Puberty is a confusing enough time for any young adult, but just imagine you had to then face your gender completely changing against your will on top of that. It doesn’t bare thinking about.
Most people don’t have to worry about this, but for the people of Salinas – a remote village in the Dominican Republic – one in 90 children naturally grow a penis and transform into males.
The change is due to a rare genetic disorder known in medical terms as “pseudohermaphrodite”, or as the locals know it “guevedoces”, which translates as “penis at 12”. It’s apparently so well-known in the village that it’s accepted as a third gender.
It’s caused by a missing enzyme, which prevents the production of the male sex hormone dihydro-testosterone in the womb and therefore the mother gives birth to what looks like a girl. However, at puberty when testosterone comes into play, the person’s voice breaks and they grow male sexual organs.
This rare and fascinating phenomenon is explored in a BBC2 programme called ‘Countdown to Life – The Extraordinary Making of You’. One of the people featured on the show includes 24-year-old Johnny, who is now a male but was once a girl know as Felicitia. He said:
I remember I used to wear a little red dress. 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.
So it appears that although a pseudohermaphrodite might look like a girl upon birth, they still think and act like a boy. What a rare and fascinating phenomenon – I guess it’s lucky for the residents of Salinas that this is so common and accepted. Imagine trying to deal with turning into a boy with added social stigma and confusion. As said, puberty is hard enough as it is.
If you’d like to find out more about it, check out ‘Countdown to Life – The Extraordinary Making of You’ on BBC2, Monday 21st September at 9pm.
For more of the same, check out ten of the weirdest diseases on earth.