There’s a remote village in Barahona Province of the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic where one in 90 girls turn into boys when they reach puberty, and it’s a natural genetic condition.
The locals call these children “guevedoces,” which literally means “penis at 12,” but the medical term for the condition is psuedohermaphroditism.
The condition is featured in a new BBC 2 series called Countdown to Life- The Extraordinary Making of You, The Mirror reports.
An article on the BBC News gives even more insight on the remarkable story. They speak to two of the guevedoces who are featured in the episode.
“I remember I used to wear a little red dress,” says Johnny. Johnny was once known as Felecitia and did not have a penis when he was born.
“When they bought me girls toys I never bothered playing with them. All I wanted to do was play with the boys.”
When he transitioned from female to male at puberty, his classmates teased him mercilessly.
“They used to say I was a devil, nasty things, bad words and I had no choice but to fight them because they were crossing the line.”
The documentary also follows Carla, who at age 7 is about to make the change from male to female. When she fully transitions, she will be called Carlos. It’s a change that his mother knew was coming.
“When she turned five I noticed that whenever she saw one of her male friends she wanted to fight with him. Her muscles and chest began growing. You could see she was going to be a boy. I love her however she is. Girl or boy, it makes no difference”
The first scientific investigations into the guevedoces were conducted by Dr. Julianne Imperato, an endocrinologist who came to the region in the 1970s after hearing rumors that girls were turning into boys.
There have since been numerous studies about the condition. Here’s what scientists know so far- via the BBC News article.
During the first weeks of life, fetuses have no sex although both males and females develop nipples at this stage. The sex hormones start working at about 8 weeks. If you’re genetically male, with an X and Y chromosome, the Y chromosome tells your gonads to become testicles. It also delivers testosterone to a structure called the tubercle where it changes into an even stronger hormone called dihydro-testosterone. This hormone causes the tubercle to become a penis. If you’re genetically female, your tubercle turned into a clitoris.
In the guvedoces case, their bodies lack the enzyme that turns testosterone into dihydro-testosterone, so the penis doesn’t develop. The boys seem to be female when they’re born. But at puberty, their bodies naturally produce a second surge of testosterone and they develop male characteristics including testes and a penis.
Further investigations into the psuedohermaphrodites have produced a drug that’s used to treat benign enlargement of the prostate and male-pattern baldness.
[Photo by Ruslan Dashinsky/Getty Images]