In the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea, relatively large populations of female children became males within a few months of reaching puberty. Little girls become little boys in a phenomenal transformation.
By natural default, every human is programmed to look like a woman, with breasts and a vagina. The ‘Y’ chromosome and various important hormones and enzymes are what program the development of the male genitalia and ensure that a male fetus is developed into a male child.
In 1971, one happily married couple in the Dominican Republic experienced this biological phenomenon first hand when they had their second daughter. She was healthy, beautiful, and possessed all the phenotypic characteristics of a young normal girl. However, during puberty her voice deepened, a penis grew, and testicles descended. The child began to take interest in the opposite sex, girls. Distraught by what had happened to their daughter in the course a few months, she was taken to the hospital where DNA analysis revealed that the child was actually genetically a male, possessing the X and Y chromosomes (females have XX, males have XY). This phenomenon triggered a multitude of studies inquiring into the reality of ‘intersex’ individuals.
During the 1970’s, 1 in 90 males in the Dominican Republic had this condition known as 5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency. Unbeknownst to parents, some daughters were in fact males. They appeared to be female with a vagina and the tenderness of a little girl. Raised as young girls, they became males once puberty hit; their testicles descended, phallus grew, voice deepened, muscle and bone mass increased, and so forth.
It was later discovered that children with this disorder typically have under-developed testes and penis hidden in the body cavity. Since the default human form is that of the female body, their male genitals had not developed thoroughly during the fetal stages.
These children were plagued with the genetically transmitted abnormality, 5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency, during conception. 5-Alpha-Reductase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the powerful androgen (male sex hormone) responsible for the development of the male genitalia.
It turns out that during prenatal development, the fetus had adequate levels of testosterone; however, an inherited genetic mutation rendered the 5-Alpha-Reductase inoperable and couldn’t synthesize testosterone into its more potent by-product dihydrotestosterone. The fetus was therefore unable to grow male genitalia during prenatal development and was born with phenotypic traits characteristic of females (they were born with what seemed to be a vagina).
Testosterone lingered in the fetus until it was degraded or inactive. Testosterone needs to be converted into dihydrotestosterone in order for it to trigger the development of the penis, testicles, body hair, etc.
So how did these children become males during puberty if the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into its potent by-product was defective?
It was discovered that during puberty, males produce another enzyme similar to 5-Alpha-Reductase in large quantities.This enzyme, 5-Alpha-Reductase type 1, is what converted just enough testosterone into dihydrotestosterone for the penis and testicles to emerge. For more information on this, please read the following scientific article.
Incredibly, a vast majority of the children that suffered from this disorder developed into healthy males and were able to successfully procreate. Also, since it is an autosomal recessive disorder, their children had a 25% chance of either having this disorder or carrying the gene to transfer to their offspring.
Thoughts to Consider:
The medical community has been revered for its enlightening research on the inner workings of the human body since the 1600’s when William Harvey published his work on the anatomical study of the motion of the heart and blood in animals.
Scientific and medical research often challenges what is considered to be “common knowledge” and refutes previously accepted ideologies. Providing enough evidence to counter a particular belief system, scientific findings backed by reliable empirical data allow modern humans to approach the complexities and mysteries of life with acceptance and understanding. Whether it’s the disillusionment that objects touch, that time is uniform throughout the universe, or that every animal needs a mate to procreate, science has consistently challenged our understanding of the universe, life, and interactions with one another and enlightened us to reconsider our views of the world.
Even with these incredible scientific and, particularly medical, findings, it seems that the general human population still doesn’t accept the possibility that various human conditions which we look down upon, stigmatize, and categorize with negative connotations are in fact normal biological manifestations. For instance, isn’t it about time humanity reconsidered its views on homosexuality and transgendered individuals? If a child that looks and acts like a girl can turn into a fertile and functioning boy within a few months, doesn’t that leave the door open for the possibility that homosexuality may not be choice after all, but a natural part of our humanity?