Last week I included humans in my list of animals known to have undergone natural, midlife sex changes. Well, sorry to disappoint: I wasn’t referring to some secret cabal of Tibetan monks who have trained themselves to retract their private parts at will, nor to some college kid who has mastered the ultimate party trick (assuming disappointment is your reaction to that sort of news). Nor is what I’m talking about, of course, a common, evolutionary mechanism like the clown fish’s or the sheephead’s. But it does happen, and that’s worth looking into.
Usually, the switch is from female to male– partially or completely. Such is the case in people with a condition called “congenital adrenal hyperplasia,” who lack an enzyme needed to make certain hormones. Specifically, these folks end up low on cortisol and aldosterone, while androgen, a male sex hormone, just keeps pumping away, filling their minds with thoughts of ESPN and fart-lighting contests.
Girls with the disorder will usually still have normal reproductive organs, but they might find themselves with facial hair and a failure to menstruate. Boys have it almost as bad, suffering from “deepening voice”, “enlarged penis”, and “well-developed muscles.” No, but really, they are also “shorter than normal”, so as a short person, I urge you not to take their plight lightly.
Okay, so a few girls might wake up looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Surely it can’t go the other way– there’s no case of a guy just up and sprouting breas– oh of course there is, just look. A father of five in UK, a pub singer, no doubt a manly man in his time, started developing smooth skin, breasts, and even hot flushes. Blood work shows he has an abnormally high level of estrogen, but nobody is really sure why. My theory is that 4+ kids is enough to break anybody’s spirit, and after that it’s like, why even bother restricting my estrogen development anymore, you know?
Regardless of the reason, there you have it: it is completely natural and probably, in fact, reasonable to fear that you will wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself transformed into the opposite sex, Kafka-style.