Assigned Female At Birth, These Little Boys Undergo Unique Changes At 12

A rare genetic condition.

"I never liked to dress as girl," said Johnny, a 24-year-old man who for the first 12 years of his life was known as Felicia. "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."

Johnny lives in the isolated village of Salinas in the Dominican Republic, where one in fifty children are born with a rare genetic condition resulting from a deficiency of an enzyme known as 5-alpha-reductase. This enzyme normally converts testosterone to the more physiologically active dihydrotestosterone, which helps boys develop male sex organs in the womb.

Without this vital enzyme, these boys are born a little differently.

The boys are born without male sex organs. When these boys reach puberty around age 12, they receive a second surge of testosterone that results in the development of the male sex organs. In the Dominican Republic, the boys are called "guevedoces," a word that literally means "penis at 12."  

When one of the guevedoces reaches puberty, the village marks the occasion with a joyous celebration.

However, puberty can still be troublesome for the boys who were formerly raised as girls.

Johnny, who was recently featured in the BBC documentary Countdown To Life, said that he was taunted in school during the changes in puberty and fought bullies.

Dr. Julianne Imperato-McGinley, from Cornell Medical College in New York, studied the boys extensively during the 1970s and discovered something important.

She found out that although the boys were raised as girls, they generally identified as male.

Imperato-McGinley concluded that the hormones in the womb matter more than rearing when it comes to your sexual orientation.

Research of the guevedoces during the 1970s also led to the discovery of the drug Finasteride, which is used to fight benign prostate enlargement and male pattern baldness.

(H/T: BBC)