Timanna Bennett, R.I.P.

I know, in my life, there have been many people who loved me, but maybe two people who i feel like have ever really understood me. Yesterday was the funeral of one of those people. Timanna’s memorial service started with her family speaking, then her best friends and exes. People spoke about how accepting and understanding she was. She would accept one person and simultaneously accept her other friends being judgmental.
T was queer and genderqueer. She could grow a sparse moustache (better than mine), which she often did. For the inauguration, she decided to wear a wig and a muumuu to go to the Parkway Theatre and watch Obama get sworn in. She also would sometimes butch up in a suit or a tux, and cut quite a dashing figure. Several butch women spoke very movingly about how T helped show them that it was ok to be a masculine woman. Alex talked about how she and T used to go to thrift stores and buy old man clothes together.
Other people spoke about T being unconventional and flamboyant. Somebody mentioned getting thrown out of a movie theatre. Nicole told me about a road trip where they had been thrown out of a Denny’s (for playing Madonna on a boombox). When I was an undergrad, I had an overdeveloped sense of propriety and T liked to shout “penis!” at the top of her lungs in grocery stores and whatnot when I was with her, just to watch me squirm.
Sophie wrote a eulogy where she shared that when she was a freshwoman and new to Mills, a group of new students had decided to go skinny-dipping in the fountain in the middle of campus, during the night. Timanna grabbed all their clothes and ran off with them.
T was almost larger than life. She was the most creative person I’ve ever met. Frustratingly, she didn’t do that much concrete with it. Her senior art show was really cool and she did an awesome zine. I always hoped she’d have more frequent output. It seemed like she was always helping other people be more creative. When I was a youth and put out my first album with Mp3.com, a vanity label, T bought a copy. I think she’s the only one to have bought it. A couple of years ago, she commissioned me to write a short piece. She was one of two people who encouraged me to start blogging.
Somebody said how T seemed to have trouble figuring out her life path. Lately, she had some problems with drugs, but it seemed like she was really sorting herself out. She was trying to quit and was volunteering at a law center to help victims of domestic violence. She had just applied to do a MA program at Mills in public policy. T was an activist, always working for social justice and change. One of her professors from her undergrad days talked about how she had written a recommendation letter for T, how she was going to get into the grad program.
The professor wants to set up an institutional memorial for T at Mills. T has been around Mills for over a decade now, involved in the community. Her mother spoke about how T had never felt she fit in anywhere, until she got to Mills. There was a stirring of recognition in the mourners, many of whom were Mills women (and another Mills man aside from me). I started crying at that moment and haven’t stopped much since.
There’s so much I want to ask T, about herself and about gender issues – like what it means for me to have felt so strongly validated as a Mills woman then, but a man now? And I just want to talk about Madonna or whatever pop culture thing she was into at that moment.
The last time I saw her, I was home for Christmas and it was a stressful visit. I saw my family for the first time since starting transition and my ex girlfriend for the first time since breaking up and I almost didn’t want to be in California at all. Timanna came over and we went to the White Horse, her favorite gay bar, in Oakland. It was karaoke night. I’ve barely got any control of my voice since it started to change, but the overall quality of singing was on a par with what I could manage. We sang a duet of “I Touch Myself,” a song I hadn’t even heard in years. If we got any notes right at all, it was by happy accident. But we acted like “horndogs,” according to the MC. T didn’t even seem embarrassed, even as I was blushing.
I think all the queers and butches and femmes and transfolks and academics and activists and friends packed in the pews of the chapel and standing in the back could tell a story like that, about how T was a bright spot in their life. And at this dark hour in mine, I keep thinking that if I’m in the Bay Area and I’m so sad, I should call her up. It’s hard to even conceive of a world without her.

I’m answering all of the condolence email I got. Well, at least most of it. If you are expecting an answer and don’t receive one, here you go:
Thank you for your email. It means a lot to me.
I hope you are doing well
— celeste
Just because it’s a form letter doesn’t mean that your email didn’t mean a lot to me. It’s all true.
I hardly slept last night. I was worried about oversleeping, so instead I didn’t sleep at all. I was eating breakfast when I relaized that it was a friday morning and I had only allocated one hour to reach Cupertino from Berkeley by 10:00 am. What’s worse is the carpool lane closes at 10:00. I encouraged the Dentons to hurry. Maybe they did. We left after 9:00. There was a coffee truck overturned on 880. We got to the church at 10:20-something. I was suppossed to be there by 10:10 to be a pallbearer. And Christi took the guest registry-type book home with her to repair a page, so people were signing a photocopied sheet. Most everyone had arrived by the time we put the book in place.
We pulled the casket from the hearst and placed it on a trolley thing, wheeled it to the church vestebule and then places a white sheep called a pall over the top of it. Then we wheeled it inside and sat in the front of church and cried for the whole mass. The cantor sang in te slow pseudo-operatic, wild vibrato style popular among catholic cantors. I was upset with him, but the music selection was good. The organist and I had talked on the phone the night before going back and forth about the music. Most catholic music is not good. But we narrowed it down to Taize. S/he’s so good, even protestants use it. Andway, I thought it was good when he sang Ave Maria. But throughout most of the mass, I felt a wild desire to stab him. Christi’s boss told me later he thought the cantor was good, so I finally decided that I was just unhappy and so disliking the cantor, but it wasn’t his fault.
Monsegnour Milani’s sermon talked about mom in vague terms from the notes he had taken from us. He did know my mom from when she lived at home with her parents and he was their pastor. The readings were from the book of wisdom, psalm 23, a letter of Saint Paul to somebody and the beatitudes. At the end, Marilyn Quentin, mom’s friend got and spoke about taking piano classes with her at DeAnza Community College and being a docent with her at the museum and about how they used to talk for hours and hours. I was glad she spoke. After the mass, we processed out and then milled around for a while, waiting for the Monsegnour. Shyam Nigrani’s wife was there. He was my dad’s old coworker and I was friends with their daughter. Also, Autumn, who I worked with at Netscape was there. I need to call both of these people. Beatrice came again. Margie came. Tiffany, Luoi, GI Jen, Brian and Sarah K, Vince and Tammy and Sarah D all came too. There was a good crowd. A bunch of Chuck’s friends were there. Many of them read the newspaper announcement, because apparently Chuck didn’t tell everyone that he should have. Mary Lou came, as did Hubback. Charles, Christi’s boss came. The Bonasiches came. They run the orchard in Hollister. The Vidiviches came. All the CGC people. That’s the singles club my parents met at. It’s called the Catholic Graduates Club. For Catholics who were out of college, which seems to have meant thirty-something. My dad was still in school when her joined, but he was a resuming student. Anyway, the register thingee plus the photocopied sheet gives us a list.
The fake cops started up their motorbikes and blocked traffic and we got on 280 and went to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in a auto-procession. Apparently, one of the fake cops was almost run over. They looked just like real cops in CHP look-alike uniforms and with look-alike bikes, flashing amber lights instead of blue and red. I think people were fooled. One of them successfully pulled over a semi-truck. There was a short ceremony at the grave site and then another rodent-like mortuary employee thanked everyone for coming and we went to my dad’s house.
Alottas Catering did the food. They catered my mom’s parents’ funerals too. My dad called me a few days ago and asked about vegan food. I told his to just have some salads and maybe a three-bean salad and the vegans would be fine. And then maybe he could get a lasagna too. So when I arrived, there was a lettuce salad, a fruit salad, a three bean salad and a meat lasagna. I can’t say my dad doesn’t listen to me. Brother bob brought a million desserts, including his great pear tortes. Tammy or Sarah D or somebody brought a quiche. Someone else brought a plat full of cake slices. There was a lot of food. And red and white wine.
I talked to a bunch of people, I think. I sort of floated through it. Near the end, Margaret Schieck, my godmother, pulled me into a another room and said that while my mom was sick and could still talk, she asked Margaret to look after me and she promised she would. And she said she wanted me to consider myself part of her family if I want and Christi too and her kids know about me and Christi and everyone is ok about it and even if my mom hadn’t said anything to her, she wtill would have wanted me in her family because she’s known me her whole life and she’s my god mother. I just kind of cried. Christi has been asking me all day what we talked about and I can’t speak it because it makes me cry too much, but i can type it. So now all my blog readers (both of you) know now. The whole time my mom was sick, I kept thinking that Margaret was going to have to assume her duties as a godmother soon. I guess she was thinking the same thing. I didn’t know that my mom ever knew she was dying. the time she was still talking was probably when we were still doing radiation treatment. I was annoyed at her negative attitude then, but she must have known better than us. I’m glad she knew. I’m sorry I kept denying that, because I wanted the radiation to help and I wanted her to be more positive about it, because of the mythical mind-body connection.
Christi’s mom took all the male Dentons to the airport. After everyone left, she, Christi and I sat and talked to my dad for a while. Christi and her mom disappeared off to Sarah K’s house. And when my dad fell asleep in his chair, I snuck off after them. We drank tea and then went back and got some desserts and most of the last of my stuff from my dad. Like oreos and a pomegranite and a pumpkin.
We came back to berkeley and Christi talked me into going for sushi. It was miserable. I kept wanting to cry. I didn’t want to go to a restaurant. Tiffany anf Luoi invited us to a party, but I didn’t want to go and we ended up not calling them at all. Apparently they told me that Christi wanted to go and Christi that I wanted to go. But we talked to each other and foiled their plans. I don’t think my mom would like the idea of me going to a party after her funeral one bit.
Margaret told me that I’m a lot like my mom. Not very long ago, that would have annoyed me, but now I know that my mom was kind and funny and humble and always put other people first and smart and a good friend to people and fun to be around. I was barely old enough to start appreciating my mother. Just ten years ago, I still often saw her as a tyrant trying to ruin my social life. I wish I’d had more time as an adult to know her. Today was the hardest day since she died, maybe since she was sick. While she was sick, I had hope or at least chores. Before the funeral, there was logistics or a sence of relief that she wasn’t suffering. But now there’s nothing more to do and she’s gone forever