The world of intersex children


In “The world of intersex children and one person’s journey between two sexes,” Jackie Pou writes about studies on intersex children or guevedoces (referring to getting testicles at age 12) as they are called in the Dominican Republic. The reporter explored some of these cases in Salinas, a small town close to Barahona. Po says that, in this small town, children were, for the most part, allowed to grow in to the sex that became more dominant. However in the United States, intersex children were usually assigned a sex; but things have changed since then. The article goes into detail for the case of Saifa Wall, who “was born with ambiguous genitalia like the guevedoces” but was assigned “female” in an operation almost twenty years ago. For more details on a “Nightline” report with Dr. Terry Hensle, see the link below:

Growing up in a small town near Barahona, Dominican Republic, southwest of the island home to pristine beaches not yet sullied by the outside world, I heard stories about children nicknamed “guevedoces.”

The town is called Salinas and if you ask anyone in the country about Salinas — the one close to Barahona because there are four — you will hear two tales: One is how some of the people there were born with a rare condition that made their feet look like lobster feet. And the other tale is of how a number of children were presumably born as girls and later turned into boys once they hit puberty. They were called guevedoces, or “penis at 12.”

To the best of the villagers’ knowledge they looked like girls at birth and were raised that way. But as they got older, their voices deepened and it was discovered they had testicles, eventually turning into adult men. Doctors from Cornell University in upstate New York traveled there to study some of the children with this medical anomaly, even bringing some of them back to the states for research. I traveled the rural roads of Dominican Republic in search of the mystery town.

[. . .] They were not surprised that a Dominican-American journalist was asking about the guevedoces. One of them was barefoot man and his foot looked like a lobster — making at least one of the tales I had heard true. Back in Salinas, I was hoping to interview one of the guevedoces. I was told that when doctors took some of them to the U.S. for research, most of them used it as an opportunity to stay — never returning to Salinas. [. . .]

In today’s terminology the guevedoces are intersex, and it’s a condition that affects American children as well. About one in every 2,000 babies are born intersex each year in the United States alone, according to the National Institutes of Health, but they don’t always stay that way forever. Many undergo gender assignment surgery to assign them one gender over the other.

[. . .] Gender assignment surgeries among intersex children in the United States are still a common practice, but they are increasingly controversial, with kids and parents coming forward to say the surgeons are sometimes making irreversible mistakes.

Dr. Hensle has been a leader in the field of gender assignment surgery for 30 years and is still a practicing pediatric urological surgeon. He also served as a professor of urology at Columbia University Medical Center. Hensle said gender assignment decisions are now made by a “gender committee” made up of endocrinologists, ethicists, even clergy, but when Saifa underwent his surgery, which was performed at his parents’ request, only a small team of doctors made the call.

“It really wasn’t the right thing to do,” Hensle told “Nightline.”

For full article, see

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