There is a place in the Dominican Republic where girls, at the age of 12 suddenly start growing a penis. We know it sounds like some weird sci-fi tale but this is a strange but true story.
Ever since the 1970s there had been strange rumours of girls turning into boys in Salinas, an isolated village in the Dominican Republic.
When researchers went to investigate the weird happenings they discovered the weird transformation was so common in the town that there are even names for the children – ‘guevedoces’ , which literally translates as “penis at 12” or ‘machihembras’ meaning “first a woman, then a man’
One of the guevedoces is Johnny. Now 26, Johnny was originally named Felecitia by his parents.
“I remember I used to wear a little red dress,” he says. “I was born at home instead of in a hospital. They didn’t know what sex I was.I went to school and I used to wear my skirt. I never liked to dress as a girl. When they bought me girls toys I never bothered playing with them. All I wanted to do was play with the boys.”
At the age of 12 Felecitia/Johnny started growing a penis. “When I changed I was happy with my life,” he says.
Medical researchers have since discovered that Johnny and the other guevedoces all have a rare and strange medical condition 5-alpha-reductase deficiency.which prevents the production of a specific form of the male sex hormone – dihydro-testosterone – in the womb. Technically they are born male, but it is just that they don’t exhibit any of the physical signs until they are older.
All babies in the womb, whether male or female, have internal glands known as gonads and a small bump between their legs called a tubercle. At around eight weeks, male babies who carry the Y chromosome start to produce dihydro-testosterone in large amounts, which turns the tubercle into a penis. For females, the tubercle becomes a clitoris.
But some male babies are missing the enzyme 5-?-reductase which triggers the hormone surge, so they appear to be born female with no testes and what appears to be a vagina. It is not until puberty, when another huge surge of testosterone is produced, that the male reproductive organs emerge. What should have happened in the womb happens around 12 years later. Their voices deepen and they finally grow a penis.
The rare genetic disorder affects one in 90 babies in the village.And is so common that many of the children never change their birth names so some men in the village have female names like Catherine.
Other cases have also been reported in Papua New Guinea. But there the children are seen as damaged males and shunned and ostracized by villagers, unlike in Salinas where the childrens’ transformation is celebrated.