In 1986, Sophie Ottaway was born with a very rare condition that required emergency surgery.
Cloacal exstrophy occurs when organs in the abdomen do not form properly in the womb, resulting in babies born with organs such as the bladder or intestines outside the body.
Sophie Ottaway was born with a very rare condition Credit: Allie Crewe / Telegraph
Sophie was originally born a boy Credit: Sophie Ottoway
Doctors had to operate to save her life.
Sophie was actually a boy, with a small, damaged penis, but healthy testicles.
But doctors advised Sophie’s parents to remove the baby’s male genitalia to avoid further complications.
They had to register the baby by the next day, which meant they had to decide whether to mark it as male or female on the form.
Sophie’s parents Karen and John followed the surgeon’s advice.
“They were told not to tell me,” says Sophie, a warm and friendly 37-year-old who has since fully forgiven her parents for their decision.
“We’re very close,” he tells me, “despite going through some tough times in the past.”
Life changed for Sophie, who grew up in Beverley, East Yorks, when she was 22 and visited her GP for tonsillitis.
She says: “I saw on the computer screen that I had XY chromosomes, that I was castrated a few hours after birth and that an incision was made where the vagina would be.”
Although Sophie exploded at her parents at the time, she buried her feelings about it until 13 years later when, hospitalized during a Covid quarantine, she was found to have contracted sepsis which ended up in her intestines.
‘I went into 13 years of absolute denial’
This made her decide to speak up.
Sophie was already aware that many children and young people were raised in a gender ideology, persuaded to take puberty blockers, and then directed to treatment for life.
She says: “At the age of 11, when I was approaching puberty, I was put on estrogen because I have no ovaries, no testicles to produce testosterone.
“That’s what doctors are doing now with kids who want to change sex—they’re putting them on blockers.”
It was a lie when Sophie was told she had to take estrogen for life because her ovaries were removed at birth as a result of the damage.
Sophie was born a biological male. “So apparently there were never any ovaries,” she says wryly.
She adds, “The time to tell me and try to get informed consent was when we introduced the endocrinologist. This is the time when kids are being offered puberty blockers, so I relate that to what’s happening today.”
When feminists and other critics of the medicalization of children with gender dysphoria say that these drugs and interventions are harmful, we are often labeled retards. But Sophie speaks from personal experience, in the hope that she will be listened to, not rejected and denigrated.
About five years ago, Sophie decided to stop taking hormones because “I was adamant that a lot of the problems in my life were caused by them.
“I was about 4st heavier than I am now and I didn’t eat badly. I had incredible pain in my bladder.
As a child, Sophie was unaware of her problem at birth Credit: Sophie Ottoway
Doctors advised Sophie’s parents that they should remove their baby’s male genitalia to avoid complications Credit: Sophie Ottoway
“I was tired and quite angry a lot of the time.”
By then, Sophie had been taking estrogen for 20 years and decided enough was enough. She was told that she should continue taking it because it is for bone density, to which she replied that she would go for regular bone scans.
Sophie had no choice but to go on estrogen because her doctors prescribed it when she was a child – but surely she should be listened to when she warns about the effects of sex hormones on the body?
Now that she is off it, all of her symptoms have improved.
She says, “We’re selling this idea of perfection under the guise of gender reassignment. You have all these issues and maybe you’re struggling because you don’t fit in at school, or because you like boys’ toys and you’re a girl, or vice versa. As someone who knows all about decisions made under time pressure and who has paid the price, Sophie’s understanding of the sales pitch given to pre-pubescent children is crystal clear.
She says, “You have sales based on time pressure.
“We’re going to push you through this for puberty blockers, we’re going to make that sale.”
Keen to emphasize that there is a big difference between a girl acting “like a boy”, wearing boys’ clothes and having a haircut, Sophie adds: “Puberty blockers are on another level to how we dress and what toys we prefer.”
The idea being sold is that gender reassignment is the answer to all your problems, but Sophie says: “What you get is genital mutilation, castration and a lifetime of dangerous hormones, which is my experience.”
As she points out, “Kids can’t vote, they can’t drink, they can’t drive. “But you can choose to do something that will change your life.”
Sophie hopes that by speaking up and telling the unvarnished truth, some children – and parents – might make a different choice.
She says that when she found out she was born male, “obviously I knew I had urological problems, and I knew I didn’t have a vagina because of the surgeries.
“At that moment I was not concerned with it. I was 22 years old, in my second year of university.
“I had a plan for my life. And dealing with this monstrosity was not in the plan. The next day I got up and went to the university.
“I still had the same connection with my friends. I was still the person I was 24 hours ago.
“But I went into 13 years of absolute denial.”
She never told anyone about it, not even close friends.
‘When I left the hospital I was furious’
Then, during the pandemic, Sophie found herself in the hospital several times and everything came crashing down.
She recalls: “They thought it was a kidney infection, but they couldn’t figure it out.
“When I was born, they shaped some female genitalia. A brown putrid liquid began to leak from the hole and did not stop.
“I came to the hospital and had to tell them for the first time what happened to me.”
When the doctors examined her, they saw that something was wrong.
It turned out there was a mass in her abdomen, which was neovaginal – inserted when she was a baby – and left to rot.
Sophie says: “I found out from my mum that they put it on me when I was two days old, and that one day it popped out and was found in my nappy.”
During a later operation, surgeons replaced it, sealed it, and left it, which led to sepsis many years later.
“Nobody was told it was returned,” says Sophie.
Until this moment, she thought the surgeon had simply operated to save her life – “which he did, but he also did a hell of a lot of other things that were unnecessary.”
Sophie went through female puberty Credit: Sophie Ottoway
Moreover, the doctors failed to do something that was necessary – namely, to solve the complex urological problems that had plagued Sophie all her life.
She says it’s “one of the things that has the biggest effect on any intimate relationship. And yet, the only thing they could fix was my incontinence.”
She tells me: “When I left the hospital, I was furious at that moment.”
And she thought that by speaking out, she could help those who think they are in the wrong body.
Sophie says: “The school, the system and the media prepare many of them to feel that way or question those thoughts. Those kids need help.”
A much better solution, she argues, would be to divert funds currently used for puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery and allocate them to children’s mental health services and counseling.
Sophie says: “We can work with the person to find out why they feel the way they do.
“Then maybe when they become adults, they might be mature enough to be properly informed and consent to any changes to the outer body.
“It’s often assumed that I’m transgender, but I really don’t like labels. I’m just Sophie.
Ready for a backlash from more extreme trans activists, Sophie makes it clear that she respects any adult’s decision to choose that path – as long as they are properly informed.
But it is clear to her that this is never suitable for children.
“I don’t want this to happen to any other baby born with this condition,” she says.
“We need to find better ways to support children to live in the body they were born with.”
Sophie pictured with her parents Karen and John Credit: Allie Crewe / Telegraph