Artist Tamara Wyndham is a woman on a mission. One she’s been on almost her whole life. She wants Bi women to have a place in the world. She wants women to be more connected, whether straight, lesbian or bi.
Her journey started in childhood. From “maybe around six or seven,” Wyndham knew she was different. It wasn’t just that her name is pronounced differently: Tam-ER-a, accent on the second syllable. It was something else. Not just her artistic temperament, which she inherited from her artist mother. She knew she liked boys. A lot. But she also liked girls. A lot. It wasn’t a big deal until she got old enough to learn that maybe it was a big deal. “I compartmentalized it,” she says. In those days, she looked at her attraction to women as having empathy with what a man might feel for a woman.
“She was so strong and so passionate. It made me feel like I could do what I wanted to do”
“The idea of being a lesbian scared me,” she says. After her first time with a woman, she called her boyfriend to come have sex to reassure herself she was still bisexual. She dated men, even as she continued having strong attractions to women. Studying art first at California State Long Beach, and then at University of California at Irvine, one of her strongest influences was an art history teacher who became her role model not just in her art, but in life. “She was so strong and so passionate. It made me feel like I could do what I wanted to do,” Wyndham says. Her teacher’s example helped her to be bolder, professionally and personally. Having focused her art on primitive, feminist themes, she realized that the L.A. art scene was not for her. So, in the late 1970s, she moved with a gay friend to New York City and its wider art world.
She began exploring where she might fit sexually, and immediately ran into a snag. With the feminist movement in full cry, she was shocked at the way lesbians rejected Bi women. In her art, she celebrates all that is feminine, believing that the essence of being female should unite all women and transcend the matter of sexual orientation or even identity. Yet the women in the various support groups she visited clearly did not share that vision. The moment any of the women mentioned having a male lover, doors slammed shut.
She could not find much of a bisexual community. She visited one group called The Forum. Even there, she found hostility towards bisexual women and never went back. “I decided to be a lesbian,” she says. She became part of the Lesbian Cultural Festival, which she says was a lesbian separatist movement that had little or no contact with men. During that time, she says she tried to purge her psyche of all attraction to men, “but it was all a lie.”
Throughout the early 80s to early 90s, she persisted in finding or starting support groups for bisexuals. Spurred by an insulting article in the Gay Community News, she discovered a group in Boston called the Bi Vocals and started her own group based on that one. This group focused on consciousness-raising. It quickly grew so large, they divided into smaller neighborhood groups, guided by a steering committee. It was very successful until October, 1983, when Wyndham accepted art fellowships in Mexico and Guatemala. Though she selected and trained her successor, when she returned a year later, the network had fallen apart.
She gave up on it for a few years. Then after spending two enlightening summers at the Kate Millett Artists Colony, she tried again. The colony was mostly lesbian the first summer, but the dynamics changed the second summer. Tamara says she became a “stealth bisexual,” focusing more on art and feminist politics in general than on orientation.
Her anger and frustration grew. Her vision was to unite the women’s movement so that they all could work together. She saw Bi women as the natural leaders, since they understood both straight and lesbian women. She started another group. Angry at what she calls “lesbian chauvinism,” she insisted that honesty be the group’s foundation, that there be no divisive party lines. That group thrived until more art travels took her to Egypt and Europe. Again, she returned to find the group had fallen apart.
Meanwhile, her art remained progressively rooted in feminist themes. She began experimenting with that most primal female element: menstruation. She has done several series of works that used her own menstrual blood as their medium.
Today, she finds that social media has pre-empted the desire for direct contact. She also recognizes that people are working longer, and living farther away. It’s not as easy to come into NYC. Still the woman on a mission, she has tried to set up a bi social group to go to plays and dinners, but busy schedules seem to interfere. She has also found satisfaction in other woman-centered groups, especially the Temple of Thelema, a modern Mystery School based on the Golden Dawn.
To other Bi*s struggling to find their place in the LGBTQ world, she says, “The most important thing is to be honest. Be in touch with your feelings…Never try to fit in.” She advocates therapy, acknowledging it’s hard to find a good therapist who is not judgmental. She also says it’s good to write your own autobiography. “Never lie to yourself.”
To see more of Tamara Wyndham’s art, visit her website at http://tamarawyndham.wix.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamara-Wyndham/146580015456246.