In this village, little girls turn into boys at 12 years of age

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Puberty is difficult for everyone, but let us all spare a thought for the children in a small remote village in the Dominican Republic, who appear to literally change sex when they reach adolescence. 

This phenomenon affects a little over 1% of the boys born in Las Salinas, an isolated village located in the south west of the Dominican Republic. These children are born looking like girls -without testicles, and with what appears to be a vagina, and they are raised as girls until they are around 12 years old. But at this age, their lives change dramatically: they naturally become boys, with a penis, testicles, a prostate and a budding beard. It is in fact to do with a very rare genetic anomaly.

“When they’re born they look like girls with no testes and what appears to be a vagina”, explains English Journalist Michael Mosely, who traveled to Las Salinas for a report for the BBC. “It is only when they near puberty that the penis grows and testicles descend”, he reports in the Telegraph.

It appears that this is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme 5-α-reductase, which normally produces dihydro-testosterone (DHT), responsible for the development of sex organs in the foetus. Deprived of this enzyme from birth to puberty, the affected children need to wait to reach a peak of testosterone which occurs in adolescence in order to develop a penis. This sudden transformation could be linked to a mutation that is very common in this part of the Dominican Republic.

The “Guevedoces” (which literally translates as “penis at 12”) -who are also called “machihembras”, meaning “first a woman, then a man” -of the Dominican Republic don’t necessarily change their names when they go through puberty. Some local men thus have female first names, which stay with them all their lives. This phenomenon is not only seen in the Dominican Republic, but has also been observed in Turkey and New Guinea.