Patrick Burleigh doesn't remember when he grew his first pubic hair, which makes sense—most people don't remember much from when they're two. That's how old the now 34-year-old was when he entered puberty, a story he recounts at length for the Cut. The cause of what is formally called "familial male-limited precocious puberty" was a mutant gene that had been passed down among the men in Burleigh's family for generations. It's male-limited because the condition impacts the testicles, which are erroneously signaled that puberty should begin and start pumping out testosterone. It's extremely rare, affecting perhaps fewer than 1,000 men, and as Burleigh details, it makes for a challenging childhood.
By age 3 he looked like a 7-year-old; he recalls witnessing a woman admonishing his mother for bringing a young man into the YMCA's women's locker room and then accusing her of lying when she explained he was 4. He recounts the incredible story of how his great-grandfather managed to enlist in the Army during WWI and get assigned to drive bigwigs around on the front lines in Château-Thierry, France. He was 11, but had "a full beard and the musculature of a young man." For Burleigh, it was a childhood of shame, shaming, and hormone-fueled anger. He was expelled from his entire school district after putting LSD in a girl's drink; he had himself taken two tabs, which he obtained from a 17-year-old who didn't realize he was 12. The full piece is worth a read, and details how he turned his life around and the tough decision he made about whether he and his wife should test their embryos for the mutation. It also features photos of Burleigh throughout his life. (Read more Longform stories.)