Having a stroke made me gay
by Isabelle Loynes, Daily Mirror 22/09/2011
Chris Birch was a typical, *laddish, beer-swilling, sport-mad 20-something smitten with his fiancee.
His life wasn’t extraordinary. He worked in a bank, was *planning a wedding with the woman of his dreams and spent his average Saturday watching football with his mates with a pint and a packet of crisps.
But one day, Chris suffered a stroke that he claims completely changed him. Although it may seem incredible, he quit his job, grew to absolutely hate sport and turned gay. His own mother says she barely recognises him as *her son who is now a hairdresser.
“When I look at pictures of myself from before the stroke I look like a different person,” says Chris, 26. “And I know my family feels the same. I’m nothing like the old Chris now.”
He grew up in a rural part of Caerphilly, South Wales and had always been one of the lads. All his mates were rugby lovers and he had a job as a clerk in the local bank. Life had always been pretty *straightforward and he was happily settled with his fiancee.
“I’d always had girlfriends and never really had any problems dating women. I wasn’t exactly a lean hunk but I knew how to talk to women. But the biggest *relationship for me was with my ex, Jemma*. We had been dating for a few years when I proposed and she said yes.
“My family were made up and I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her. I assumed we would get married, settle down and have kids.”
But in 2005, when the couple had a falling out, it led to a life-changing moment for Chris. “We had a silly argument and before I knew it we weren’t speaking at all. We eventually split up but at the time I just assumed we would get back together,” he says.
Chris was sure Jemma would come round so he decided to take his mind off his troubles and hang out with his mates down the pub.
One afternoon, they went to the park to play football and enjoy the sun. Chris was mucking around and to make his friends laugh did a somersault. But something went very wrong.
“I did the somersault and then all I remember is the excruciating pain running through my body, then *everything went black,” *he recalls.
Chris had landed in an odd position and snapped his neck, which had made his body suffer a stroke. His terrified friends called the paramedics and when Chris arrived in Royal Gwent Hospital his family were waiting for him.
“The first thing I remember is seeing my mum by my bed. It sounds strange but when I came round I immediately felt *different.
“Doctors explained what had happened, that I would need months of physio to get back to how I was before. So to begin with, all my attention was focused on recovery. “When I was finally let out of the hospital I moved back in with Mum and started physio. I had to learn to walk, eat, even speak again and all my family were supporting me, hoping they would see the old Chris come back *soon enough.”
But little did the family know, the old Chris wasn’t ever going to come back, not in the way they expected.
“I had physio for five months and was *really focused but every now and then I would notice my family shooting me a funny look or saying I was different.
“My old friends would come round and visit me but the conversation would dry up straightaway. I wasn’t interested in the rugby scores, going down the pub to watch football or anything else I used *to do.”
As Chris’s friends commented *on the differences in him, his family started to realise how much he had changed and that *the old Chris wasn’t going to come back.
“Everyone said I was more *sarcastic, behaved differently and that even my mannerisms had changed, but to me the way I felt was natural. So I started avoiding seeing my old friends who wanted me to be someone I wasn’t,” he recalls.
But the changes weren’t only in Chris’s personality. Other things about him had started to change, too, things he couldn’t put down to recovering from the accident.
“I was watching TV one day when a really handsome guy came on. I felt my stomach flutter and the same feelings I used to have for pretty girls came across me. I had never felt like that about a man before but I knew immediately what the *feeling was. I fancied him,” Chris says.
At first, he did nothing about his feelings. He was unsure whether they would be *fleeting and just concentrated on getting back to his old life.
“I went back to my job in the bank and tried hard to fit back into things but it didn’t seem right any more. *Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t *get on with my friends, **hated sport and found my **job boring.”
Chris also had a newfound confidence and one night decided to go to a bar by himself to meet new people.
“I got talking to a girl,” he recalls. “She was gorgeous but I just didn’t fancy her. She kissed me but I felt absolutely *nothing. Up until that point I had assumed that maybe I had become bisexual but I *realised that girls were just doing it for me any more.”
Chris’s new friend introduced him to a group of people and he soon swapped his old nights at the pub with the football for all-night dancing in the local clubs.
“She introduced me to her friends and one was a handsome gay guy. I was *immediately attracted to him and despite being nervous flirted with him all night,” Chris says.
“I just went with my feelings. It felt right so I carried on seeing him. I had never been attracted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends. But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.
“I continued seeing this man and then one night we slept together. I knew then that *I wasn’t interested in women any more. I was definitely gay.”
Chris also realised he wanted a more *creative job, despite never being interested in this before his stroke. He was offered *redundancy in his banking job, retrained as a hairdresser and started working in a *salon, much to the surprise of his friends *and family.
“My brother had been really supportive but like the rest of my family even he *struggled to understand why I suddenly wanted to be a hairdresser,” Chris says.
The old Chris might have cared what *people thought but the new Chris didn’t and with every change he made, he felt happier. And it wasn’t just Chris’s job that was changing.
“My lifestyle was so much busier that I naturally started to lose a lot of weight. I took more pride in my appearance, bleached my hair and started working out. I went from a 19st skinhead, to a 11st preened man.
“People I used to know barely recognised me and with my new look I became even more confident.”
As the weight started to fall off, Chris’s family struggled to cope with the new *character he had become, so he decided to move out.
“My family, understandably, needed time to get used to the changes in me. It was hard for them. They expected me to recover and go back to being big-bellied Chris, who liked women, sport and beer. They couldn’t work out why I was so different.”
Chris sought advice from his neurologist, who said the changes in his personality, *appearance and sexuality, could all be down to the stroke, opening up a different part of his brain. It explained exactly what had happened to Chris, but rather than be angry about the accident, Chris’s new personality has made him accept what *has happened.
“I think I’m happier than ever, so I don’t regret the *accident. I don’t question *myself *any more and don’t care what people think, I’m just me,” he says.
Chris has been with his new *partner Jack Powell, 19, for 18 months and lives with him above the salon he works in. He says: “I’m happy with the way I am now and although I’m sorry it’s upset my family, I wouldn’t change a thing.”