In the small village of Salinas in the Barahona Province of the Dominican Republic, being a pseudohermaphrodite is so common that it’s accepted alongside male and female sexes.
Amazingly, one in 90 kids born there make a natural transformation from girl to boy around the time they hit puberty.
These kids are referred to as ‘guevedoces’, which literally translates to “penis at 12”.
24 year old Jonny, who was once known as Felicia (before he grew a penis), 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.
The guevedoces were first discovered by endocrinologist Dr Julianne Imperato, who travelled to the region in the 70s. She believes the condition is caused by a rare genetic disorder where a missing enzyme prevents the production of the male sex hormone ‘dihydrotestosterone’ in the womb, and thus creates what looks like a female on birth. But when the ‘female’ hits puberty and testosterone levels pick up, their voices break and they grow male reproductive organs.
Dr Michael Mosley explains:
When they’re born they look like girls with no testes and what appears to be a vagina. It is only when they near puberty that the penis grows and testicles descend.
So being born into the wrong body is one thing, but not even knowing which body you’ve been born into is quite another. I guess it’s lucky guevedoces are so common in Salinas as you can imagine the kind of grief a young man or woman would get with this kind of condition elsewhere in the world.
What about the guevedoces who enjoy living as females then realise they’re becoming males at 12 years old? Do they carry on doing their thing or do they “switch” gender accordingly? Mind-boggling stuff.
I guess we’ll find all that out tonight, as BBC2 is airing a feature on the village and its people at 9PM — check it out.