This week, Belgian fashion model Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed that she is intersex. According to the 29-year-old model, revealing her sexual identity was an important step in helping to reduce the stigma surrounding this rare, yet very real health condition. As Odiele helps to bring intersex status to the public eye, it’s important to understand what the condition entails.

According to the UK’s National Health Service, intersexuality is caused by a rare condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome, which leads to a child who is born genetically male, but who has the external genitals of a female, or somewhere in between male and female. In Odiele’s case, she was born with undescended testicles, no ovaries, and external genitals that resembled a vagina. However, not all cases of androgen insensitivity syndrome are the same. For example, the NHS report that in the case of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, testosterone has no effect on sexual development and the genitals are completely female. However, in partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, testosterone has some effect and as a result the genitals are a mix between both male and female.

Read: Parents Sue Doctors For Making Their Intersex Child A Girl, Claiming Genital Mutilation

At 10, she had her testicles surgically removed because she was told they may become a cancer risk. At 18 she had reconstructive surgery on her vagina, The Guardian reported. According to Odiele, the operations were distressful, and she hopes that parents of intersex children will not pressure their children to undergo potentially unnecessary operations in order to help them fit in better.

“It’s very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” Odiele told USA Today. “At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”

The condition is extremely rare and according to the Intersex Society of North America, only occurs in about one in every 1,500 to 2,000 births. In addition, some intersex individuals are not even aware of their condition until they are older.

In addition to Odiele’s announcements, there have been other major improvements in the recognition and respect of intersex individuals. For example, according to CNN, last year New York became the first state to issue a birth certificate reading intersex on the gender. In addition, numerous countries across the world have stopped “normalization” surgeries on intersex children, The Guardian reported.

See Also:

Are Human Sexuality And Gender Identity A Spectrum From Male To Female, Or Binary?

Biologists Say Gender Expands Across A Spectrum, Rather Than Simply Boy And Girl