgery campaign against Lurie Children’s Hospital—the hospital in which Pangonis was operated on as a child. Currently, they are working on a memoir slated to be published in 2023 by Little A Press. If that’s not next on your reading list, I don’t know what is. 


8. Thea Hillman

An image of Thea Hillman, intersex poet and activist in a grocery store with the background out of focus. She is smiling and looking at the camera.

Source: Flickr

Thea Hillman is an award-winning poet, writer, and intersex activist from San Francisco. She wrote a groundbreaking poetic memoir entitled Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word. If you are looking to learn more about the embodied realities of intersex people, gender as drag, and the myth of a false sex binary, I cannot recommend this book enough. The interrogation of the true meaning of community lies at the center of this book, and now is as apt a moment as any to ask ourselves what do our communities actually look like?


9. Juliana Huxtable 

Juliana Huxtable, a black intersex trans woman, posing in striped leggings, a white tank top, and long bleached braids with a green skull necklace around her neck.

Source: Ra

Juliana Huxtable is the love of my life. No, really if you don’t know who she is, stop what you are doing and follow her. She’s an artist, DJ, nightlife producer, and performer in New York. She was born intersex and transitioned after college at Bard, where she studied gender. She has done everything from model to host parties to create large artworks—including life-sized self-portrait body casts of her own naked form—for major museums. She is a tried and true creative genius whose work cannot be boxed in by genre. 


10. Dutee Chand

Dutee Chand, Indian professional sprinter and intersex woman, in a red Puma sports bra standing in front of a mirror relaxed, her muscles shining in the flash.

Source: Twitter

Dutee Chand is an Indian professional sprinter and current national champion in the women’s 100 meters event. She knows that all women’s bodies are different, including her own. Like Caster Semenya, she too was born with the intersex variation hyperandrogenism, which creates “higher than average levels of testosterone.” 

Nothing is more of a hot debate than trans and intersex participation in sport, but if we can celebrate Michael Phelps for his unusually long arms without suggesting he shorten them, then why can’t we do the same for intersex athletes?  Chand, like Semenya, refuses to lower her T levels just to be able to compete. Chand also puts the L and LGBT and publicly came out after the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize gay sex in 2018.


Intersex FAQs


What does it mean to be intersex? 

For those of you who don’t know, or for those who need to brush up on their knowledge, intersex is a term used to describe people with sex characteristics that do not fit the standard binary medical definitions of male or female. These sex characteristics can include chromosome patterns, gonads, or internal/external genitals. Some intersex traits are noticed at birth, while others don’t show up until puberty or later in life. 


What percentage of the population is intersex?

Contrary to popular belief, being born intersex is not uncommon! According to studies, experts have estimated that around 1.7% of the population around the globe is born with intersex traits!


Can intersex people have kids?

Whether or not intersex people can have children depends on many factors. Similar to transgender people, it depends on what genitals and internal reproductive systems are present. If an intersex person has a penis and testes that make sperm, they may be able to get someone pregnant. An intersex person who has a uterus and/or ovaries may be able to carry a child. 

Some intersex people are not able to have kids due to non-consensual surgeries that resulted in sterilization. Fertility and family building is a unique journey and sensitive for every person, including intersex people. 


Do intersex people know they are intersex? 

Many intersex people have been shamed or pressured by medical professionals due to differences in their genitals or reproductive anatomy. This can happen to some intersex children at a very young age. Most intersex people realize at some point in their lives that they are intersex; however, due to social stigma and a lack of awareness of how broad the term “intersex” can be, this might not happen until later in life.

I hope that you learned about some of the most influential intersex celebrities out there and (at the very least) added some new books to your LGBTQ+ bookshelf. None of us are free until we are all free. 

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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