Taking a walk on the strange side of science might not rank at the top of your list of things to do or know, but time and again we are made to face uncanny incidents that are far from normal. Recently, in Mumbai’s Mumbra, Thane district, a little boy was found to be pregnant with his twin brother but what we are about to tell you is even more bizarre. A small village in the Dominican Republic, which is usually known for its serene beaches, has acquired an odd reputation of little girls developing male genitalia – the penis, as soon as they hit puberty.
The condition called guevedoces, which translates to ‘penis at 12’, affects one in 90 children in Las Salinas village. This disorder is caused by a missing enzyme that prevents the production of the male sex hormone called dihydro-testosterone in the womb. So, even though a child born as a female – termed as pseudohermaphrodite – with what looks like a vagina at birth, the genitalia drastically transforms into a penis at puberty. When testosterone flows, their voices break as well.
This phenomenon was documented in a BBC2 series called Countdown to Life – the Extraordinary Making of You. The documentary makers met 24-year-old Johnny, who was known as Felicitia when he was born. He said, ‘I remember I used to wear a little red dress. I was born at home instead of in a hospital. They didn’t know what sex I was.”
‘I went to school and I used to wear my skirt. I never liked to dress as a girl.
Johnny also laments how he never used to bother playing with girls toys. ‘All I wanted to do was play with the boys.’
This condition was first studied in the 1970s by Dr Julianne Imperato when she visited the village, but it still continues to baffle people.