Chris Birch appears to have a dead skunk on his head. This was my opening thought to the much-hyped BBC Three documentary which hit UK screens this last week. The programme received a huge amount of attention in the media and on social media, following earlier such media feasts when the story was covered in the tabloids. The documentary, I Woke Up Gay, featuring ‘Kris’ (he creatively changed his name) and his boyfriend Jak (the Telegraph noted this odd aversion to the letter ‘C’) as he tries to prove that it was a stroke that turned him from a heterosexual into the homosexual media seeking performer he is today. Most reactions seemed divided between whether people believe him or not. His boyfriend doesn’t, and if the man who in all probability has been intimate with Kris’s bodily fluids, doesn’t believe him, what chance for the rest of us? Certainly the academic who put him through a test to find out (it involved a computer but it could have been showing an endless stream of porn for all the viewer could see) also concluded that he was probably born gay.
My conclusion – for what it’s worth – is I don’t know. I’m not some moral crusader, convinced he is a self-deluded fibber, or knowing schemer. Nor do I fully buy his story. I generally believe that that the categories ‘gay and ‘straight’ are flawed with people generally capable of some fluidity around these labels. It seems likely that the stroke – whether chemically or psychologically – had some impact on moving him within this fluid labels but some latent homosexuality was always there – as it is for many.
The lack of engagement with these potentially more complex – and more rewarding – ideas was disappointing but the disappointment didn’t end there. The programme revolved around Birch changing his ‘personality’ post stroke. There was no reference to a sudden desire to be pounded into oblivion by a hard cock (or to do so to someone else). Nor was there even the faintest curiosity to fellate another male, or taste another man’s semen. Yet these, surely, are the things that might indicate one may be a gay male. That and running for a therapist at the prospect of cunnilingus. Instead the programme – and Birch – resorted to odd characteristics to distinguish between ‘old’ (straight) Chris and ‘new’ (gay) Chris. Old Chris was beer-swilling and thus obviously straight (which does raise some serious questions about the French) whilst new Chris is a hairdresser. Old Chris was Chavvy, new Chris is erm, dressed like a twit? No, fashionably turned out I think is the phrase. There are no gay chavs apparently.
He also now takes an interest in his appearance, which will puzzle many a heterosexual male, and also curiously erases metrosexuality. This interest extends to the insane act of receiving a botox treatment although I got the feeling this may have been so he could perform for the camera rather than reflect his common practice. The programme also emphasised that he was in a small Welsh village, suggesting that by definition he was ‘odd’. You expect screaming homes in the metropolis but imagine in a small town…the scandal…or at least so seemed to be the sub-text delivered with the subtly of a mallet.
The thing that drove me nuts more than anything was Chris and his blooming ‘memory box’. This has been put together by Chris to help his memory as he has no memories before the stroke. If this is true – and it clearly isn’t completely true, given his remembrance of various things – then how does he know he was straight before? Given he has forgotten lots of things, maybe he has forgotten that he was in the closet?
I do think Birch enjoys the limelight, and I do think he’s milking this story for all it’s worth in that perilous quest for celebrity. I don’t blame him for this but it does make me less likely to believe a story apparently motivated by profit.
Scenes such as the immensely private writing of a letter to his estranged Mum are performed on camera, and he reads out the content. This seems about creating good television rather than genuinely reaching out to his Mother. When he says “it’s quite difficult to write this letter”, I find myself disbelieving him – and like a dodgy witness, his whole testimony is thrown into doubt.
We see him develop a stack of old films which show the ‘old Chris’. He seriously waited until now to develop those pictures, even though they were in his ‘memory box’. Again, I great this revelation with utter disbelief. If he was really about establishing credibility to his story, he would surely have prioritised getting film developed before tabloid exclusives and then BBC documentaries. He might have woke up gay, but I’d like to know what he was dreaming about.