by Ryan Proctor
My life hasn’t been the Norman Rockwell, Betty Crocker, Father Knows Best or Molly Mormon life, in fact, I felt more like the Addams family, however, I have learned to face fear in life fearlessly. I used to hate myself then I learned to accept myself and then to love myself. Bold statements that have a lot of facts behind them.
I was born in the San Francisco Bay area and was put up for adoption. I was adopted by a couple from Idaho because my birth mother’s doctor and the couple from Idaho’s doctor knew each other from WWII. The main thing my birth mother wanted was that I go to a Mormon home. She also wanted to give me an opportunity that she knew she could not give me. I grew up in a family of mine, yours and ours. My adoptive parents divorced right after I was adopted. The cause being me. I grew up under a semi-caring stepfather but under a Mormon family that firmly believe President Kimball when he said that gays were worse than murderers. From an early age, I kept quiet about my interest in the same sex. Of course, growing up in Idaho Mormon central didn’t help matters. My first real consideration of suicide was when I was 8 years old. From then on, I suffered from depression and abuse. My adoptive mother was quick to hit and slow to talk. Add to that sexual abuse by two brothers, that just made a mess of things. My adoptive mother when she found out that one had sexually abused told me that that I was mistaken and that I must have imagined it. Kind of hard for a 6-year-old to imagine.
I survived my teen years, not sure how, but I had some strange support in the ward organist Frank Stokes. Frank never married and he was the director of the city beauty pageants. I now understand why he checked on me each week at church. It was true care and concern. He is the one that helped pique my interest and keep it going regarding organ playing. He was there until I headed out to the mission field. I served back in my birth area, Oakland, CA. I loved the area’s that I was in. I got to see things that I never would have thought possible. My 2nd MTC companion recognized that there was something mentally wrong with me and there was more than once we talked way into the night. BTW, we are still friends. He was my 2nd companion because I had transfers on the first day in the MTC. A few missionaries didn’t show up. My time on my mission was an eye-opening one. I realized that I desired men more than women, but I didn’t act on it. During my mission, our mission president change and President Jenson came in. Sister Jenson took a keen interest in me right from the start. It started into a long friendship. She just passed in April, when President Nelson spoke (the families were close friends for years), he spoke of the eternities and how it is eternal learning for us, not just in this life. She was a friend that I could confide in and she never judged. I found out from the family that I was one of those special souls that she always worried about and was happy to have in her life.
When I got back from my mission, my adoptive mother stated that I had a choice of either going into the military or getting married to a girl, whose family I didn’t like, in the ward. I chose to go into the military. I joined up and went to basic training for the Army in Oct 1989. While I was in training, my adoptive mother passed away from cancer. I was the only one in the family that knew because 9 months earlier as I got off the plane from my mission, I was told by the spirit that I would not see her in a year. What I didn’t know at that time, was that a chain was dropping from my life. A chain of control. I didn’t realize how much control she exerted until that time. When I got back to the Army, I was immediately shipped to Germany. Shortly after getting there, I had a chance to go to a young single adult conference. While there, Elder Franklin D. Richards came up to me and looked me straight in the eye and gave me some sage advice “Don’t worry about being perfect right now, just be the best you”.
In January 1991, I was sent to Southwest Asia to participate in Operation Desert Storm. While I was there, I had my first true gay experience with another man. After it happened, the church teachings immediately kicked in and the massive guilt started up. I felt horrible and almost destroyed what has ended up as a lifelong friend. When I got back to Germany and my ward there, I didn’t tell the bishop but the bishop was a good man and he looked me in the eye one day and said, “relax, we don’t always have to be serious about everything”. My new assignment when I did return was to drive for the Battalion Commander. I think this was to prepare me for life. I heard and saw all sorts of things. LTC Storm taught me how to lead and to be compassionate. One day a company commander was talking to him while I was driving them around. The discussion centered around two soldiers caught in the male barracks in a compromising position. This was just before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell came into being. This is when you should have been kicked out with a dishonorable discharge for being gay. LTC Storm asked if they were good soldiers first and foremost, the commander responded that they were. With the wisdom of Solomon, LTC Storm said that they would send one back to the states and the other to another unit in Germany. Their file would be purged and nothing in it about why they were being transferred to give them a chance in the military. While in Germany a few friends there that knew me stated that I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Imagine being under a stressful situation for 24/7 for 5 months. Then taken yourself out of that situation without any help or guidance and told just to go about your normal work. There is no true way to really cope.
For the next few years, I served in the church as ward organist, stake organist, Swiss Temple Rededication organist, choir director, Elder’s Quorum President, Elder’s Quorum counselor, Ward Membership Clerk, Young Single Adult Rep to name a few. During this time, the fight in my head was furious. Gay or Mormon, Mormon or Gay….it was a brutal argument. During this time, I lived in Central CA, Washington, DC area, Houston, and Philadelphia. In my adoptive family, only my little sister knew that I was gay, and she kept it quiet. Until one night my stepfather was wondering aloud and made a guess that I was gay. Shortly after that, I received a letter basically kicking me out of the family. My friends rallied around me and stated that we make our family and it doesn’t always mean blood. In the meantime, the war in Iraq started up. I ended up at the VA hospital in Philadelphia in the mental health ward trying to get help. I had severe depression and PTSD. When it hit, I wanted to just find a corner and curl up in and hide from the world. A friend said that I could either go to the VA hospital on my own or he would drag me there.
Time marches on, during the next number of years, I continued dealing with medication that didn’t work, lots of work in school and trying to date. One person I dated was Mike. In our discussion’s years later, because we remained friends, we found out that unbeknownst to each other, we were encouraging each other to step outside our bounds. We did things for each other that we had never done before and we did it as an encouragement for each other. That is a lesson that I have never and will never forget and I recognize his pioneering spirit in making me a better person. The other significant thing that happened during that time is that when Elder Oaks came out with the article in the Ensign in July 2006 about gay children and an incident in church that made me fear for my safety and no longer made me feel welcome, I had my name removed from the church records. Just remember, that doesn’t take the Mormon out of you!
I soon graduated with my bachelor’s and started into a 7-year hellish relationship. In those 7 years, I got my master’s degree, suffered severe PTSD and met my birth mother. Why was it hellish? The person was a narcissistic, controlling liar. The last three years of our relationship, he kept me in a constant PTSD episode by doing things that kept me triggered. In the back of my brain, it was working on a plan. In June of 2015, I filled my truck up and headed from DC to New Mexico for a new job. The ex did all he could to cause me delays. Thankfully, I made the use of my time. The moment I crossed the Mississippi River, I knew that I was almost free of him. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it would take another 3 years of fighting to really get him out of my life.
My birth mother joined me in NM and we began to build a relationship. She didn’t care that I was gay because she had always been around gay family and friends. The new job was great at first, then the stress built up. Because of threats from the ex, I had purchased a handgun. As the stress of work and the ex built up, in November of 2017, the week before Thanksgiving, I sat down at my computer and prepared to take an overdose of insulin. As I was preparing things, a message popped up on a system that I am apart of. It was a guy from Australia. I responded and we ended up talking. He talked me down and encouraged me to get help. I found out a week later that he recognized the symptoms because a few years prior, he had tried to kill himself. To me, he is my angel from the land down under. We are still friends to this day. I hope one day that I can go to Australia and meet him and really thank him. Then as November turned into December, I started having panic attacks about work. Over the Christmas holidays, I had a massive panic attack about going back to work, enough so that I asked a friend to remove the handgun from my house. Sure enough, on Jan 3, 2018, I had to walk out of work, had I stayed there any longer, I would have killed a co-worker. In fact, my friend told me that the look in my eyes made him fearful of me and he is 6’5” and 270lbs.
From there, the VFW stepped up, well two people did, and made sure that I got the help I needed. There was a lot of bumps in the road at first. But after several doctors, 3 weeks in the mental ward and some time off of work, things slowly started to improve. I left that job. I now work for a small company and my expertise in what I do is listened to. In June of 2019, my birth mother died peacefully knowing that I was ok and that I had a support group to help. I have come out of the financial crisis that the ex caused as well as I have become friends with my mission mother’s daughter since her death. Maren has been an awesome source of strength with my mother passing. We have been able to be honest and share things with each other.
In other things, I have strength drawn from other people and the service I am passionate about. I currently serve as a Surgeon for my local district for the VFW. In the short time that I have been in the position, I have helped several away from the edge of suicide. I have checked in on veteran’s that are alone. I have spent hours looking through barren areas for a missing veteran that might be suicidal. I also have a new companion, Butterscotch, my service dog for PTSD.
None of this would have happened if I had not had those around me that were there for me in the right moment. There is Frank, Chris, Ian, Stephen, Edmund to name a few. There are many more. I have learned that simply being there has been the biggest thing for anyone. Throughout this whole article, it is not that my struggles are different or that they are worse or less. It is that we all go through struggles. It is purely up to each of us how we respond. It is easy to go into that dark hole, but we show our true strength when we reach for the hand that someone has offered us. I know we will get platitudes of “get over it” or “just snap out of it”. My best advice is to let it go. We are all pioneers in our futures. If you don’t believe me, read D&C 6: 36 where we are simply instructed to “Doubt not, fear not”. Earlier in the section, we are told that the Lord will “encircle thee in the arms of my love”. I have used this section a lot in the last year for comfort and guidance. In fact, my niece is on her mission to Panama, she was having a hard time and I shared that with her. She took it to heart and is doing much better. It helped her out. I am not perfect, I doubt I will be, however, I am a gay, pioneer veteran that respects my Mormon beliefs but I take it from the pure love of Christ, not from what someone says from a pulpit. It is our actions that state who we are, not our words. Never forget to doubt not or fear not for I will encircle thee in the arms of my love. Life is good for this gay Mormon pioneer veteran!