Part of the children born in this remote village of Dominican Republic are born under the appearance of a woman, before changing sex at the time of puberty. The extraordinary case of these children has been observed also in Tunisia and New Guinea.
They are born under the appearance of a woman, before literally changing sex in adolescence, In the Dominican Republic, they are called “Guevedoces”. In other words, “penis to 12 years”. As part of a new series for the British channel BBC (“Countdown to Life: the extraordinary making of you,” aired on September 14th) journalist Michael Mosely traveled to Salinas, a village in the south of France. West of the Dominican Republic, to meet these adolescents raised like little girls, and whose life switches at the time of puberty.
“When they are born, they have no testicles and look like little girls with what appears to be a vagina,” says Michael Mosely in an article published on The Telegraph website . It is only when they approach puberty that the penis and testicles develop. “From puberty, under the effect of hormonal surges, they suddenly find their attributes. This is why they are also called “machihembras” (which means “first a woman, then a man”).
Beyond the fact that their sexual organs are smaller (testicle, penis, prostate), nothing distinguishes the Guevedoces from other men in the Dominican Republic. “They normally live their lives as full-fledged men, especially as their sex organs are fully functional,” says Michael Mosely in the Telegraph columns. In the country, they are recognized only by their slender beards, says the journalist.
When changing sex, the Guevedoces do not all choose to change their name. This is why some of them continue to wear a female name throughout their lives. This rare genetic anomaly, which affects 1% of the population of Salinas, has also been observed in other parts of the world, notably in Tunisia and also in New Guinea.
Involved, a key enzyme in the development of male sex organs
The reason why Guevedoces children undergo such a transformation at the time of their puberty was discovered in the 1970s by an endocrinologist at Cornell University (USA). Julianne Imperato and her team of scientists have found that the extraordinary case of these children could be explained by a deficiency in the enzyme 5-alpha reductase.
However, if the body is deprived of this enzyme, it does not produce dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This prevents the development of male sex organs until the arrival of puberty. It is thanks to this discovery that Finasteride, a drug used against prostate cancer, has been developed as well as to treat baldness.