A 226 pound rugby player from South Wales who went into coma after suffering from a stroke and broken neck during a freak training accident, said that when he regained consciousness his sexuality and personality had altered dramatically, and he couldn’t remember who he was before the accident.
Chris Birch, 27, who had been straight and was even engaged to his then girlfriend, had attempted a forward roll down a hill in 2011 when his brain had been cut off of blood supply which resulted in a stroke, according to BBC.
“The Chris I knew had gone and a new Chris sort of came along. I came to the realization that the stroke had turned me gay,” he said.
During a stroke, parts of the brain that have been starved of oxygen dies and can cause permanent damage, but the brain can also make new neural connections and find different pathways to complete the same tasks and can sometimes affect how a person thinks, moves or feels.
Before the stroke, Birch had been a beefy, beer drinking athlete working at a bank and loved motorbikes and his girlfriend he was engaged to be married, and since the accident a year ago the now 27-year-old quit his bank job, slimmed down 72 pounds, became a hairdresser and moved out of his home in the Welsh valleys and started dating men.
“It was a weird experience,” he said in a BBC3 documentary, reporting his attempt over the past few months to grapple with his new identity. “You walk into somewhere and you go from liking that girl to liking that boy.”
He admitted that he found the changes traumatic and said that he struggled with a period of loneliness when he was afraid to tell anybody about his changed sexual orientation.
“It was quite a scary process. Being with the first guy was a very odd experience. I didn't know what I was doing,” he told the film crew.
While some researchers believe that some patients could discover a new skill, accent or sexuality during the recovery process, personality changes following a stroke are rare and there has yet to be any documented cases involving a stroke altering a person’s sexuality.
Sexual orientation expert Dr. Qazi Rahman of Queen Mary, University of London, who has done extensive research into the neurological differences between gay and straight men and women, has studied hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight volunteers and found certain key patterns that may reveal if a person is born gay or straight.
Rahman, who believes that the brains of gay men could be wired differently to those of straight men, invited Birch to undergo the computer-based tests to see if he may have been born gay and found that on half of the tests the ex-rugby player scored in the “expected direction” for a gay man and the other half of the results showed that he was within the range of a straight man.
"The bulk of the evidence in the biological sciences of genetics and psychology and neuroscience suggest that sexuality is something you are born with and it develops later on through life," Rahman told BBC.
"Sometimes it takes something like a neurological insult - which is what a stroke is - to make you reassess those feelings, perhaps that are lying dormant, and bring them into the front of your mind and it is possible that is what has happened with [Birch]," he said.
However neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Sudad Jawad said that he has worked with young people who have suffered strokes and has even come across a similar case to Birch, where a man reported that his sexuality had changed from homosexual to heterosexual.
"Just like a stroke can change you as a person, your behavior, your personality, the way you think, why not sexual orientation, it is part of the personality of the individual," Jawad told BBC.
There have been a few cases in medical history where people have had dramatic personality changes after suffering a stroke.
Tommy McHugh who was a builder and suffered a stroke in 2001 experienced a “sudden artistic output” following his brain injury, after which he became extremely interested in the arts and spent every moment he could drawing, sculpting and writing poetry.
Cheryl Johnson, a kidney transplant patient, said that after the operation in 2008 she had become interested in books by Dostoevsky over popular novels, which she used to like.
Debbie McCann, a grandmother from Glasgow, had a stroke in 2011 and suddenly began speaking with an Italian accent, even though she had never been to Italy.
Birch has been piecing together his past life by collecting and examining previous photographs, and developing some old films from a past holiday taken just before his accident.
His sudden change has also caused problems with his family and friends.
Birch said that when he was recovering, his mother had been very protective, taking him back and forth to the doctors, but now she barely even speaks to him.
Despite all the problems he’s had in his life since he woke up as a homosexual, he said he has no regrets over how his life has turned out.
Within a few months of moving out of his family home he started dating his then 19-year-old boyfriend and now fiancé Jak Powell, who believes that Birch had always been gay and the accident just helped the self-proclaimed ex-straight man realize it.
“People grow up not knowing they are gay and have families and then they realize they are gay, but they don't have a stroke to realize it,” Powell said in the documentary “I think eventually if you hadn't had the stroke it would have happened anyway.”
However Birch said that he has memories and photos that confirm that he was straight before the stroke.
“If I read about it I wouldn't have believed it,” Birch said. “But here I am.”