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Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke – ‘Burly Rugby Player’ Transforms Into ‘Gay Hairdresser’

My friend Michelle, formerly the male stripper known as ‘Stud-U-Like’, alerted me to this ‘freaky’ tale of transformation reported in this week’s freaky Daily Mail with this priceless headline:

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser

It then teases us with a couple of ‘shocking’ bullet-pointed facts

  • Chris Birch loses eight stone and transforms himself from skinhead to ‘preened man’
  • Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser

Cutting to the chase:

Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I immediately felt different.

“I wasn’t interested in women anymore. I was definitely gay. 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.’

Before the accident Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his weekends watching sport and drinking with his mates.

But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.

‘I started to take more pride in my appearance, bleached my hair and started working out. I went from a 19-stone skinhead to an 11-stone preened man.

‘People I used to know barely recognised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’

The copy and a supportive quote from a neuroscientist seems to suggest only two explanations: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but it seems to me that there are more than two possible explanations here.

Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo everyone wanted him to be and when it almost killed him, he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of soldiers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’

Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit unconsciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his family, friends and fiancée expected of him. Maybe he chose to reject heterosexuality because it made too many demands on him. And what better way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by waking up from a near death experience as the only gay in the village?

Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being honest, it usually doesn’t look that much fun anyway. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miserable and oppressive. And more often than not you’ll be punished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own transformation from beer-bellied Aussie stereotype to flaming metrosexual has been regularly pilloried in the papers, including the one in which this latest sporting transformation story appeared.

Though of course nowadays it’s sometimes possible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and something of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fellow Welshman Gavin Henson’s bachelor book and continued playing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, perhaps he didn’t have the legs for it.

And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very surprising when males find other males sexually interesting. Or something that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.

There is though yet another possible explanation for all this. That this story is complete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who reported pretty much every important fact about this infamous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incorrectly, apparently pandering to the imagined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.

Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, apparently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your parents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.

And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yesterday it mentioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘taking a break’ before the accident. The piece was ‘updated’ today, and this detail is nowhere to be found.

And then we have the banner headline which talks about a ‘freak gym accident’ causing his injuries but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempting a backflip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, breaking his neck and suffering the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ picture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.

But my favourite dodgy passage is this one:

‘He was taken to hospital where his fiancée and family spent days waiting anxiously at his bedside before he delivered the shocking news.’

What? More shocking than breaking his neck, suffering a stroke, and nearly dying?

UPDATE 18/04/12

Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a documentary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh colour, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!'” was today’s slimline Birch’s horrified response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remarkable hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add anything to the Mail’s story. Or really clarify the ‘confusions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remember’ much of his pre-stroke past.)

It did however leave you feeling that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or perhaps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His family were notable by their absence in the doc – apparently, he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.

I don’t wish to suggest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’ or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he certainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiving himself – but then, we all do that. To some extent probably most coming out stories are fictional if necessary narratives. What’s interesting is not what his story says not about dubious ‘brain science’ but about how difficult it can still be for some to accept themselves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rugger bugger.

In that kind of situation, a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giving you a chance to reinvent yourself.

The ‘highlight’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz – or rather, a highly controversial scientist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately different to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubious assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increasingly being questioned). The narrator told us that Rahman has tested “hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight volunteers” (no bisexuals, note – and for the purposes of this entire documentary they simply don’t exist), and “can tell if a person was born gay or straight, despite their current lifestyle”.

In other words, Rahman is God.

The narration continues, cheerfully telling us:

“Though controversial, some scientists believe that our genes and hormones may determine sexuality before birth and personality traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a person was truly born gay.”

Truly born gay.

In other words, Rahman is even bigger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.

(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluctant ‘controversial’ at the beginning of the first sentence but by the end of the second, knowing most BBC3 viewers have already long forgotten it, seems to be expressing nothing short of a divine revelation.)

So, it was touching to see two people who both fervently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together – but unfortunately for Birch, it wasn’t a marriage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about testing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actually what he says), but was clearly disappointed with his own results, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘normal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘normal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.

Birch though is delighted with the results because he sees it as an endorsement of his narrative of the stroke ‘turning his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, despite his mixed findings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neuroscientist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being something you can acquire, even by accident. Like I said, everyone has their own necessary coming out fiction.

Birch’s boyfriend, who accompanied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently sceptical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay but was patiently sympathetic to the psychology of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke making him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.

“If he wasn’t, it would almost be like having to start from scratch again.”

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27 thoughts on “Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke – ‘Burly Rugby Player’ Transforms Into ‘Gay Hairdresser’”

  1. Mark Walsh wrote –
    ” Gener4ally I think it can be said that more assertive, phys­i­cal, con­trol­ling peo­ple are inser­tors and recep­tive care­tak­ing peo­ple are pas­sive..”

    Maybe yes , maybe no… 😉
    Intriguing topic… couple of examples -from 30+ years experience & anecdotes – in relations between white & black men or middle class & working class – it is more likely that the white and/or middle class guy – ie. the more social/economically advantaged – will be receptor rather than insertor.

    Anybody know of any writing that has looked at these roles & dynamics among men who have sex with men ?

    Mark S. – has any of your writing covered this specifically ?

  2. Mark W. I don’t disagree wth anything you’ve said, and I hope my comments didn’t lead you to believe otherwise. I think the big problem over here in the US with “rights” and same-sex marriage is that there are so many economic issues written into the law that affect married couples. For example: two men who were married in Connecticut after it became legal discovered that they owed thousands of dollars in back federal taxes. For heterosexual couples, the health insurance that one spouse gets from his/her job can cover the other spouse too and is not taxed as income. But because same-sex marriage is not a federal “right,” the health benefits of a same-sex spouse have to be taxed. The employer who provided these benefits was not aware of this problem and so did not withhold the appropriate taxes.

    In civilized European countries (redundant?) where health care is managed in a sensible fashion and there are few or no states within a federal government and therefore no confusing conflicts with states’ rights, this is not an issue. Similar problems arise here with the right to adopt children (in some states it’s illegal for same-sex couples); with inheritance; visiting rights in hospitals and so on.

    These problems are the same whether the couple is married in a religious ceremony or in a civil ceremony. A same-sex married couple never has the same status as a hetero couple because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage.

    I agree that the government should not be involved in the marriage business, that religious ceremonies should have nothing to do with Social Security benefits or health insurance, but unfortunately that’s how it is over here and not likely to change soon. It’s very hard to unravel decades and centuries of convoluted legal crap.

    Whether gay people should want to imitate straight society is a whole other issue. Since I’m unlikely to marry, and would prefer to be in a non-monogamous relationship, I don’t feel comfortable judging people who do want monogamy. (Well, I do, but there’s no point to it.)

    And then the religious situation over here is yet another huge fucked-up mess. It’s bad enough that there are so many people in elected office who use “religion” as an excuse to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful. Most of these “religious” fanatics aren’t content with enforcing their crazy rules on members of their own sects and cults; they want to write their “beliefs” into the country’s legal system, enforce their craziness on everybody.

    As a woman, I am most offended by the contraception-abortion aspects of this agenda, especially as these days that is the war that’s going on now and producing the most casualties. Women still die from pregancy and birth problems here, the percentage of unintended pregnancies is very high and thousands of teenage girls have babies every year.

    I mention this here only because it’s the same argument the “religious” fanatics use to justify their anti-gay agenda. “Natural,” sex only for procreation, blah blah blah. It’s all bullshit, and I put “religious” in quotes bevause I’m not convinced these people really believe it. I think they use it, perhaps unconsciously, to justify their prejudices. There are still people who claim to believe that if a woman isn’t prepared to risk dying in childbirth she should not have intercourse.

    OK: anal sex. I agree with Mark S.: if it has to be “uplifting” it takes all the fun out of it. What I’m trying to say about being “bisexual” is similar to Marl W.’s point. There are personality/cultural issues that can attract us to a person or to a way of being sexual (BDSM) that don’t feel totally “biological.” I think our sexuality involves the brain as well as the genitals and that all sorts of complicated responses can contribute to attraction.

    Or not.

    Sometimes you just want to fuck/be fucked.

    But I’m old enough to remember the days when gay sex was still “outlaw” sex, and the allure of that. I don’t think it’s possible to go back to that now, even if we could, but there’s always a sense of loss.

    The dialogue from Spartacus is a favorite with bisexuals. Always glad to see it quoted–and that’s the role of Olivier’s that really turned me on.

  3. You know, this comment thread just gets more interesting. I’m glad the original subject was dealt with so efficiently. (The guy was pretty easy to figure out, truth be told.)

    @Mark S. Your flattery is touching, but entirely too kind. Your comment from Spartacus is a big hit with readers, by the way.

    @Mark W. Your comment was flattering in a different way. And again, with appropriate modesty, I must demur.

    Is sexuality more complex than a preference for oysters over snails, or a preference for coconut over peanuts? Nobody knows, because frankly, nobody has worked any of this stuff out to any standard of scientific scrutiny.

    Not our preference for peanuts, coconut, oysters, snails, the colour red, classical music, men, women or donkeys.

    Just because our preference for peanuts over coconut is less important than our preference for men over women, doesn’t mean its less complex.

    But given that people pay money for chocolate bars, and (mostly) get sex for free, chocolate will earn more attention.

    In many ways, geeky young men blowing huge wads of cash on the latest gadget when their old one functions perfectly well is a lot easier to explain.

    Young men are compulsive seekers of novelty and stimulation; and the hypnotic effect of the lighted screen, animation, moving colours, make a new gadget kind of addictive.

    Figuring out the menus and preferences, and mastering the new possibilities, is a little like gaming. If you can combine the two, so much the better.

    (At the risk of provoking Simmo, the popularity of Android among young men can be explained in two words. “Angry”, and “birds”.)

    Is it moral to feed an addict? Should iPads become a controlled substance? I constantly fiddle with the navi in my car when I damn well know the way; is that a sign that I’m being manipulated by those cunning automotive manufacturers?

    Nope. Anything with a lighted screen is mildly hypnotic. That scientific principle is well established. I don’t think that a car designer lights the dashboard from behind so that you’ll become addicted to your Fiesta.

    This is not so much manipulating human behaviour, as understanding and accommodating it. It’s easy to get you to do something differently. But a lot harder to get you to do something different.

    Marketing is powerful. But human nature, moreso.

  4. Ann: If, indeed, the proponents of Marriage for rights had really wanted just rights, they could have better asked for another legal status: a “civil” arrangement. But they were so persistent in wanting the status quo “marriage”, they managed to offend the religious fanatics (all of the )in asking for a sacrament as well that they botched the possability of getting rights. As Mark said so deftly “US gay politics is religion”

  5. The irony of religious infestation in the U.S is that the founding fathers who wrote the constitution allowing for religious freedom were with the exception of one person, all atheists and agnostics. They were products of the enlightenment and had no idea whatsoever that religion would end up being the curse that it has been; even being written into law!
    The Right wing recently came to realize that they would be a minority if they didn’t team up with religious fanatics promising them collusion on ‘social issues” even a a huge price to their economic well being.

    While some gay marriage apologists’ when confronted with the argument that marriage is an attempt at “assimilation” : to be like mom and dad, trot out the idea that it’s really about legal rights,
    it seems to hold water when someone wealthy is keeping someone else younger and more attractive. The curious retort there is that ‘why wouldn’t some civil agreement do as well” As Mark suggests, Gay people generally are doing everything they can to mimic their religious parents even avoiding political identification except when “marriage” comes up, and avoiding other more pertinent and immediate gay issues- re issues which separate them.

    If only sexual preference was as simple a matter as taste in oysters/snails as well as peanuts and coconuts. While I don’t like disputing someone in the business of promoting, I think that it’s fair because the existence of your work activity HH is at odds with your claims about turning people’s tastes. Why would companies go to such great expense to push promotion in everyones face every minute. I see people day in and day out bending to the dictates of fashion in food, cloths, entertainment and lifestyle. One of my friends is the Corporate manager for one of the largest wholesalers in the U.S.
    I can’t believe how fast people switch from one device to another at the blink of an eye, clearly not improving their lives not a jot. don’t care what people’s early experiences are, they can, by one sophisticated means or other be sold coconut coated in cathair as a lifestyle change if they become convinced that they get the appearance of worldliness.

    Ann: there are different psychological reasons which I believe exist en any culture for preferring anal sex or even exotic variations of that. They have to do with ones relationship with power, and simply different tactile proximities to each other, both supplying stimulation – of the prostrate or the penis. This would be peculiar to a woman as a female doesn’t have a prostate. Gener4ally I think it can be said that more assertive, physical, controlling people are insertors and receptive caretaking people are passive. They both enjoy themselves but by virtue of different forms of stimulation. According to his lifestyle relative to the other.

    It certainly was the case that sex was indulged in and still is secretly for itself. Being a former devote of anonymous sex in bathhouses and every where. My current geographical situation makes that difficult.
    Rest assured the notion that sex is a by product of love is one of the most staid Christian religious assumptions about sex. This claim seems to be a little at odds with your claim that sex shouldn’t need to be associated with a lot of rigamarole. Anonymous sex has to my knowledge has been experimentally shown to be more stimulating that that with familiar people which would understandably be fun at best, like vollyball. That is an argument for marriage since no married person would have passionate sex for very long.

    Perhaps that is what your quote applies to, if sex is a taste like oysters and snails. I think that’s a change of heart for you; you may find yourself a proponent of American marriage sensibilities yet. Competition for Mrs Sullivan.

  6. Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
    Antoninus: When I have them, master.
    Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Marcus Licinius Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn’t it?
    Antoninus: Yes, master.
    Marcus Licinius Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
    Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
    Marcus Licinius Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

  7. HH: Your comments are usually better than my blogposts so I think it only fitting that you should have turned one into a blog. And I’m flattered that I hold so much sway over your unconscious!

  8. Mark, I lifted my most recent comment and made it into a blogpost. In the original draft, I stole a line from you as a title, without realiseing it. I have since corrected my subconscious plagiarism. A thousand pardons.

  9. I feel kind of weird debating this stuff with men. It’s fun for me because it doesn’t affect me directly–so I hope you get something out of it.

    I do think the “uplift” problem with butt-fucking here in the U.S. of A. ultimately derives from religion. And much as I love to bash the “fundamentalists” (do they enjoy taking it up their fundaments?) I think the Roman Catholics also deserve a share of the blame. These two big bullying sects have been trying to criminalize sexuality forever, and while you guys across the pond eventually yawned and told them to fuck off, too many people over here belonged to one of these cults and on some level took it seriously.

    I grew up going to the Episcopal Church (our version of C of E), so the ministers were always gay or bisexual and alcoholic (this was before women were ordained. Now they’re not so alcoholic), so they weren’t exactly going to bother people about gay sex. Of course, as we know, plenty of Catholic priests and Protestant extremist cult leaders are gay, but they’re so repressed and self-hating that…you know how it goes. The Episcopalians were all pretty cool–even the married gay guys with kids used to go out cruising at night in the neighborhood, everybody understands, win-win for all.

    Anyway: As your friend Peter Tatchell says, what if we didn’t discriminate against or prosecute people for their sexual orientation? Would we still define ourselves so strongly by who we like to fuck? Would there still be “gay culture?”

    I think the ‘what causes gay’ question becomes increasingly irrelevant as people don’t have to defend their sexuality. And of course you realize I see a lot of the (reverse?) discrimination by gay men against mostly gay/slightly bi guys who once in a while like to do a woman and are then thrown out of the Society of 100% Pure Homos or whatever happens to them. It really is traumatic for some guys.

    And from my POV, these religious wackos are also extremely anti-woman, which is why I am a feminist and always will be. If you don’t like someone saying it’s OK to beat you up or even kill you for fucking a man, think about being forced to actually have a kid, even if it kills you, even if you’re 12 years old and your Protestant fundamentalist daddy raped you… They’re not only “against” abortion–a lot of them are “against” contraception too. They don’t want anyone to have sex except for procreation (although of course heterosexual men can do anything they damn well please).

    Which is to say, they have it all backwards: As you’re saying, Mark S., evolution doesn’t “design” things for a “purpose.” We didn’t develop sexuality on purpose to procreate. Instead, people with strong sex drives tended to have more kids. My guess is a mostly gay cave man with a strong sex drive probably ended up having more kids than a straight cave men with no sex drive. What got passed along were genes for a strong sex drive, gay or straight.

    As Mark Antony said “What can it matter where or in whom I put it?”

  10. Re America’s ‘daddy issues’: I couldn’t resist sharing this story about an American High School football coach who mistook himself for his boys’ superego:

    I simply ADORE the picture of the coach who equates a ‘real man’ with someone who ‘hurts’. He looks like a sub bottom who has spent 40 years waiting for his master.

  11. HH: But what if you don’t like coconut OR peanuts? Does that make you asexual or just a fussy eater?

    Yes, America is all about ‘uplift’.

    And so bumming has to be uplifting too. Which as you suggest renders it pretty pointless.

    But uplift is also a direct result of American Protestantism. Funny that you should be in advertising because American Protestant uplift is probably what made the US so good at selling things. It’s not that marketing in the US is done with religious zeal – it IS religious zeal.

    Obama was all about uplift during the Primaries, which was why I couldn’t bear him. He didn’t represent CHANGE at all. He was selling the same old shtick.

  12. I must have been evil in a past life, for today I endure purgatory. To put it another way, I work in marketing.

    The whole born-this-way question reminds me of chocolate. Specifically, chocolate with peanuts or chocolate with coconut.

    It turns out that there are peanut people, and coconut people. People who eat Snickers are unlikely to eat Bounties very often, and vice-versa.

    Of course, most people have tried both, at some time or other. Some will experiment regularly over the course of their lives. Many enjoy some variety when the opportunity presents itself.

    But true biconfectionals are rare. You work out your taste early in life, and it abides. No matter how much marketers try, we cannot change you. We have wasted a lot of money trying, over the years.

    Does a genetic predisposition cause this abiding preference in the pursuit of pleasure? Marketing data suggest it runs in families. Or maybe early childhood diet or other environmental factors influence you. Maybe it just happens.

    Problem is, coconut can be polarising. A few people love it, but lots hate it. Let’s imagine that someone got a hair up his ass about coconuts.

    He screams from pulpit or television screen that coconut in chocolate is un-natural. It comes from strange places and brings tropical disease. It’s goddamn monkey-food, and anyone who eats coconut is but one step away from consorting with animals.

    What’s a coconut lover to say?

    1) No, coconuts are perfectly natural and beautiful and pure. They are part of my nature, and I can’t help what I like. Science shows it. Science gives us the truth, the truth is noble, the noble is sacred and the sacred is good.

    2) Fuck off. I can eat what I damn well please.

    Why does the US queer community persist with the tortured logic of 1), when to say 2) is so much simpler?

    Here’s why:

    Americans take sex too seriously. Sex is a part of love, but it’s the playful part. It’s fun, and the right to fun seems to have been divorced from the right to happiness. Perhaps it’s those dour Puritans at work, but Americans seem to see fun and happiness as opposites.

    Americans seek to dignify their choice of love-object with some higher purpose, as opposed to just saying that, for whatever reason, I want to warm my willy there.

    Unless I have some higher purpose. I’m wasting my time. I can’t just do it because I enjoy it, can I?

    I am, naturally curious about the origins of my homosexuality, the same way, as a marketer, I am curious about the origins of the coconut-peanut paradox.

    But not knowing how my homosexuality came about should not stand in the way of my right to practise it. Just like not knowing how you come to prefer coconut doesn’t stand in the way of me selling you the stuff.

    And with that, the Honourable Husband decides he should really get back to selling chocolate this fine autumn afternoon.

  13. ‘That being the case, I’m entertaining another notion, which Foucault might clarify: that the lad entertained more than one personality. Somehow the shock of the event apart from any physiological changes may have shocked the bifurcated fellow into his senses.’

    Mark W: This is probably what I had in mind by the ‘third’ option, beyond he was ‘really a gay hairdresser all along’ and ‘the stroke made him a gay hairdresser’.

    After the accident he chose (again, unconsciously) to manifest a different personality, albeit one that existed alongside the (failed or rejected) burly rugger-bugger one. It isn’t simply that his object-choice changed after the stroke (which would not prevent him from playing rugby – quite the opposite!) but his whole personal style.

    Although the story as reported in the Mail is not, ahem, terribly convincing, it’s possible to imagine, for arguments sake, a situation in which the events it describes came about.

  14. Hey right back at ya, The Honourable Husband!

    And also to Mark Walsh:

    I think the religious problem here in the USA is due to the fact that, as Mark S. and others have pointed out, the country was started as individual settlements of religious extremists in the 17th century. There were exceptions: Jamestown and New Amsterdam were established for commerce, which is why New York City (the former New Amsterdam) remains more cosmopolitan and “liberal.” But most of the country is still stuck in the 17th century.

    I’m an atheist, but I say “Bless you” at work when someone sneezes because it’s required. If you don’t say something you’re branded as antisocial. I wince every time I say it, wondering why we have to say anything when someone sneezes but not when he coughs. The only alternative is “Gesundheit,” which makes me feel like I’m in an old WWII movie.

    Anyway, about being “born this way:” We probably are, but I think what some of us find tedious about expressing it that way is that it pathologizes a normal human variation. “What caused it?” “I can’t help it.” “Can I change/cure it?”

    And when we talk about bisexual people, (which I identify as only under duress when I have to pick one of those letters LGBTQABC-Z) the issue becomes so much murkier. For me, and for some bisexuals, culture is as important as “genetics” in detemrining our sexuality. It points up (to me) the fact that human sexuality is about so much more than putting Tab A into Slot B and whether the person we want to put our Tab A into (or wish they’d put their Tab A into our Slot B) has a penis.

    Yes, there are people who know from the age of consciousness that they’re gay. But there are others of us who simply muddle along feeling attracted to people because they’re sexy. Sometimes those sexy people have a cock. Sometimes they have a beautiful voice. Sometimes they make me laugh. Best of all is when it’s a funny man with a beautiful voice married to a man and looking for a woman on the side. (Heh!)

    Yes, bullying is a huge problem in the USA. There’s a high school for LGBTQ kids here in NYC. And yes, I think evangelical religious bigotry is behind most of it.

    The marriage-equality fight, for all its irrelevance to me personally, is about, among other things, Social Security benefits, taxes and child custody rights including adoption. Opposite-sex couples, legally married, get better deals on all those things than same-sex couples, even in states that allow same-sex marriage, because the only federal law on the subject is the “Defense of Marriage Act” that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

    So the marriage-equality fight is about money and family issues, not just “gay rights.” Or perhaps another way of putting it is that “gay rights” are not just about legalizing sodomy (delightful as that is) but about money and family.

  15. While the incident inspiring the discussion (above ) seems a bit silly, since the argument that a closing off of the function of only certain portions of the brain’s function seems offhand not to be born out by research, the resultant discussion is less cheesy.
    While I don’t recall hearing you state explicitly that “U.S. gay politics is a branch of theology”,it’s certainly clear that, especially in our discussions of “marriage” and it’s immanence in current politics as a byproduct of AIDS shame, that generalization was clearly implied. I’ve been struggling with some of the gay community that the bullying and high suicide rate of gay youngsters were a more important issues than marriage. The most irritating aspect of that issue has become the case that the majority of gay people have no sense at all of what is occurring politicaly outside of the marriage issue at a time when thee maybe no country to get married in.
    I might remark with great confidence in relation to the sensibility in NYC and the remainder of the country that fundies or evangelists are violently opposed to gays and have in places enacted laws permitting gay bullying in places where children were motivated by religious beliefs. Catholics and Jews are far more tolerant of homosexuality.
    By and large, in my own readings of these church findings I major evangelistic writings, most ‘authorities do not find the state of being gay a sin as much as the acting on it. This has occured since they’ve found themselves at odds with the AmPsychAss as to ones control. This is something which some people feel they can “decondition”(unsuccessfully as it turns out)
    While Le Vay has been put aside by all but the more ignorant(who are numerous) and Freud is also in some doubt, there is a set of hypotheses which have to do with occurrences which come to be in vitro.
    These however have to do with more a ubiquitous chemical event. Of course, putting aside judgement, I think that it could well be both. The fact is that apart from religious considerations, virtually no one has anything but a consciousness memory of being attracted to one or the other

    In the united States it has in many ways of late been shown to be the case that there is far less freedom and liberty than anyone imagined or that the founding fathers intended. With the offenses to civil liberties provoked by 9/11 many liberties have been withdrawn. Also with recent Conservative court decisions, corporations can(and will) literally buy elections. With the Republican party supporting corporations and being overrun by extreme evangelists, American gay people have a chance to experience something like what Bruce Benderson claimed the Jews found to be the case in Germany. I really can’t imagine anyone wanting to claim that was gay unless it was the case that he had corresponding feelings.
    That being the case, I’m entertaining another notion, which Foucault might clarify: that the lad entertained more than one personality. Somehow the shock of the event apart from any physiological changes may have shocked the bifurcated fellow into his senses.

  16. Hey, Ann! When I lived in NYC, I used to joke that I didn’t live in America, but rather a small island off the coast of America called Manhattan. I would, however, visit America from time to time, because gas was cheaper. Living on a different island off the coast of America, the isle of Long, I guess you need to lay more for your gasoline.

    I heartily agree, though, on one point. Many don’t realise NYC can’t escape the presumption of faith that infects America at large. The city has lower than its fair share of evengelicals, but the mainstream faiths of Catholicism and Judaism remain powerful, culturally and politically. I was shocked when I walked into my first meeting for my new employer—a swanky ad agency—and sneezed. The chorus of Bless-Yous, many of them God-Bless-Yous, was deafening. The culture of holiness proves hard to shake.

    That said, I take a slightly different view from Mark on American religion, and the gay politics which flow from it.

    To be sure, Americans (including homosexual ones) conflate godliness with goodness.

    But this intertwines with a deeper notion of what America is supposed to be about. (You notice that US gay politics is caught up in what rights are guaranteed to Americans, as opposed to human rights more generally.)

    And America is about freedom. America equals liberty.

    America also equals power and authority. America means using your strength to make people see goodness and righteousness.

    It kind of echoes the dilemma I saw in catechism, as a child. When I asked the nun how Gods granting of his creatures free will could coexist with the threat to burn in Hell if you broke the rules. For the record, her answer was a slap with a ruler.

    Reconciling the two messes Americans’ minds up. We see it most strongly in the military; the soldier enlists believing that he shows the highest commitment to freedom and personal liberty. Yet, his life becomes one of obedience and servitude.

    (In fact, Mark, have not you and that wicked Mr. Zeeland enjoyed much merry sport with US soldiers in this mindset, toying with notions of pleasure vs. power and obedience? Do you lads still get up to that caper?)

    The whole of America—not just its homosexuals—has daddy issues.

    The Republicans nowadays really drive it home. They sound like sullen, passive-agressive teenagers who reject anything dad says, no matter how sensible.

  17. “I have had to readjust my dressing gown a few times when reading ‘Pride/Prejudice’, which is currently at my beside.”

    Dear Mark S.: I hope you won’t be offended if I say that this is even better than being invited to see your china. I am a writer, after all.

    “you make MSM hot again” Wow! May I use that as a blurb? (Although, really, was it ever not hot? Really?)

    As a character in P/P says: “The world is so ignorant of these things, they confuse buggery with incapability and a sodomite with a hermaphropdite.”

    The world hasn’t changed that much in two hundred years. It’s still confused, but you’re always fighting the good fight, which is why I love your blog.

  18. ‘And men who have sex with men (MSM) are hot hot HOT. I’m sorry if that makes some of you uncomfortable, but it’s a fact that some of us women are turned on by MSM.’

    It doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all, Ann. Though I have had to readjust my dressing gown a few times when reading ‘Pride/Prejudice’, which is currently at my beside. You may not be a man but you write about man-on-man action with much more vim and vigour than most male writers. In fact, you make MSM hot again, even to a jaded homo like me (who also has a big weakness for slutty bi men).

  19. This discussion is so over my head (I’m a petite woman) but at the same time so cool.

    Mark S: “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. US gay politics is a branch of theology these days.”

    What I hate about living in the USA (technically I don’t–I live in New York City–but the city is constantly fucked over by the politicians/theologians of New York State and by the politicians/no bishop-no king of the country).

    How does this relate to the subject? I hate the “born this way,” “third sex” bullshit. It’s interesting to see more enlightened/intelligent points of view. I’m not a man and not gay, so obviously I’m just looking in on something that doesn’t directly affect me, but I like men, I like gay men, I especially adore slutty bisexual guys (as I’ve said in the past) and when I talk to gay and bi men they mostly seem to be, you know, men. And why does that have to be something that was “caused” by one’s mum or one’s genes? –although I suppose it could be caused by jeans, tight ones (joke). OK, lame joke.

    As The Honourable Husband said: “Being gay is not a handicap, unless the world treats it as such.”

    And I admit to being drawn into this discussion because the two pictures confused me: I thought the one on the left, with what looks like a shaved head and holding a power tool, was the before picture (manly skinhead).

    And the image was so much more attractive than the one on the right, which I thought was the after picture.

    Anyway, I figured out the “power tool” was a hair dryer, but I still don’t understand the hair or whatever it is (or isn’t) on his head.

    BTW, I think bald, whether genetic or from shaving, is hot. Combovers and long, straggly hair below bald crown are not.

    And men who have sex with men (MSM) are hot hot HOT. I’m sorry if that makes some of you uncomfortable, but it’s a fact that some of us women are turned on by MSM.

    Thanks for the provocative discussion.

  20. I recall LeVay being very keen to get his parents off the homo hook, back in 1993. So that has definitely been a constant. And as you say, at least he’s open about his motivations. Though I think he’s open about them because he’s very proud of them. Which is usually when our old friend Huw Bris comes to call.

    There are probably two main reasons why American gay/sexual politics is still so late 19th Century. One is the deeply religious nature of American society, which naturally shapes the pseudo-secular responses to it. ‘It’s a (sinful) choice!’ scream the fundies. ‘No it’s not!!’ scream the gays and liberals right back at them. Ironically, here it’s the fundies who believe in free will and the liberals who believe everything is pre-ordained.

    The crusade for gay marriage, despite being presented as being about ‘civil rights’, often seems to be about getting God’s blessing for sodomy. A literally fruitless enterprise.

    Likewise all the pseudo-scientific attempts to turn homosexuality into a third sex (which usually emanate these days from the US) look like an attempt to prove that God made me this way – and God makes no mistakes, as Gaga told us.

    I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. US gay politics is a branch of theology these days.

    The second reason is probably more secular and political: as a result of Supreme Court rulings the US Constitution gives protection to ‘immutable minorities’. If you can prove you’re ‘immutable’ then you get Federal backing.

    But I suspect American gays, even and especially many of the ones who consider themselves atheists, are even more interested in Fatherly backing.

    I don’t wish to sound too superior, however. After all, Britain has a lot to answer for. Not only did we give the Colonies all those millenarian Jesus freaks, we also gave them Andrea Sullivan and Simon LeVay. Who between them have done more to shape contemporary American gayism than anyone else. Even Gaga.

  21. Mark, “insufferable” is part of your charm, no?

    As a lay reader, my only encounter with LeVay is his last book, Gay, Straight and the Reason Why. He seems quite circumspect in his claims. Perhaps he took your criticisms, and others like them, to heart.

    But he does admit a personal motive to his research. He never quite puts it this way, but he is eager to reassure parents (especially his own) that they did nothing to “cause” their child’s sexual orientation. He tells the story of his own family, how it was happy and “normal”, and how the majority of gay men are regular blokes just like any others.

    Maybe because he is a scientist, he reached for the only tools he had to enter the argument.

    “No, we’re not perverts. We just have a smaller brain stem…no more to worry about than a deviated septum or inflamed appendix, guys.”

    Scientifically, it might hold a grain of truth, if you want to look at it that way. Politically, this is the dumbest move on the planet.

    It pathologises something that ought to be seen as a simple variation in human behaviour.

    It’s not our “fault”. Don’t “blame” us. The whole-born-that-way meme paints blokes who fancy blokes as congenitally disordered.

    One could argue that the fact that I’m completely bald is a “congenital” condition. But what good does that do? And what about you striking young chaps, Mark, who, with the help of modern medical technology like an electric razor, choose baldness as a way of life? What does your “lifestyle choice” say about the afflicted hairless, like me? Is baldness a disease? Studying it scientifically tends to make people like me look sick.

    It beats me why we chrome-domes are not more politically organised. When was the last time you saw a Bald Pride parade? Hey, I was born this way, too!

    Thin end of the wedge. It would be easy to pathologise being blonde and blue eyed, since both involve a “defect” in pigmentation. And if you live in sunny cimes, can lead to poor health outcomes.

    Politically, it’s better to frame all this as an issue of personal liberty, rather than the rights of people with a medical abnormality. Being gay is not a handicap, unless the world treats it as such.

    (Alas, since American politics has debased the words “liberty” and “freedom” for us English speakers, a discussion in those terms becomes impossible to hold.)

    And in LeVay’s public statements, he seems blithely unaware that he might be feeding the ‘phobes.

    As for Freud being “wrong”, that’s kind of like saying Newton was “wrong” because he only scratched the surface of the study of objects in motion. Freud opened the hood on the brain, rather like Chomsky opened the hood on language.

    Freud didn’t particularly like what he saw, and so he slammed the hood shut pretty quick. Jung, as you pointed out, found it convenient to keep the hood closed, so he could just make shit up.

    To a physical scientist like LeVay, I can understand his distaste for the natural-science origins of modern psychology. But science and the humanities advance hand-in-hand.

    So much more to discuss on this intriguing subject…

  22. I interviewed Mr LeVay when his ‘The Sexual Brain’ was released, back in 1993 (I think). I was an eager young whippersnapper, full of Foucault, and was probably insufferable.

    Certainly I was much more critical than the other interviews with him I saw. Everyone, except fundamentalist Xstians, seems to love ‘gay brains’ and can’t get enough of them. Just as they love ‘gay genes’ – Dean Hamer was similarly lionised by the press when he made his (even dodgier) claims around the same time.

    As I recall, LeVay really didn’t like, and wasn’t used to being crossed — and rejected my smart-alec criticisms angrily. But some of them seem to have been proved to be well-founded. Looking at his Wikipedia entry, I’m not at all sure that what he is quoted as saying in 1994 as a caveat to his research is what he was saying when his book was published the previous year. But it was a long time ago.

    I do recall though that he was determined to prove Freud ‘wrong’. That it wasn’t Mom’s fault. Ironically, in trying to do so and show up Freud’s lack of scientific respectability he produced some very bad science.

    Freud had in fact several, sometimes contradictory, theories about homosexuality. Like most of us, he was fascinated by it. And didn’t rule out the possibility of an inborn predisposition to it. But mid-century establishment Freudianism, which arguably didn’t really have much to do with Freud, and even less to do with his more radical theories – and which LeVay would have grown up with as the dominant discourse – fingered Momma as the one to ‘blame’.

    I haven’t kept up with his work since the early Nineties, but the prevailing attitude to LeVay seems to be that he’s a nice, respected chap who has done very good scientific work in the past – though not in the case of his INAH3 research. But apparently this doesn’t matter as ‘his heart is in the right place’.

    I’m not so sure about that. I’m still with Freud on his criticism of LeVay’s big heros Magnus Hirschfeld and Karl Ulrichs: trying to turn homosexuals into a separate species or ‘third sex’ is both wrong-headed and counter-productive.

  23. The little caveat about not being able to breathe was meant to signal a joke. Obviously not well enough…

    (The sentence about Birch being happier than before was sincere, though.)

    The fact that instant homosexuality is so rare—indeed, until Mr. Birch, unprecedented—should give us a clue. Humans change their brain structures all the time, through accident, drugs, cancer, whatever. This seems not to affect their fundamental orientation; or rather, if a man orients himself differently from time to time, it probably isn’t the result of some new-found neuroplasticity.

    (“Neurpoplasticity”. I do love them three-dollar words.)

    To be fair, LeVay himself acknowledges many of the flaws that critics point out. Small samples, poor controls, and results which support any number of other hypotheses beyond the one he’s chosen to advance.

    He’s actually said that his work needs to be replicated before we should act upon it. But it’s unlikely to be replicated any time soon: the origins of sexual orientation get a lot of attention in the media but little in the academy. Pretty much all the studies in the area are opportunistic, rather than designed from the start with proper experimental rigour. This was the case with LeVay’s work, as you remind us.

    And how does one act upon this knowledge, if it turns out to be true?

    I don’t recall a discussion of LeVay and his ilk in your work, Mark. (My study of your writings is patchy, at best.) I gather you have some strong opinions about it—and no doubt about its implications in political and social discourse. What say ye?

    In the meantime, the sun is over the yardarm here in Middle Europe, so I’m off to rearrange some brain cells, too. Can you drink yourself straight? If we believe the Mail, it’s all a matter of choosing the right neruons to nudge.

  24. That famously trumpeted research LeVay did back in the 90s which was presented in the press as proving the existence of ‘gay brains’ was very flawed (amongst other things, he couldn’t show that any supposed difference in hypothalmus size was inborn rather than acquired) and has been discredited. No one I’m aware of has managed to repeat his findings, which were, as is often the case with gay American scientists working in this area, very personally and politically motivated.

    Or were you kidding about LeVay as well as the cartoons? 😉

  25. Nature, nurture or fracture?

    As you point out, many things can act to remove our inhibitions. A blow to the noggin might well be one.

    Theoretically, if we lad-liking lads grow to be so through our famously smaller hypothalamuses, then a stroke could concuss that bit of the brain stem. Or the blood flow might lighten that brain bit of a few cells.

    Probably, it would also stop you breathing and regulating your body temperature, but that’s another story.

    Preposterous, but it could be true. Then again, it could just be preposterous. Somebody get Simon LeVay on the phone.

    When I watched cartoons as a kid, it was a plot convention that a blow to the head would cause amnesia, and a second blow would restore the character’s memory. Do you think it might work in this case, gayness-wise?

    (I’m kidding, before you crucify me in the comments…)
    If he’s happier than before, at least something good came of this potentially tragic injury.

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