Tony Zimbardi: The Warrior Way

If you are a gay man anywhere from your 20’s to your 50’s, who has the nagging feeling that your life is preoccupied with the need to “compete,” a vague sense of meaninglessness (feeling like you’re spending too much of your time obsessed with your appearance, gossip, the gym, cocktails; and anonymous sex) or finding that “LTR” (long term relationship), then please, keep reading.

What may be going on is that you could be stuck in your “Puer,” Puer Aeternus was the child god who never grew up (now known as your inner adolescent boy). Many therapists report that this state of being is most likely based on early childhood and adolescent “betrayals,” basically, unmet needs around love and acceptance. As a result, you may have adapted in ways that served you at a particular time in your life. These adaptations may have even helped you to “fit in” for a period of time with some of the other walking wounded. However, you may have also been left feeling like a boy trapped in a man’s body. This way of being is simply and clearly laid out in the book “Gay Warrior: Transforming Betrayal into Wisdom” (Fickey & Grimm, 2002). It’s a book, which should help you understand how and why you were betrayed, and how to combat becoming a victim, remaining stuck in your adolescence well into adulthood, and powerfully claim your adult gay male “Warrior” within.

The premise of the book: “Gay Warrior” is that gay males are born different from their straight brothers-special if you will. And, our parents are not quite sure how to react to their special son who is so different from his brothers. So often, mothers often react by becoming over protective (e.g. the smothering mother) and dads, sensing that his son may have a reverse Oedipal Complex (the psychological theory also based on Greek mythology that Son wants Daddy dead so he can marry his love-interest, Mommy), is a little freaked out and retreats (e.g. the distant Dad). These are just the first betrayals in a long list that extends from our childhood peer groups on into junior high and beyond and as adults into both the community and political realms.

Fickey and Grimm propose that many of us react by becoming “victims” of these betrayals and escape into dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as narcissism, sexual objectification of ourselves and others, and the development of dysfunctional personality styles (the good boy/people pleaser, the oppressor, or the irresponsible one). We further betrayal ourselves with substance abuse and process addictions (love, sex, work, perfectionism and doing “geographics,” relocating to escape ourselves). All of these personality styles and behaviors then keep us stuck in a perpetual state of suspended adolescence well into our 30’s 40’s 50’s, perhaps for a lifetime if one does not “transform” the betrayals into wisdom.

So, how does one transform the betrayal into wisdom? Well, Fickey and Grimm suggest there are many different paths, some paths are by default (e.g., One example is the person living with HIV who has managed to make lemonade out of life’s lemons, and as a result of his sero-conversion, has found meaning in life by becoming closer to his family; and engaging in volunteer work and/or political activism as a result of his new health status). Other basic ways which are quite purposeful include coming out (to family, friends, your community and workplace), leaving home, getting in touch with your feelings, learning how to appropriately express your anger, and confronting your own internalized homophobia.

So, who is the gay Warrior? Well, he’s someone who has left his inner child behind to embrace his adult gay masculine self. He deals with conflict directly and honestly, he expresses his anger healthily and appropriately. He engages in healthy non-codependent relationships (interdependent rather than codependent). He directly confronts the challenges of being in a gay relationship (dealing honestly with choices such as whether to be monogamous or non monogamous). He develops his spiritual and political sides, following his bliss both professionally and personally and eventually embraces his masculine paternal role as a mentor and gay elder (giving back to younger generations of gay men coming up and out behind him).

The journey to becoming your own warrior is about learning how to live your life honestly and with passion. It’s about being a man, not a boy. It’s about confronting your fears and finding a peer group of other men or “warriors” who have done the same. This takes courage. The author’s suggest it takes “fierceness.” Few do this without help. Admittedly, both the authors of the book as well as the author of this article are all openly gay licensed psychotherapists. All of us endorse the inner journey of psychotherapy as one of the most spiritual paths you can take for yourself. Through self-exploration via avenues such as psychotherapy and meditation, you can find your truth, bring your darkness into the light, and heal your wounds. This is the way of the gay warrior!

About the Author

Tony Zimbardi, PSY.D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in West Hollywood. He held the mental health chair on the L.A. County Commission on HIV and was board president of Being Alive, L.A. Tony Zimbardi can be reached via his website:

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