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24 March 2010

James Randi

If you haven't already, I recommend that you read James Randi's latest blog post in his own words. I'll wait.


So, what do you think?

I'll admit that I was slightly surprised. Although, to be honest, I'm always surprised. I suppose that you might call that "sexual chauvenism" or some such thing—and you might be right. But, if I may be permitted to rationalise for a moment, I'll defend myself by saying that I seem have a strange tendency to not think of other people as sexual creatures—that is to say, unless the person in question specifically mentions a spouse, introduces me to his or her children, or runs a Cadillac into a fire-hydrant and then a tree. It simply doesn't occur to me to wonder, one way or the other.

I was surprised when Ian McKellen brought his date to the Oscars, when Neil Patrick Harris came out to People magazine, when Christopher Hitchens mentioned that Stephen Fry was gay during an Intelligence Squared debate (I was admittedly way behind the times on that one)—I was even surprised by David Hyde Pierce, for crying out loud! But I was also surprised when I learned that Patrick Stewart was married.

What I'm trying to say is that I was not surprised at Randi's sexual preference, but rather at having to suddenly think of him as a sexual creature. Perhaps that's a bit of Victorian prudishness that I haven't yet forcibly driven from me—I don't know.

I didn't hear the 10% statistic until I was in my twenties. When I finally did run across it I was at first quite startled, but my startlement quickly turned to dismay. I was startled because the figure seemed so much larger than I would have thought: when I about the people I knew, both personally and from the media, I simply didn't see how 10% of them could be gay. I was then dismayed, because I suddenly realised why.

I like the way Phil Plait phrased it on Bad Astronomy:

I found out about the announcement right before a friend came to pick me up, and I told him about it. We chatted about it for a moment, and then he asked me, "What difference will this make?"

That's a darn good question. For me it makes no difference, and wouldn't had I known or not before the announcement. At some level it's always interesting to find out personal information about someone you know, or someone you respect – it's not exactly gossip, just more info that leads to a feeling of knowing someone better.

This shouldn't matter. I wish that we lived in a world in which discovering that James Randi were gay were neither more nor less controversial than discovering that he had a preference for brunettes, or that he liked orange juice but didn't care for apple.* And perhaps this brings us all one step closer to living in that sort of world.

I'm going to do something that is rather dangerous on the Internet: I'm going to urge you to go back to Randi's post and read the comments. A more lovely, welcoming community it is rare to see. We're moving in the right direction.

All the best, Randi.

Tips of the hat (white rabbit and all), to Phil Plait and Jen McCreight.

* Both orange juice and brunettes are preferences of mine, incidentally. On a not unrelated note, the "I am the world" fallacy is also a favourite!

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