Why I Came Out at Age 81

Question: Why did you decide to come out publicly at age 81?

James Randi: Oh, well.  I did it, first of all, my next book is to be called, this is a plug, "A Magician in the Laboratory."  And I’m working on that currently right now and it’s more or less autobiographical because so much of my life is spent running around the world and sitting around in laboratories and watching, in many cases, watching scientists make total fools of themselves. But I forgive them for that, they’re just not informed.  I tried to inform them and such.  And I thought, "Well hey, before I publish the book, I should really come out and say to people, yes, I’m gay.  I’ve been gay all of my life."  I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever.  The point that I came out so late in my life is only due to the fact that I never got around to it.  All my friends and family have always known.  All of my office people and such have always known about this.  And I’ve never made any refusal to discuss it, and if anyone has every asked, I said quite frankly, “Yes, that’s the situation.”  And for 25 years now, I’ve had a faithful companion and we get along just fine.  We’re very attached to one another, I’m very happy in that relationship and it doesn’t enter into my work at all though.

How has the public reaction been?

James Randi: Oh, the public reaction has been wonderful.  I anticipated that it would be, frankly, but it’s been much more, much better than I even dreamed it could be.  I’m still getting emails months after this happened.  I’m still getting email from people who say, "Oh I just found out about so and so, and bang on, that’s the way to go."  And these a people who can or cannot be gay one way or another, it doesn’t make any difference.  They all accept it.  And a couple of sour grapes out there, but I could ignore them safely.  But a very, very small minority.  People have understood and we are in an enlightened age. 

Now, when I was a teenager, oh, that would have been the last thing I could have possibly have done.  I would have gotten stoned, I would have gotten beaten up every day, I’m sure, by the kids at school.  But not anymore.  That day, I hope, is passed.

Will coming out be easier for the next generation?

James Randi: Yes.  And not only that, in that respect as a matter of fact.  I’ve found one thing that I did not anticipate.  I’m getting a lot of correspondence from young gay people who say that I’ve served as an example of how it can be done and they’ve determined that they’re going to do it too.  And that’s very encouraging.  I think that relieves them of a bit of a burden, you feel somewhat freed up. 

Now, I didn’t notice the difference at all because I’ve been out all of my life if anyone asked.  That’s all there is to it.  And nobody ever... well some people did ask, or sort of hinted at it.  And I would come out with it right away.  I had no problem with that.  I still have no problem with it whatsoever.  Here I am.  And people often will say, “But you named your car Sophia, after Sophia Loren.”  A little blue Miata, a beautiful little jobbie.  And they said, “Well, you keep on talking about Sophia Loren.”  And I say, “Yes.  You see, I’m gay, but I’m not blind."  After all, you know, that is not Oil of Olay that Sophia uses.  That’s got to be witchcraft.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

As a teenager in the '40s, James Randi "would have gotten stoned" for being gay. But when he outed himself to the world in 2010, the reaction was "wonderful."

Related Articles

Finally, a world map that's all about oceans

The Spilhaus Projection may be more than 75 years old, but it has never been more relevant than today.

Surprising Science
  • Athelstan Spilhaus designed an oceanic thermometer to fight the Nazis, and the weather balloon that got mistaken for a UFO in Roswell.
  • In 1942, he produced a world map with a unique perspective, presenting the world's oceans as one body of water.
  • The Spilhaus Projection could be just what the oceans need to get the attention their problems deserve.
Keep reading Show less

Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

From the study: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaau1184
Surprising Science
  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Keep reading Show less

Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.