Jane Fishman is a lifestyle columnist for the Savannah Morning News.
It’s not often that you see two photographs, one of a man, the other of a woman, in the same obituary. But this is how William Bill Davidson IV, aka Barbara Marie Davidson, who died on March 13 at the age of 77, wanted it.
The retired lieutenant commander spent 26 years in the military in Vietnam and Grenada, followed by 19 years as a registered nurse. The Savannah and Citadel High School graduate didn’t want there to be any confusion. He wanted to make sure everything was as easy as possible.
The obituary lists Bills a long career in the military and Barbara Maries’ lifetime membership in a number of organizations. He was a bagpiper for over 55 years and currently a receptionist at Luxury Nails and Spa in Statesboro, read a sentence.
This is how he was, said his eldest son, William M. Davidson V, better known as Bo. He didn’t want to leave anything on the table. Pop wrote most of the obituary himself.
As Bo and his two siblings grew up in the Savannah area, their father, who died of congestive heart failure, introduced himself as a man, although looking back there were clues, Bo said. You look around and see all these wigs except mom never wears wigs. Then, six months before retiring from the military, Davidson stopped cutting his hair and started grooming his nails. My mom would say, Bill, you have to cut your nails, but he didn’t.
Davidson used to say how unfair it was that women could dress like men, but men couldn’t dress like women.
At the time, I thought he was talking about wearing kilts, referring to our Scottish heritage, Bo said.
When they were teenagers, Bos’s younger brother had come across his father dressing as a woman. Davidson, assuming he was alone in the house, asked his son to keep it a secret. He did it for a while before finally telling Bo.
For a long time, Bos’s relationship with his father was quite difficult, he said. But at 37, when he started to get sober, Bo said his father contacted him and said he could live in his house. That’s when Davidson came clean.
Just before, Bos’s mother and grandmother had passed away the same year, when Davidson started dating full time as a woman. Before that, he had kept it low because he wanted to honor his wife. They had been married for 39 years.
He said: My son, you can stay here, but you have to understand one thing, Bo remembered. I live life as a woman. The two made a deal. Bo wouldn’t get mad when her father went out at night dressed as a woman and her father didn’t want to hurt Bo for his sobriety. Bo thanks his father for helping him get sober.
It was when they were living together, Bo realized that they also had something in common.
One day I heard this racket, it started. I thought, I know that noise. It looked like when I got tattoos. It turns out that Pop was getting eyeliner and lipstick tattoos. By this time, Davidson had started taking hormones, had breast augmentation procedures, legally changed her name to Barbara Marie, and joined a support group in Atlanta for straight crossdressers, Tri-Ess (Society for the Second Self).
I said, dad, I don’t understand but I understand that you served your country for 26 years, you were a great husband, a great father and you will always be my father.
When Bo married his wife, she had two children. Neither of them was hiding David’s gender identity from them, but they wanted the children to meet him when they were ready, which they did. My wife likes to say: Jesus loved people through all their clumsiness; yes, should I.
When Davidson showed up unexpectedly to the Bos brothers at a Super Bowl party dressed as a woman, his brother told his 11-year-old twins, you know how you prefer to wear red clothes and you blue? Pop prefers women’s clothing. They totally understood it.
The hardest part for Bo was not hearing his father’s name Barbara Marie, but seeing him with someone else. For a while there was a girlfriend. Davidson joked about having a T-shirt that read: I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.
Bo finally found an answer when longtime friends asked him what they should call his father. I said just call it B. It seemed to work the best.
Did it make life difficult to see my father as Barbara Marie? Bo asked. Yes, but I have never been ashamed. My father was a loving and caring person. He lived his life in his own way. Bill and Barbara’s interior never changed. He was great in raising awareness. Hed does panels at Georgia State University on sexuality. He once played transgender in The Vagina Monologue at Georgia State. There is no measure of the impact it has had on people.
When I asked why he had never had a sex reassignment, also known as sex reassignment surgery, Bo said he believed he had come into this world as a man and that is like that he wanted to leave him.
And then Bo, who described himself as the big biker-looking guy when we first met, said: By the way, I just have to tell you one last thing. Pop would love this interview.
Contact Jane Fishman at [email protected] or call 912-484-3045. See more of Jane Fishman’s columns at SavannahNow.com/lifestyle/.
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