Can a stroke turn you gay?

The British tabloids go nuts for a hetero-turned-homo tale. We ask the experts if it could possibly be true

Topics: LGBT, Sex, Gender,

Can a stroke turn you gay? (Credit: dailymail.co.uk and sun.co.uk)

Thanks to the Daily Mail, my favorite source for laughable pseudo-science — seriously, it’s better than Fox News! — I have an excuse to contemplate whether a stroke can turn a weightlifting, lady-loving bro-dude into a fabulous gay hairdresser.

Today, the Mail reports that 26-year-old Chris Birch broke his neck while attempting a back flip and suffered a stroke. When he woke up in the hospital, he instantly felt different. “I wasn’t interested in women any more,” he said. “I was definitely gay.” The story is heavy with stereotypes: Not only did he trade in his fiancé for a live-in boyfriend, he also opted for hair styling over banking. For proof of his transformation, the tabloid provides a sassy photo of Birch posed with a blow dryer at the ready.

Granted, I take everything published in the Mail with a mountainous heaping of salt, but this isn’t the first time someone has claimed that a brain injury changed their sexual orientation — Salon has even featured a personal essay from a mom whose son came out to her (again and again, in fact) after his brain trauma. And, actually, this isn’t the first time Birch has been reported on by British tabloids, either: Both the Mirror and the Sun have given this story a go. So I turned to experts and the available research to find out whether a stroke can turn you gay — and, if so, what the hell?

It’s been extensively documented that strokes and brain injuries in general can cause significant alterations in personality and sexual behavior — but sexual orientation changes are in the minority. Hyposexuality is a far more common outcome and, to a lesser degree, hypersexuality. There are a handful of studied cases where heterosexual men developed pedophilia after brain trauma. In one such example, a middle-aged man suddenly “began to stash child pornography and sexually molest his 8-year-old stepdaughter,” according to the New Scientist. It was discovered that he had a large brain tumor and, after it was removed, “his sexual interests returned to normal.”

You Might Also Like

A couple years ago, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences published a case report on a 57-year-old man whose stroke appeared to change his orientation from gay to straight. The authors didn’t have an easy time explaining why this might be, though: “The mechanism by which a person acquires his sexual orientation is complex and ranges from pure psychological theories to more complex biological concepts.” Which is to say: Don’t trust the Daily Mail’s uncomplicated take.

Richard Wassersug, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has found through his research that “in a small sample of men, voluntary androgen deprivation can lead to changes in sexual orientation.” Androgens, for our purposes, are steroid hormones that play a key in male sexual development — testosterone being the superstar of the bunch. What’s that have to do with a stroke? Well, he explains, “By extension, if a stroke knocks out certain centers in the brain with androgen receptors, it is not a big jump to consider it possible for a stroke to alter sexual orientation.”

These cases may prove especially useful in our evolving understanding of human sexuality. One relevant study speculated that “alterations in sexual preference associated with brain lesions may suggest which areas of the brain influence sexual orientation in humans.” The downside, of course, is that as we understand more, those wanting to control others’ sexuality, through “reparative therapy” and the like, will have yet more inspiration.

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>