I wouldn't change back: Rugby player who 'woke up gay' after stroke and now has fiance says he’s the happiest he’s ever been
'It was weird, you walk into somewhere and you go from liking that girl to liking that boy'Chris is trying to rebuild his relationship with his mother who has struggled with his personality changeChris' boyfriend believes Chris had always been gay but hadn't realised
14:59 GMT, 17 April 2012
When 19-stone rugby player Chris
Birch suffered a stroke during a freak accident, his life was transformed – but not in a way that anyone could have predicted.
When he regained consciousness, the 26-year-old – who was engaged to his girlfriend at the time – found his sexuality had completely altered.
'The Chris I knew had gone and a new Chris sort of came along. I came to the realisation that the stroke had turned me gay,' he said.
He is now the subject of a BBC3 documentary, chronicling his attempt over the past few months to make sense of his new identity.
Transformed: Mr Birch has also altered his appearance since the stroke. Shedding weight and dying his hair
Chris Birch was a 19st beer-swilling rugby fan before his accident (left). A stroke radically altered his personality and he swapped banking for hairdressing (right)
Chris had been attempting a forward roll down a hill in 2011 when the blood supply to his brain was cut off causing a stroke.
During a stroke the areas starved of oxygen, brain cells die and this can cause damage. However, the brain can make new neural connections and find different pathways to achieve the same thing.
Some scientists believe it is possible that during this recovery process a patient could discover a new skill, accent or even a new sexuality. However, personality changes following a stroke are rare and there have been no documented cases of a stroke changing a person's sexuality.
Chris Birch points to the hill where he had his stroke
But Mr Birch, for one, is convinced. Within a year of his stroke he had quit his job at a bank and become a hairdresser, moved out of his family home in the Welsh valleys and started meeting men.
'It was a weird experience,' he told the film crew.
'You walk into somewhere and you go from liking that girl to liking that boy.'
He found the changes traumatic and
admitted it was a 'lonely time' when he was afraid to tell anybody about
his new sense of self.
'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 said.
Chris has been putting together a memory box of anything that jogs vague recollections from his past life, such as photos from his school It includes a photo from his school prom and a badge from the Isle of Man TT Race.
'This jogs something in me,' he said, holding a pin badge from a trip to see the Isle of Man TT Race.
'Old Chris likes motorbikes, I really don't care anymore.'
He has also developed some old films from a holiday taken just before his accident and wasn't best pleased with the results.
'I look awful,' he said.
'It sums old Chris up, my God I looked chavvy! It feels like looking at somebody else but with my face.'
New life: Chris with his fiance Jak Powell
The change has put a huge strain on his family and he has lost several close friendships. He has also had to deal with negative reactions from strangers after telling his story to the media.
In a documentary airing tonight, Mr Birch is seen trying to
rebuild his relationship with his mother.
The 27-year-old said when he was ill his
mother took him back and forth to the doctors and was very protective.
Now he goes to the hospital appointments alone and barely speaks to her.
'It would be nice if my mother played
more of a role in my life, because I always seem happy in the photos
that she is in,' he said, referring to his old albums.
However, he said he understood how difficult his radical change in personality must be for her.
'It's a unique bond so when it's altered or changed I think there is a bereavement,' he said.
Despite all the difficulties Chris said he has no regrets over how his life has turned out. Within a few months of moving out from home he met his then boyfriend and now fiance Jak Powell.
Mr Powell has his own theory that Chris has always been gay and the accident just helped him to realise it.
'People grow up not knowing they are gay and have families and then they realise they are gay, but they don't have a stroke to realise it,' Mr Powell said.
'I think eventually if you hadn't had the stroke it would have happened anyway,' he said.
But Mr Birch is not convinced saying he has memories and photos that prove he was definitely straight before the stroke.
'If I read about it I wouldn't have believed it,' he admitted.
'But here I am.'
As part of the documentary Mr Birch visited Dr Quazi Rahman of Queen Mary University in London who is an expert in human sexual orientation.
Dr Rahman has tested hundreds of gay and straight volunteers and discovered key neurological patterns that he believes reveal if a person might have been born gay or straight.
Mr Birch took part in the computer-based tests to see if it suggested he had actually been 'born gay.' They revealed on half of the test Chris performed in the 'expected direction' for a gay man but the other half suggested a straight man. Dr Rahman suggested his homosexual feelings may have lain dormant but been brought to the surface by the stroke.
Dr Rahman said: 'The bulk of the evidence in the biological sciences, in genetics and psychology suggest that sexuality is something you are born with and develops later on through life.'
Either way Mr Birch said he wouldn't want to alter back again.
'I'm happier now that I ever have been, why would I want to change' he asked.