JUST like most young girls, Dani Coyle had been told that at some point she should expect to get her periods.
But as her friends all started their menstrual cycles, she was left confused as to why hers had never arrived.
Instead, Dani, from Swindon, Wiltshire, noticed her voice had suddenly deepened and she had developed painful stomach cramps.
She began to suspect their was something different and at 14, she went to see a doctor, who referred her to a specialist.
Tests revealed that Dani had XY chromosomes – usually found in men – and no female reproductive organs such as a womb, known as being intersex.
A further scan revealed that she had testicles inside her stomach, which were in the early stages of cancer.
Dani, now 25, says she was “devastated” when doctors gave her the diagnosis – but not surprised.
She said: “When I was ten, I noticed things changing in my body that were more typical of what happens in male development. My voice lowered in tone and my period never came. It was an extremely confusing and lonely time.
“At fourteen, I was told I had ‘seventeen beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase three’ deficiency.
“My body didn’t respond ‘normally’ to the testosterone my testes produced which is why I was born, looked like, and was raised as a girl – which is lucky as I’ve always identified as female.
“I’d wished for words to explain and understand my differences for a long time. I was relieved – but scared – to finally have them.
“I was scared no one was going to love me when I found out. I was angry at the odds – why me? “
Doctors told Dani that they could ‘normalise’ her ‘medical defect’ through surgery and hormone replacement therapy.
So in 2009, the suspected cancerous testes were removed and Dani underwent external cosmetic surgery to alter the appearance of her vulva.
It’s something she says she now feels she was forced into doing after learning that intersex bodies aren’t accepted in society.
Dani, a content creator, said: “I was told and believed it to be a secret that no one needed to know so I quickly underwent the surgery to remove my testes and normalise my external appearance – just as the doctors and surgeons recommended.
“I also had hormone replacement therapy – which is essentially a menopause oestrogen pill – and I thought I’d be back to being a normal girl.
“Now, I feel like these surgeries were presented as the only viable option – like I was robbed by biased doctors who work within a biased system which has caused an immeasurable amount of mental trauma.”
I feel like these surgeries were presented as the only viable option – like I was robbed by biased doctors
Dani is a keen activist and she hopes to raise awareness around intersex surgery – particularly surgery performed on young children without their consent.
She believes raising awareness in society through extended education in schools could be a part of the solution.
“We are robbed of bodily autonomy in the name of gender binary,” she said.
“For many, the idea there are only two sexes and genders is way more convenient – disregarding those of us who don’t fit in to ‘either’ and ‘or.’
“If I had known then what I do know, I wonder if I would have chosen the surgeries or harboured as much and shame and disgust for myself, as I did for so long.
“I used to think being intersex was a curse but now I see that’s a blessing. I am free from the confines of gender expectations.
“I’m a part of the sanctuary of the LGBTQIA+ community and I’m literally one in a million.
I have intimacy issues and body dysmorphia due to the trauma of being poked and prodded so much as a child
“These surgeries are forced upon intersex babies every day, many of whom end up with a gender identity that doesn’t align with their body’s presentation because it was chosen for them by someone else.
“Even now, I have intimacy issues and body dysmorphia due to the trauma of being poked and prodded so much as a child – it was incredibly traumatic.
“I want to see representative education in schools that covers the whole spectrum of human biology.
“I want to see the end of non-consensual, cosmetic intersex genital surgeries on babies and children.
“I want to promote and see the world become more aware, accepting, and inclusive of intersex, trans, and gender non-conforming people and our use of language. Hopefully, I can play a small part in that.
“The differences in our bodies, identities, and cultures are things to celebrate. Let’s all be kinder to people who are different from ourselves.”