As a child, ALYSSA BALL always felt different from other children.
But it wasn’t until she had the “period conversation” with her mother at age 11 that she realized she was genetically male – and was born with “eggs in her stomach.”
Alyssa was hit with the life-changing news that she was born intersex, meaning she had both male and female biological characteristics.
Just a month before her first birthday, the now 27-year-old had premature testicles removed from her stomach during an operation.
She is now questioning that decision because the testicles were not life-threatening.
The condition, known as “complete androgen insensitivity syndrome,” meant that despite being genetically male with XY chromosomes, Alyssa would likely never grow pubic hair or lower her voice due to her insensitivity to testosterone.
In addition, the psychology student had neither ovaries nor a uterus and therefore could not have a period.
The self-love coach claims she struggled with her surname “Ball” as a teenager when her classmates found out she was intersex and feared potential love interests would reject her because she couldn’t have children.
Despite her mother’s decision to have her operated on as a baby, the yoga teacher instead blames the anxiety-inducing doctors who left her “in the dark” and urged her to keep it “secret” when she started taking the medication .
She now hopes that by speaking out about the issue, she will help other people not feel the “shame” that she felt.
The former model shared her first video on TikTok this month, detailing how she found out she was intersex. She figured it would reach a few hundred people at most.
To her surprise, it received more than 3.4 million views and thousands of likes and comments – she hopes sharing her story will raise awareness about what it means to be intersex.
Shame, isolation and secrecy
Alyssa, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, said: “I think as a child I always felt like I was different and like no one understood me.”
“I was a tomboy and always played soccer and softball and was friends with the boys.
“I always got into fights, I was rougher and tougher.”
Alyssa recalled that as a child, she knew she was having surgery, but didn’t understand what it was for.
She continued: “When I was 11, like most pre-pubescent girls, I wanted to know when I was going to get my period and get breasts and go through puberty.”
“My mom sat me down and she had this folder of medical information that she kept for the first 11 years of my life.
“She told me that I wouldn’t get a period and that I had an intersex condition called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, in which my body didn’t fully develop into a boy in the womb, but never fully developed into a woman either.”
Her mother also revealed that Alyssa had developed premature testicles in her stomach.
“I was born with eggs in my stomach,” she joked.
“I remember being so sad when I found out because I was told to keep it a secret and there was all this shame, isolation and secrecy that came with it.”
Although Alyssa was told to keep it a secret, she immediately went to her little sister and close friends to tell her, but word got around at school that she was so unwell.
What does it mean to be intersex?
Being intersex means that a person’s gender does not fit neatly into the categories of “male” or “female.”
This may be due to their chromosomes, hormones, genitals and reproductive tissues.
According to the NHS, there are two types of androgen insensitivity syndrome:
- complete androgen insensitivity syndrome
- partial androgen insensitivity syndrome
It is caused by a genetic change that causes the body to not respond fully or at all to testosterone, despite normal male chromosomes (XY).
This prevents typical male sexual development, according to the NHS, meaning a child’s genitals may develop as female or be underdeveloped as male.
They may also have fully or partially erect testicles, but no uterus or ovaries.
Full androgen insensitivity syndrome can be harder to detect because the genitals usually look like any other girl’s.
The diagnosis often only occurs during puberty, when periods stop and pubic and armpit hair do not develop.
Alyssa said: “The doctors told me no one would understand.
“Word got around in high school and I always tried to hide.
“With the last name ‘Ball’ in that situation, middle school and high school were really tough. ‘Alyssa has balls’ was a big deal.”
Alyssa also found out that she couldn’t have children.
“I was really heartbroken because from a young age we have this idea of how life works and I wanted children.”
“As I got older, I worried that people wouldn’t want to be with me because I couldn’t have children and that it would ruin a relationship.
“I tell everyone on the first date now and just tell them because I’m so much more open.
“There’s so much shame and stigma attached to it that I really want to advocate for people to love and accept who they are and feel like there’s no pressure to keep it a secret.”
At age 12, Alyssa was given progesterone and estrogen to mimic the hormonal experiences of the female body during puberty.
Alyssa said: “I still didn’t get my period because it required a uterus and I didn’t have any of those organs.”
“I’m genetically XY, so I’m taller, I’m 5’6”. There are some elements of masculine traits, but at the same time I have very feminine bones, like a delicate bone structure.”
But the student said she “never had any male characteristics” because her body couldn’t respond to testosterone.
She explained: “All genders have a baseline level of testosterone, but my body doesn’t do anything with it, so I’ve never had body odor, armpit or pubic hair, I’ve never had a pimple or pimple in my life, but…” also no period and no cramps.
We celebrate the differences
Alyssa believes doctors never told her to “keep it a secret” nor should she operate when she was just 11 months old.
Alyssa said: “You took [the premature testes] out because they tell parents that they could get cancer, but the risk of them getting cancer is actually very low.
“Maybe if I had had that choice as an adult I wouldn’t have made it.
I’m just a big proponent of everyone being able to make their own choice in this regard, and I had no choice.
Alyssa still maintains that her mother “made the best choice she could.”
“It’s the doctors who really worked to instill fear in parents by saying they might have cancer.”
“The fear we instill in parents and the need to keep it a secret just keeps people in the dark.”
Alyssa hopes sharing her story will encourage others to celebrate everyone’s differences.
Alyssa said: “My biggest message to people, whether they are intersex or not, they are not born broken.”
“We are all born unique and should truly embrace who we are and how we came into this world.”
“We should celebrate the unique differences and beauty of each individual. I think we should make it our mission to just learn about ourselves and the way people can be, and be more loving and understanding about their journeys, rather than rushing to judgment and making assumptions.”
Read more at the Scottish Sun
The University of Manchester states that there are more than 40 different variations in a person’s physical sexual characteristics.
Approximately 1.7 percent of the world’s population is intersex, with up to 1.1 million people in the UK alone.