November 13, 2011 12:04:00 AM
"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."
I was fascinated by the news this week about the former British rugby player who claims a stroke turned him gay overnight (The Daily Mail).
Chris Birch, 26, a bank clerk and athlete, broke his neck while attempting a back flip, and suffered a stroke in 2005. When he woke up, he told his family he was no longer interested in women.
Birch lost 110 pounds, broke up with his fiancé, and started dating men. He also quit his bank job, in order to study hairdressing. His family and friends expected the "old" Chris to return. But that accident was 11 years ago, and he has not reverted to his former macho persona ... yet.
I have witnessed strange results as the result of strokes. My great-aunt, Ida, who was a very uptight spinster, suddenly started saying shocking, sexual things after a stroke. She had always been a devout Catholic and gave me my first rosary. Ida often told us, proudly, that she was a virgin. No one expected such a metamorphosis in her mid-80s.
After a couple of strokes, my own mother abruptly switched from voting Democratic to voting Republican. She was in her late 70s. This was totally unexpected. She had always been a true Southern Democrat, a feminist, and a lobbyist for the Equal Rights Amendment. We never expected her to vote against issues that had driven her passions earlier in life.
Most philosophies embrace the concept that change is good. One common teaching is that if we do not change ourselves, then the universe, our guardian angels, or our divinity of choice, will make the change for us.
Katrina is an example of some higher power forcing transformation. My husband and I had never even heard of Columbus before we landed -- abruptly -- here. Our story has a happy ending. But the cost was dear -- emotionally, financially and physically. I wonder how different it would have been if I had changed some things in my life before Mother Nature did it for me? (I seem to remember the story of another flood that resulted in some huge changes.)
The dramatic experience of Birch also opens many questions about personality and sexuality. I have always believed that we are born straight, gay, bi, or whatever. The concept that this is a "lifestyle choice" seems ludicrous to me.
For some time now, we have known that our sexuality lies in some region of the brain. Scientists have isolated areas that trigger responses such as sadness, hunger, and yes, romantic feelings. Someday they may give people a choice as to whether they wish to convert to a different sexuality. Right now, sexual preference is out of our control. This might be one reason to be less judgmental.
Former footballer Birch looks quite happy in his new life. (Check the Internet, there are photos of him as he is today.) He has a boyfriend and a career as a hairdresser. He must be comfortable in this unpredictable conversion, because he is certainly not "in the closet." My guess is that, if given the choice, he would not opt to become his old self.
Change is a sort of death. After a major transformation, few people could ever revert to their younger persona. Why would we want to be a caterpillar when there is the chance to soar with beautiful butterfly wings? I suppose we should embrace change with a happy heart. Fighting it almost always ends badly.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. Email reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.