The modest village of Salinas, located in the southwestern portion of the Dominican Republic, appears like any small Caribbean community. But in spite of it's diminutive population, the seemingly inconsequential town in the Barahona Province has long captured the fascination of the medical world for one remarkable reason: 1 in 90 children born in Salinas, make a natural transition from female to male during puberty. In short, they suddenly grow penises at age 12. Yes, seriously.
Referred to as Guevedoces, (literally translating to "penis at age 12"), the plight of these boys was documented in a recent BBC series, Countdown to Life - the Extraordinary Making of You.
Michael Mosley, the filmmaker who captured the phenomenon, wrote on BBC's website about his encounters with Johnny, a young guevedoces who recently went through the transition himself: "Like the other Guevedoces, Johnny was brought up as a girl because he had no visible testes or penis and what appeared to be a vagina. It is only when he approached puberty that his penis grew and testicles descended," he writes.
Johnny, who was formally known as Felicita, said he remembers being treated as a girl, but also offers that he never felt fully comfortable. Throughout the piece, Mosley meets young Guevedoces who express similar sentiments. A previous researcher, studying the Guevedoces, determined "they don't have male genitalia when they are born is because they are deficient in an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which normally converts testosterone into dihydro-testosterone."
BBC explains the science behind the phenomenon, but more importantly, the silver lining of the Guevedoces suffering: their condition could have beneficial implications for men around the world, specifically in limiting certain prostate ailments, and even treatmeningt male pattern baldness.
Needless to say, this should be one of the more interesting things you learn about today.
Wil Fulton is a Staff Writer for Thrillist. Follow him @wilfulton
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