Review of BBC Three’s ‘I Woke Up Gay’ with Chris Birch – this is what BBC Three does best!

by Matt D

Though at times it has a questionable output, one thing BBC Three does well are documentaries about young people in extraordinary situations.

That’s the case in I Woke Up Gay, the story of Chris Birch a beer-swilling rugby player who suffered a stroke and as the title suggests woke up as a homosexual.

The story begins atop a hill where Chris, or Old Chris as he refers to himself as pre-stroke, along with some of his friends are doing forward rolls down it only for something to go awry, while he was performing his second one causing him to have the stroke. Chris’ friends and family noticed a change in him once his therapy was complete, in so much as his voice had changed and more significantly he had gone from being a bit of a womaniser to now fancying men. He also went from the mundane job of working in a bank, to becoming a hairdresser in a local salon and he didn’t bother with the beer and rugby any more, preferring rose wine and monthly botox injections. This complete change in personality started to alienate him from his old friends, with whom he found he had little in common with and more tragically he also lost contact with his mother although we did learn that they were trying to repair this relationship. Instead he has found a surrogate family in the women who frequent the salon and has also found love with fiancée Jak with the pair now living together in the flat above the salon.

It is Jak who sets Chris on his mission for this documentary, namely to find out if indeed it was his stroke that changed his sexuality or were the feelings always there and the stroke just made him realise them a little quicker. We saw Chris’ collection of newspaper articles about his story, in addition he shows us the video that someone posted telling him that he was always gay, which once again highlights the issue of how people use the internet to comment on situations that have nothing to do with them but that’s not the story here.

To silence Jak, Chris agrees to go to have some biological tests which look at the way the brain determines sexuality and ultimately whether Chris’ brain has always functioned like that of a homosexual man. In the end these tests prove inconclusive, however the doctor who performs them tells him that it is unlikely that the stroke actually made him gay. Undeterred he travels to Cardiff, where he meets Dr Jowad a neuropsychologist who has encountered rare cases like Chris,’ in which a stroke has caused a person’s sexuality to change. In addition he travels to Liverpool to meet Tommy a former builder who, like Chris, suffered a stroke waking up with a new personality in which he was able to paint and write poetry but also like Chris this change also saw his family leave him.

As well as looking at the scientific elements of his change, it was also important to Chris that he met certain people that knew Old Chris and in particular those who had dated him when he was attracted to girls. Using photos from his memory box he tries to put together a list of ex-girlfriends but he struggles to remember names instead recalling ‘the girl from the rugby club’ or ‘the girl I was with in Magaluf’. He admits that Old Chris didn’t really care about girls’ names, instead they were numbers or notches something that new Chris is disgusted by and indeed he does admit that if he met his old self on the street he would just keep walking. In the end he met up with Lynsey, an ex who met at school and with whom he had a significant relationship to the point that they went on holiday together. She told us that she knew for a fact that he wasn’t gay when they dated, thankfully she didn’t go into detail, so was surprised to see how his life had turned out.

Ultimately it was left up to us to decide whether the stroke actually turned Chris gay, however the medical opinion seemed to be that it was possible if not actually that probable. Personally I think that the stroke had at least affected several aspects of his personality his interests, his voice and most importantly his career.

If the stroke did change these elements then it is believable, at least to me, that it could’ve altered his sexuality but I still wasn’t completely convinced. The documentary really didn’t explain why it was so important to Chris to actually find out whether the stroke did turn him gay, because if he’s happy in his life with Jak then why does it matter all that much? Maybe he wanted to feel like he was unique rather than just another man who’d realised he had been living a lie while he was younger and found out now that he was attracted to men.

As for the programme itself, I Woke Up Gay certainly told an interesting story which kept me involved throughout as it’s such a bizarre tale that you want to follow it through to the end. The problem was that I just never connected with Chris in the way that I have with other BBC3 documentary subjects, such as Jasmine from the excellent Small Teen Big World, I’m not sure what it was maybe because of his insistence that the stroke had made him gay, or because he just wasn’t that engaging.

Overall this was a well-produced BBC3 documentary with an interesting central story but which focused on a character that I personally didn’t find that involving.

What did you think of I Woke Up Gay? Please leave your comments below.