There has always been some sort of mystery attached to the subject of gender and the Caribbean village of Salinas is a prime example of the ambiguities of gender.
It is public knowledge that girls who are born on the island allegedly turn into boys and grow penises when they hit puberty due to a rare genetic disorder linked to a missing enzyme.
At least one in 90 children born in the village located in the Dominican Republic will have made the genetic transition by the time they reach 12 years old.
Medical experts claim the reason for the puberty-induced gender change lies in a missing enzyme which prevents the production of a type of male sex hormone – dihydro-testosterone – in the womb.
All babies in the womb, whether male or female, have internal glands known as gonads and a small bump between their legs called a tubercle.
At around eight weeks old, male babies who carry the Y chromosome start to produce the dihydro-testosterone hormone in large amounts, which turns the tubercle into a penis and for females, the tubercle becomes a clitoris.
But for some male babies, the missing 5-α-reductase enzyme – which triggers the hormone surge – means they appear to be born female with no testes and what looks very much like a vagina.
When puberty hits, a large surge of testosterone triggers the male reproductive organs to grow, causing voices to deepen and a penis to develop.
For children affected by the genetic condition a hormone surge means development that should have taken place in the womb happens around 12 years later.
The condition is so prevalent in this village it is no longer considered abnormal.
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