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Sunday, 15 February 2009

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.

5 comments:

Polly Moller said...

What a beautiful tribute. I pray for your comfort and healing and for justice for Timanna.

steph said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. It sounds like she was a cool person and I wish I had met her. Anyone willing to play the "penis" shouting game is obviously awesome.

I would say I would pray for you, but you know, in a science nerd kind of way. You're in my thoughts.

dani said...

I love the expanding patchwork quilt of stories about what T brought to everyone's lives. I wonder if she knew how much she gave people. I wonder if any of us can ever know that stuff!

It was crazy how many people at the memorial service and reception would comment on how much "T loved to drink." She struggled with drugs and alcohol for as long as I knew her, and I think that along with the emotional pain of that struggle there was also an intense physical toll on her.

I think that we all wanted to see her volunteer work and stuff as a sign that things were getting better, but it was also part of the same pattern she'd struggled with for years of trying to quit, trying to make things better, from the outside in - trying to make things better by making them better, which seems totally logical and is also just about the hardest thing in the world to do.

dani said...

unrelatedly, you saw your family for the first time since starting transition? yeeks. how did that go?

sihonn said...

Today I Googled to see if maybe something would come up for my friend who I have lost touch with for reasons unknown to me til tonight. I am deeply saddened to know I will never have a chance to sing to the radio on road trips or look forward to Bay the same way I used to. I think part of me knew that something had happened but I would have never thought something so terrible. I met Timanna when I was traveling in Europe and since then in 2006 we would visit each other sometime up to Oregon to visit me or me down to the bay. I called a disconnected phone number periodically for months and emailed and just assumed one day I would just randomly have a guest at my door or run into her on one of my trips to the Bay. Thank you for writing this, otherwise I would have never known. Timanna was a good friend and person, I am glad to know that other people were blessed to know that too.