A small and ethnically homogenized corner of the Caribbean is home to an interestingly large population of children bearing the same medical anomaly. In the Dominican Republic city of Salinas, approximately one in every ninety children have this mutation, and are born with exterior genitalia that either appear female or non-specific and ambiguous at birth. They are generally assigned a female gender, given girl’s names and raised as daughters… but when puberty sets in, something fascinating happens.
Known as Guevedoces, which is a Spanish idiom meaning “testes at 12,” these children are born with a genetic mutation that delays the development of external male sex organs. When X and Y chromosomes combine during conception and pregnancy, males usually produce the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT, an androgen that produces the penis and testes. In these children, that enzyme doesn’t get produced until puberty. It’s a little more complex than that… but that is the basic overview.
When “Girls” Become Boys
Male children affected by this mutation, known as 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency or 5-ARD, are born without a penis or testes. Living in a country where poverty is prevalent and medical advances such as genetic testing are not widely available, these boys are usually not identified by their families, doctors, and community as 5-ARD but rather as girls. It is not until the body is nearing puberty that the DHT kicks in, and shortly after, male physical traits appear.
By this time, however, many of these children have already begun to rebel against their assigned femininity, by eschewing “girls” dresses and toys. When the penis appears, it’s just the last piece of the puzzle. As the boys mature into adulthood, the genitals are, for the most part, fully functional. The Guevedoces are commonly able to reproduce and, with few exceptions, are heterosexual and cisgender.
This mutation, which is one of many ways a person may be classified as intersex, is extremely common in the Dominican Republic, popping up most frequently in the small village of Salinas. Documentarians speculate that it is due to a smaller genetic pool, or intermarrying, but it is as common as 1 in 90 births, with most families having at least one relative expressing the mutation.
Scientists have been studying the Guevedoces for years, following them throughout their lives as they develop from babies into adults. It was the study of this mutation that led to
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