Did a Stroke “Turn” a British Rugby Player Gay?

According to The Guardian, a young Welsh man who had a stroke woke up to realize he wasn’t attracted to women.

A year ago, Chris Birch, 26, was a 19st beer-swilling athlete from the Welsh valleys who loved motorbikes and was engaged to marry his girlfriend at the time.

However, after suffering a stroke, he woke up to realise that he was no longer attracted to women.

He has since slimmed down, quit his job in a bank to become a hairdresser and is engaged to another man.

The article goes on to explain that even Birch’s current fiancé believes that Birch must have always been gay, to some degree, and is just now realizing it. It is indeed a perplexing and controversial case… The Guardian further explains:

Dr Qazi Rahman, an expert in human sexual orientation who has researched the neurological differences between gay and straight people, invited Mr Birch to undergo tests to see if he may have been born gay.
He found that in half the tests, Mr Birch performed in the “expected direction” for a gay man, and for the other half was within the range of a straight man.

So what gives? The Guardian quotes Birch as explaining that he knew for sure he was not gay before his stroke:

“I’m convinced more than ever looking at the photos that the stroke did turn me gay, because there is no way that I was gay before. I have photos as proof and I have friends as proof and now I have memories as proof.
“It’s like looking at somebody else, but with my face only younger, and in all fairness, if I met myself I’d probably carry on walking.”

What do you guys think?

Can a person be “made” gay? What are the social and psychological consequences to a case like this? Does this support the idea of homosexuality being biologically determined, or does it reinforce detractors’ assertions that one can choose their sexuality?


Photo courtesy of Akira Ohgaki

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  1. It is interesting that this case from Wales is not the first in the medical literature.

    There have been many cases reported since the 1970’s in the UK – with both man and women reporting changes in sexuality following Brain Insult – and not just stroke. Some end up GAY and others Hetero. It’s infrequently mentioned because of medical Bias and Prejudice!

    Oddly, these are the very cases which keep on fueling the debate – is it nature or nurture or both!

    There is even quite an interesting case from the USA which involved a guy suing because a head injury turned him GAY…. and he won!

  2. So. . . I drink beer, and I love motorbikes . . .you mean I’m actually straight?! HOLY SHIT!

  3. theres been discussion about this case on queerty (a gay man’s blog). one commenter said his uncle ‘forgot’ he was gay for awhile after his stroke

    i side with those who say it is possible. a stroke can rewire the brain by forcing it to make new connections to overcome the injury eg. there are plenty of cases of stroke patients who have 180% personalities after a stroke

    (i thought the guy was wearing somesort of hat at first)

    • ‘who have 180% personalities after a stroke’, should read ‘who have completely different personalities after a stroke’

      • Being gay isn’t a “personality” issue, however. I as a gay man am physically and emotionally attracted to men. That isn’t my personality any more than a straight man being attracted to a woman. Now if he had been a butch gay man, had a stroke, and now was a flamer, I *might* buy that. Those are personality traits.

        • Being gay isn’t a “personality” issue, however.

          as a bi man, who, posted the queerty links – i do not confuse the two.

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          Yeah, but culture plays a part too. Maybe rugby, bikes and beer were an affirmation of his straightness that don’t have the same meaning for him now that he isn’t?

  4. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Yeah, Heather, I’m with you. I thought for a while it HAD to be fake, but of course I get that feeling quite often with this type of Guardian article!

    Yeah, the idea that a case like this might be used to find a chemical or electrical-impulse “solution” for gayness is terrifying. It has HUGE implications.

    And for sure it’s like they went from stereotype to stereotype. I ‘m going to see if I can find a less sensationalistic article about him to see what else I can learn.

    • Yeah, sometimes The Guardian has some pretty good articles…and then sometimes it goes into Daily Mail territory with stuff like this. Funnily enough, when I googled this story, the first link that popped up was the Daily Mail, so that isn’t really working in it’s favour. lol.

      Unfortunately even the BBC’s article used the whole “beer swilling, ruby player,” thing. I’m thinking that’s a sound-bite they’ve all been given. Same with their treatment of Dr. Rahman…it’s really annoying. What’s the point of having a bunch of different papers/online media outlets if they’ll all say the same thing? Especially when what they’re all saying really lacks in any sort of in-depth analysis. Ugh.

      Apparently the story is a year old, but there’s some t.v. special about him coming up or something.

  5. Oo goodie…more reason to suggest bringing back electroshock therapy. Which is a snarky way of saying I’m worried that proponents of ex-gay therapy will use this (and worse the example in that article about a guy who went from gay to straight) as proof that you can change your orientation.

    I’ll also say I’m rather disappointed, though not surprised, at the way in which they talk about Dr. Rahman’s tests. The idea that you can tell the difference between gay and straight people, neurologically, is hardly established and is actually quite controversial.

    I’m also disappointed at the article’s use of “beer-swilling,” and “loved motorbikes,” in the line about him being straight…implying that those are somehow linked. As if, oo he was straighter than an arrow…we have evidence like him playing rugby (*cough*GarethThomas*cough*), but now he’s gay…including being a hairdresser. As if somehow all those things were linked. Typhon sort of touched on this in a much less sarcastic way. 🙂

    Okay so, irritation and snark aside…I suppose if a stroke can, on rare occasion, change a person’s personality and behaviour, I am willing to believe that it could affect a person’s sexual orientation too. I’m not too sure whether I believe this particular story though…it’s a bit convenient going from stereotypical straight guy to stereotypical gay guy.

    • Also, shame on The Guardian for using the phrase “engaged to a man.” The UK’s only got domestic partnership at the moment and civil marriage is a very current issue over here. (That’s just me being a little nitpicky, though).

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      I don’t think it’s a convenience at all, have you read okcupid’s analysis of gay vs. straight daters? Mostly we fit the stereotypes.

      Gayness and straighness are also cultural contructs. Not that there’s any rule saying that gay men can’t drink beer or ride bikes, but I do think we’re encouraged to “perform” our orientation just as we perform our gender. If the only reason he liked bikes and beer before were because they reinforced his heterosexuality then it makes absolute sense that he might dislike them after his accident.

  6. “I’m convinced more than ever looking at the photos that the stroke did turn me gay, because there is no way that I was gay before.”

    I didn’t realize that there exists photographic proof of homosexuality.

    Did the stroke not only change him into being gay but also flaming gay? Why didn’t it just make him ‘straight gay’?

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