It's a lie doctors have been telling since about 1953, when the syndrome was formally identified. For Atwood, it was the discovery of that lie that shattered her self-image and drove her to sleep with many men in an effort to prove her femininity.
And as for the act of sex, it's pretty much the same. Women with AIS can have orgasms just like the rest of us. But they say the lies about their conditions can interfere with intimacy and become far more toxic than the actual diagnosis.
No one has lied to 11-year-old Kylee Whitcher. She's part of a new generation of girls with AIS who not only know everything about their male DNA, they're completely comfortable talking about it.
"I don't have ovaries, which I have to have in order to have a child," Whitcher said nonchalantly, "and I don't have a uterus, and I don't have fallopian tubes -- but really, I look like any other girl."
Whitcher's mom, Jen Cole, was honest with her daughter from the beginning, in an age-appropriate manner.
"I just told her that she was special," Cole said, "and had to adopt other people's babies that don't have mommies and daddies."
Whitcher was just 3 years old when, during a surgery to repair a hernia, doctors discovered her internal testicles. Cole admitted that it scared her at first. But after doing some research, she realized that "it wasn't that big of a deal."
It's taken more than 20 years, but Atwood is finally more comfortable talking about her long-kept secret. She shared it with Bruce Anderson, who eventually married her. But Atwood says the lies told to her about her AIS gave her intimacy issues; she and Bruce eventually divorced.
They have, however, remained close. In fact, Anderson is still often found in the kitchen, making meals with Ben, the 4-year-old son they adopted as an infant.
Thanks to hormone therapy, this woman -- with male chromosomes and no womb -- was actually able to breast-feed. Atwood said it was an incredible act that "sewed up some of the Swiss cheese of [her] soul.
"I check the box every time it comes up: Male or Female? Female, " she said confidently. "But only because the box is there."
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