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04 May 2015

Barbara Dayton (1926 – 2002) Part I: merchant sailor, soldier, mechanic.

Bobby Dayton was the eldest of the three sons of Elmer and Berneice Dayton. After several moves they settled in Long Beach, in Los Angeles. The youngest son, Jimmy, died in a horse riding accident aged 13.

In 1944, aged 17, Bobby joined the US merchant marine. He would secretly cross-dress in obscure parts of the ship where he was never discovered. He was several times fined $100s for missing his ship when it sailed. One time he was lost in the Mindanao jungle in the Philippines, and fought with the local Muslims against the Japanese.

While he was at sea the Dayton family purchased a ranch close to Merced, California. When Bobby returned he helped improve the ranch including using dynamite to reroute a water course.

In 1946 Bobby enlisted in the US Army hoping to train as a pilot, but failed the radar class. At the age of 22 he had a platonic date with 15-year-old Dixie, and her parents insisted that they marry. They agreed to do so and had two children, Dennis and Rena. Dixie soon discovered Bobby's cross-dressing, but felt that she could not tell anyone.

After the army Bobby got by, alternating manual work, such as electrician or plasterer or fixing cars, and stints on merchant vessels. In December 1954 Bobby's brother Bill eloped with and married Dixie's sister, Sharon. A few months later Bobby and Dixie separated. Whenever Bobby had spare cash, he took flying lessons, and by June 1959 he had a private pilot's license. In February 1960 he took the test for a commercial flying license but failed on the theory and algebra.

For a while he was in a Hells Angels Motorcycle gang, but quit in disgust after a rape incident. Another time he survived for eight days in the Yukon wilderness without food. He was an experienced sky-diver but gave it up as boring. In April 1961 Bobby again failed the written part of the test to become a commercial pilot. He alternated working in the shipyards in Seattle, with prospecting in Alaska and the Yukon.

In March 1965, Bobby married again, to Cindy who already had three children. In May 1967 they declared bankruptcy, and in July Bobby was on a ship to Vietnam where he was on double pay because it was a war zone. When he returned Cindy had disappeared.

By now Bobby had heard that the Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore was doing sex change operations. Cindy and the children returned, and they went to Baltimore together. He found work in the shipyards there, but otherwise dressed female and applied to the John Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic. After four months they declined the application based on age, appearance and numerous tattoos. Also Bobby could not afford the fee.

Bobby and family returned to Seattle, and shortly afterwards Bobby and Cindy separated and then divorced. Dayton later estimated that he had had 150 jobs up to this point. Cindy remained a friend, and supported Bobby as she applied to the University of Washington Hospital. Dayton changed her name to Barbara, and lived as female for six months, staying with Cindy and her new boyfriend. The University clinic then accepted her.

Surgery was in December 1969, the first done at that clinic. Ten days later Barbara returned to surgery for a colostomy. Her parents arrived, and stayed with Cindy. Follow-up operations continued through 1970 and 1971. Barbara trained in data processing, but was unable to find any work, and was frequently depressed. She had still not told her children.

Continued in Part II

1 comment:

  1. Ron and Pat's granddaughter here,

    Thank you for taking the time to write about Barb. Most people like to disregard her because of the DB Cooper aspect of her story, but she deserves to be remembered, especially by the local LGBT community. If you ever find any writing about her, especially her trans experience, I would really appreciate it if you could reach out to me or Pat to share.


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