Saturday, December 17, 2011

Meeting Randy Roberts Potts...New Friends And Old Scars

We at gay family values have been fortunate enough to meet lots of other fantastic YouTubers. The great thing about meeting these people in person is that we really get to know them as the regular people. Sean Chapin was the first YouTuber we had ever met and we had so many stars in our eyes. Also, this summer we got to meet the infamous Jim Stone and his husband and had a wonderful time hanging out together as well as eating his husbands fantastic cooking. And each "Big Gay Vacation" has brought us to YouTubers that I now count as good friends. As people often tell us that we have impacted their lives in positive ways...I don't know if you all know how much richness all of you add to ours. It's one of the big pluses of being a part of the YouTube community.

Therefor, it was with great excitement that we looked forward to meeting Randy Roberts Potts. Randy is the grandson of the legendary Evangelist Oral Roberts...a father to three awesome children...and a gay man facing his past with courage and using it to make positive change in the world. I, in particular, had a strong desire to meet Randy because of his grandfather's ministry and its ubiquitous place in my own past. I admit that I was not sure what I was hoping to find in talking to him....healing...revelation...both of those being very religiously loaded terms. But what I did find was worth so much more.

 I had come to know about Randy through his "It Gets Better" video in which he wrote a love letter to his uncle Ronnie...who was also gay and who had committed suicide. As he speaks so lovingly to his uncle about how alike he and his uncle were and how much he had wished his uncle could have survived to be able to see Randy now.....all of us were thinking the same thing about Randy. The more his story unfolded, with so much passion and raw honesty, I felt like he was telling a little bit of my story as he was telling his own. I'm sure many of us who grew up in religious homes felt that way. His tears had become our tears in one magical moment of baring his soul to someone who may desperately need to hear it. I needed to hear it too...

I left that video with tears in my own eyes as I also remembered hearing his Grandfathers voice every Sunday morning. Each and every syllable he uttered had become unquestionable cannon in what my family accepted as literal "Gospel truth." I even remember my Grandmother having a tiny replica of the prayer hands that stand at the entrance to Oral Roberts University. That type of belief is not something that stops when you turn off the becomes your culture, the boundaries of your universe, and the bedrock of your it had mine. And as with most of the televised sermons of the day there were a lot of sermons about hell and what it took to be a good Christian. If I had learned two things from these sermons it was.... One...that I was terrified of going to hell and I would do just about anything to make sure that would not happen. And two...that just believing was not always enough. You had to evangelize others, you had to give, you had to witness, and you could never never trust that you were good enough. Next to the good messages of love and forgiveness that my Grandmother taught me sat the messages that I need to be on guard against be afraid....because complacency was spiritual disaster.

And this is not something I am mean to lay down at Oral's feet. That would be really unfair and my understanding has changed over time. These men were a product of their own training and  his message was a part of many similar ones I could have gotten from Billy Graham or a host of others who's voices steered the course of millions of believers. It was the 70's and 80's and it was all religion, big hair, and giant churches. I was also not even in my teens and anything that my family believed in...I took to be an unassailable truth. But the fact that I was meeting this particular mans grandson brought back all those moments into light of day again.

Fast forward twenty years to a young man who is realizing that his feelings for men are NOT going to go away no matter how much praying he did or how much denial he lived in and unassailable truths had to be questioned or I would not survive. Coming out for me meant finding a way to reconcile all I had been taught to believe in with what I was coming to learn was an unchangeable part of myself. I can't say I really found a way because...while I never stopped talking to GOD...I for sure walked away from the church, religion as a whole, and all the notions that came with it. But those same notions had already been laid as the foundation for who I was many years ago. They would never go away without erasing everything I had experienced in my life up to then. And so a small wound exists in the soul that never totally heals. I survived as a gay man and have made my way through life the best I know how...but like many of us....I have a few scars.

And along comes Randy Potts with his past and his heart on his sleeve.....

 That video hit me like the meteor that took out the dinosaurs. It cut through to the part of me that is never able to feel secure in the universe I live in. i thought, "You mean Oral Roberts...this man who had been the paragon of virtue...had a gay grandson?!!!!" I literally said, "Holy Sh*t!" It instantly changed how I thought about Oral Roberts and all those sermons I had listened to in front of the living room t.v. with my parents nearly every Sunday morning.  Suddenly they weren't so unquestionable...because if this could happen in Orals family...What did it mean? Was that message of condemnation somehow less true for Randy's existance? or...could it have been a part of Gods sense of humor to again grant a gay child to a family that really needed their world view shaken up a bit? It seems to happen with alarming regularity.

And this is the baggage that I brought with me when Randy pulled up to my doorstep with his three children in tow. I knew he was a divorced father of three, an author, and an activist in his own right....but a part of me was looking to talk to him about all of this like he had not heard it a million times before from a million other guys like me. All of us expecting pearls of wisdom from the guy who lived within such a huge part of the religious institution that had rejected so many of us....he not only lived in it...he survived it and came out to tell his story. I wondered how he had made peace with religion, as he had been taught it, and what how that affected how he thought of himself as a gay man. Maybe I would find that piece that would finally close the wound.

.....yeah...fanboy...I know....

And with meeting everyone we look up to...We got to know the real Randy. He is a very caring dad, as well as a very sweet and genuine person. He loves Star Wars(big plus) and he is incredibly easy to talk to, even though he is as shy as I am....and that's saying something. He even helped Jay and I put on our ties for the movie event because neither one of us had ever bothered to learn how. The rest of the night was such a whirlwind I barely remember it but the next day we all got to sleep in, and then have a real human conversation over several( insert jitters here) cups of coffee. We both got the chance to take off the hoopla and expectations about each other and just get to know each other. It was while we were able to relax and have fun that the three of us shot this interview together:

But backing up a bit,....the evening before, when Randy helped both of us get our ties in order(I promise we don't make all our guests do that :p ) and as he was tying mine.....I had a sudden image of him in my head as a little boy in a suit of his own, standing on that great big stage with Oral and his family...and it hit me. Just how much pressure he had gone through to help put forth that image of a perfect family and how much pressure I was putting him under by looking to him to find  the answer to why we had to hear all those messages growing up. I wondered how long had he been standing in the shadow of his grandfather so much that the awesome guy that Randy Roberts Potts is was getting lost in the his legacy. Randy was not responsible for what I had taken away from his grandfathers sermons at 10 years old. That rift between what I had been taught to be and what I am is mine to carry and putting it on Randy was a little unfair and too much burden for anyone. And while I don't know what existence will awaits me at the end of my life...the love I have known in my life has taught me more than all the televangelists in the world ever could. Perhaps some scars we are meant to carry and work with over time...perhaps they even help us to be better people.

As Randy says in the interview, for a long time he wouldn't even refer to himself as a Roberts. He had to run through his own fire and learn to find new beacons of light to guide him home just as I had. That does not mean that he had reached his own final destination. His was not a story of coming to ultimate terms with his most of us it's a work in progress and I think he has done an incredible job with accepting himself through all that has happened to him. that is inspiring to me.

The Randy that does not stand in his grandfathers shadow is the sweetest person you will get to meet. He is a great dad to his kids and it was nice to be able to swap stories with another gay dad. Having had kids before he came was nice to highlight that being a gay dad is not any different from being a straight dad....only the circumstances had changed.He is raising three very sweet kids.....and did I mention they all like Star Wars? That's just good parenting there.

Randy also has a lot to give the world in the way of fighting for equality. The "Gay Agenda" project is a great example of this. Setting up a living room in a public space and living in it with our husband/partner for all the world to see takes some serious stones. That's taking what we do here on YouTube to another level and I think it's an awesome way to speak to people who may not ever log onto a site like YouTube. It's not standing there talking at people. It's really letting them into your life in a very practical way where they can see, ask questions if they chose, and hopefully shift what they think it means to "live the gay lifestyle"...whatever that is. As Randy said, maybe a mother will see this and come to the a different understanding of the life her son or daughter could have. How beautiful is that?

Once I took off my illusion of who Randy was, the Randy that stepped out of the shadow of that expectation was ten times more incredible for being real. I think he needs to know that. I felt like I walked away from that time with a new friend as well as a new perspective on myself. I hope that Randy caught on to none of that and instead, I hope he and the kids just had fun....and I hope we all walked away with a new friend.

Everyday we change and grow. It's all just another step on the journey. I know I am still working on making peace with my past even though I am also very glad to be gay, a dad, and a husband. I would not trade any one of those things for easy answers. I wish Randy well on his journey...and I hope his path crosses ours again.

Until next time dear readers.....


  1. He sounds and looks like a very genuine person. I think like everyone of us, he's finding his way. Walking his own journey one step at a time. I read your blog and immediately thought of an old bumper sticker " Don't follow me, I'm lost too". You have to find your own answers because they are your questions. xx

  2. I happen to watch the Randy Roberts Potts interview before I ever read this. I also think his “Gay Agenda” project is brilliant and the perfect way to demonstrate the normality of life in a gay household. I also noted that, along with regular food prep or vacuuming type activities, passersby would seem some fleeting and innocuous affection being expressed such as a pec on the cheek or an arm around the shoulder, but no “making out” type activities that misinformed homophobes at large fear is being done in front of children in gay households. No parent, whether gay or straight, does that in front of their kids! At the same time, I do believe that, for children to grow up emotionally healthy, they need to see at least some affection being expressed between their parents. You don’t want your kids growing up with blocks of ice in their chests….

    As far as religion goes, my parents dropped out of our church around 1968 when I would have been 8 or 9 years old, so I never was religiously brutalized with homophobic preacher rants the way you and Randy would have been. That’s why I never went through a denial phase once I discovered I was gay myself, so I’ve always been naturally out to myself. I did sense though back then that the kind of feelings I had needed to be kept to myself. In middle school, sometimes the “f” word was directed at me, but it was much more for not being a tough guy. The early to mid 70’s was not a gay-conscious time, so I have little confidence that kids using the “f” word back then were even aware that saying it was an accusation of someone being gay.

  3. I am so glad we all survived the horrors of the closet. A good friend of mine recently told me that he had an uncle that most probably killed himself because he was gay. That was back in the 60's when being gay was still considered a mental illness. He was a "bachelor" and somewhat effeminate. The family never discussed it. One day they found him dead with a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head. I often wonder how many LGBT people have taken that route...I am sure more than any of us can even imagine...

    The coolest thing about meeting you guys(in the physical) was that I felt that I already knew you! I have followed you since the beginning and religiously have read your blog. To me you were and are old friends. I have watched Daniel and Selena grow like weeds physically and mentally. I was THRILLED when Selena gave me a personal tour of her bedroom and I got to meet her infamous monkey and all of its outfits!

    The internet has enhanced all of our journeys through this complicated thing we call life. It is the "bringing people together" aspect which does this. There is no need to feel isolated as an LGBT person anymore...

    We love our Leffews!
    Big hugs!!
    Jim and Dave

  4. Bryan,

    Jim had an interesting comment about knowing you so well by the time he met you and Jay that you already felt like old friends to him. I think most of us who watch you heavily would have the same experience. That gives rise to a question: When you do meet Youtubers who obviously have such an overwhelmingly huge head start in knowing you and can practically tell many of your lives’ stories as well as you can yourself, yet you know comparatively very little about them, does that discrepancy ever feel weird to you and Jay? Or does it tend to help break the ice with them better and build friendships faster and more easily?

  5. As a Tulsan, passing by Oral Roberts University and the Praying hands on an almost daily basis I guess I assumed that the whole Roberts family was cut from the same fire and brimstone like mold. I can only imagine what Randy went through having his family openly and publicly say the things they did. He is an inspiration!! Thank you for bringing him and his Gay Agenda project to my attention.