Pleiotropic developmental regulators have been repeatedly linked to the evolution of anatomical novelties. Known mechanisms include cis-regulatory DNA changes that alter regulator transcription patterns or modify target-gene linkages. Here, we examine the role of another form of regulation, translational control, in the repeated evolution of self-fertile hermaphroditism in Caenorhabditis nematodes. Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodites initiate spermatogenesis in an otherwise female body through translational repression of the gene tra-2. This repression is mediated by GLD-1, an RNA-binding protein also required for oocyte meiosis and differentiation. By contrast, we show that in the convergently hermaphroditic Caenorhabditis briggsae, GLD-1 acts to promote oogenesis. The opposite functions of gld-1 in these species are not gene-intrinsic, but instead result from the unique contexts for its action that evolved in each. In C. elegans, GLD-1 became essential for promoting XX spermatogenesis via changes in the tra-2 mRNA and evolution of the species-specific protein FOG-2. C. briggsae GLD-1 became an essential repressor of sperm-promoting genes, including Cbr-puf-8, and did not evolve a strong association with tra-2. Despite its variable roles in sex determination, the function of gld-1 in female meiotic progression is ancient and conserved. This conserved role may explain why gld-1 is repeatedly recruited to regulate hermaphroditism. We conclude that, as with transcription factors, spatially localized translational regulators play important roles in the evolution of anatomical novelties.