SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (sentinel.ht) – A BBC Two series called “Countdown to Life” is looking at a phenomenon of some boys born in the Dominican Republic without penises until they reach the age of puberty, about 12.
They are called guevedoces, which loosely translates to “penis at twelve.” They are also sometimes referred to as machihembras, which means “first a woman, then a man.”
Those interviewed in the documentary report not feeling like a girl, even before hitting puberty and growing a penis. Johnny, formerly Felicita, told the filmmakers that when he was young he’d go to school in a little red dress but was never happy participating in activities that interested girls.
“I never liked to dress as a girl, and when they bought me toys for girls I never bothered playing with them—when I saw a group of boys I would stop to play ball with them,” he told the filmmakers. Kids at school bullied Johnny once it became clear that he was a guevedoces.
Once fully grown, the male genitalia of the guevedoces are smaller than average, but a girl-turned-boy will achieve complete sexual and reproductive function. Guevedoces eventually develop more masculine facial features, though they have a have a minimal amount of facial hair. They also have a smaller-than-average size prostate.
When a baby is normally conceived it will either have two X chromosomes and become a girl or one X and one Y chromosome and develop into a boy. However, during the first week after conception the fetus hasn’t yet developed its gender. The sex hormones are triggered eight weeks into the pregnancy. A fetus with a Y chromosome will have critical developmental changes at this point: The gonads become testicles, which triggers the release of testosterone to a nodule called the tubercle. This process stimulates a more powerful hormone called dihydrotestosterone that makes the tubercle become a penis. Female fetuses don’t produce dihydrotestosterone and the tubercle becomes a clitoris.
But with guevedoces, the testosterone never transforms into dihydrotestosterone while in the womb. Dr. Julianne Imperato-McGinley, a professor of medicine and endocrinology with Cornell Medical College in New York, visited the communities and uncovered the mystery behind this genetic disorder. She found these kids had low levels of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that helps to convert testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. This delays the development of male genitalia.