In a small village in the Dominican Republic, an estimated one in 50 children are born as ‘girls’ but grow male genitalia during puberty. These children are known as Guevedoces, abruptly translated as “penis-at-12”, citing to the age where their appearance starts to change.
A BBC documentary called Countdown to Life
: The Extraordinary Making of You examines the rare condition as part of a series on development. It also looks at how we develop in the womb and how early changes impact us for the rest of our lives. Johnny (image below), once known as Felicita, related how he was often mocked by the people around him when he started developing male genitals. “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,” he said. He further added “I’d like to get married and have children, a partner who will stand by me through good and bad.”
Dr Julianne Imperato-McGinley, an endocrinologist at Cornell University in the US, researched this condition in the early 1970s. She found that pseudohermaphrodites appeared to be girls at birth but developed muscles, testes and a penis during puberty, which resulted from an enzyme deficiency with 5-alpha reductase.
In a 2005 article published in the Berkley Medical Journal, Elizabeth Kelley wrote that in the years following Dr Imperato-McGinley’s original research, reports suggested that this was also observed in the Sambian villages of Papua New Guinea, where the locals called the children “turnims”, meaning “expected to become men”.
“The Sambians view these children as flawed males; the children are rejected and humiliated by their families and society. On the other hand, in the Dominican Republic, the birth of a pseudohermaphrodite is fully accepted and during puberty, the child’s physical transformation into a male is marked by joyous celebration,” Kelly wrote. The observation that Guevedoces tended to have small prostates led to the development of a drug that has helped millions of men, the BBC reported. Roy Vagelos, head of research at Merc pharmaceuticals, created Finasteride, which blocks the action of 5-alpha-reductase and is used to treat the benign enlargement of the prostate and male pattern baldness. Credit : Times of India