It’s taken as a given that by the time you’ve reached 12 years old, you know if you’re a male or female. However, scientists have discovered that, due to a quirky gene dysfunction, some young girls in a small town in Indonesia are finding out—surprise!—that they are really boys.
The sudden sex change is the result of a rare genetic disorder that occurs because of a missing enzyme which prevents the production of a specific form of the male sex hormone – dihydro-testosterone – in the womb. When the child is born, it appears to have female genitalia, and the parents go about raising their baby as a girl.
The Telegraph of London interviewed, Johnny, a young man of 24 from the Indonesian town who remembers wearing a red dress to school, where he rarely played with the girls. He was named Felicita and first started showing signs of maleness when he was nine. For this person, the sex change was not stressful or traumatic, because he already felt like a boy.
“When I changed I was happy with my life,” Johnny told the newspaper.
The number of girl-turned-boys is so large that the local town has a name for them: “guevedoces,” which literally means “penis at 12.”
Strangely, some of the guevedoces decide not to change their female names and go on as “Maria” or “Catherine.”
These unusual children were first discovered by Cornell University endocrinologist Dr. Julianne Imperato in the 1970s. But now more cases are being reported in the Sambian villages of Papua New Guinea.
“By a quirk of chance Dr Imperato’s research was picked up by the American pharmaceutical giant, Merck. They used her discovery to create a drug called finasteride, which blocks the action of 5-α-reductase. It is now widely used to treat benign enlargement of the prostate and male pattern baldness. For which, I’m sure, many men are truly grateful,” according to Dr. Michael Mosely of the BBC, who is presenting a British special on how the human body develops.
So far, the condition is extremely rare in the world, and seems to have developed in these small towns because the villagers were so isolated. But because the disorder is well-known and accepted in the Dominican Republic, the country now has three sexual categories: male, female and pseudohermaphrodite.
Imagine how we would deal with this issue if it popped up in the U.S. And we thought transgender folks have it tough.