Bob Tur is a macho man. He is known for flying helicopters into chaos, capturing famed footage of the O.J. Simpson low-speed Bronco chase and documenting the explosive Los Angeles riots in South LA. Bob Tur, 53, is a self-professed adrenaline junkie. But the Bob Tur that everyone knows is about to die. The well-known LA helicopter reporter announced on Facebook Wednesday that she has gender dysphoria and is in the process of becoming a woman.
When HuffPost LA called for an interview, Tur answered the phone, saying, "Hi, this is Robert." But she has already changed her Facebook page to Robert Zoey Tur. Tur has also started to post photos of herself now that she is undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
HuffPost LA spoke with Bob -- when asked if we should refer to her as Bob or Zoey in this article, she said to "intersperse it" -- about the monumental life changes she is experiencing, how she is connecting with her family and about her darkest times when she seriously contemplated suicide.
What compelled you to come forward about your transition now?
I kind of got forced-outted yesterday. I had been keeping track with friends, family and some ex-girlfriends on my Facebook page. Just letting them know about my progress and keeping people in the loop. There were a couple news producer types that were on my Facebook page and they were shocked, so I wound up talking to them and having conversations. I wanted to figure out how much press there would be. I was worried about my daughter Katy [who's 29]. The story has gone international.
Why do you think it has gone international?
I was really well known around the world for the O.J. Simpson chase and the LA Riots. I think a lot of people in the world were very interested in the macho helicopter news style and the rescues. It was just a good story. The Japanese television came out and flew with us several times. Michael Palin had a show called "Pole To Pole" and he spent time with us. So I think people around the world were very fascinated with Hollywood and celebrity. I was well known.
You told CBS, “I’m done trying to deal with this. It’s gotten very bad in the last five years." What have the last five years been like for you?
Very bad. I really got very, very depressed. I was getting more depressed. I started alienating friends. I shed friends. I shed possessions. I was contemplating suicide. June 8 of this year was going to be my last birthday.
I am glad that you are here and that you are telling this story. What changed for you?
I didn’t want to hurt Katy and Jamie, . They told me years ago that they kind of expected me to commit suicide. They didn’t know why. They just knew that I was really depressed all the time. I tried talking to them about it, but you know, kids don’t want to hear their parents be vulnerable. They just shut me down.
Were you getting help at the time for depression?
Yes I tried antidepressants and things like that, but you can't treat gender dysphoria with antidepressants. It doesn’t work. This is a genetic thing, and the only way to treat it is with estradiol (a sex hormone). If you're male to female, it’s a brain genetic issue. And with females to males, it's a polycystic ovarian problem. I was born with a female corpus callosum, which is a white matter structure in the brain. It’s the white matter that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres.
Did you feel different as a child?
Oh yeah. Of course.
Would you say that you felt something had been wrong your entire life?
Yes. I always had the problem and it manifested itself early on. I remember being a child and I identified as female. If I saw a movie, I identified with the female characters. I would sing female parts to songs. I hated the way I looked. It made no sense to me. I hated body hair. I hated it all. But I did love women. And I loved my wife and my kids and I loved raising my kids. I had a lot of fun as Bob Tur, but now Bob Tur needs to die. He's slowly dying. He will be dead in about three to four months.
You said that your children are mourning the death of their father -– and that this is a process. How are you helping them with this process, or is this something that you feel they need to do on their own?
Katy is in town. She's in Los Angeles. So I'm going to talk with her. It will be the first time I'm meeting with her since she learned this. She initially handled it very well. She cried a little bit, but she understood. She said she supports me and I believe her. She is mourning the loss of her dad.
Have you had a chance to spend time with your son, Jamie?
Jamie understands the science -– he's going off to medical school. He's very interested in the brain, so he understands the biochemistry and the genetic issues behind it. But he's not real happy about it. He isn't calling me as often. But like I said, it's part of a grieving process. They have to meet the new happy person.
What will your own process of mourning Bob Tur be like? Do you have any plans for a way to ceremoniously say goodbye to the person you have been for the last 53 years?
I think so. I have started throwing out Emmys and awards. I threw away a lot of stuff. I started giving away male clothing.
Do your awards and Emmys mean less to you now that you're changing, or is it more that you want to separate from the past?
I want to separate. It's kind of bittersweet. I was sitting with the awards and the press clippings and I think they belong in a book, and Katy should have it. These are past accomplishments that are great, but it's time to move on.
It's incredible that after only 35 days of hormones, you have felt your body start to change. Can you explain what that process feels like?
It’s been faster. I started on hormone replacement therapy and had two micro-surgical implants that deliver estradiol on a slow rate flow. It's similar to what you have as a female in your anatomy. Within a day, some of the dysphoria was gone. Then after that, my repetitive thoughts, the OCD, was gone. My mind was working in what I consider a normal way. It was peaceful. All the noise was gone. The crazy thoughts were gone.
I didn’t know life could feel like this. I didn’t know it felt so good. I had never known what it was like to be truly happy. Within two weeks, I had a series of exquisite changes in the way that I processed information. It's startling. Men think with grey matter, so that's mathematics, flight or flight, that sort of thing. White matter is more consensus-building, it's more communication-based. I have become much more social. I have a huge number of friends. I never had friends before. Maybe five or six, and out of them I saw only two or three. But now I have a lot of friends.
Do you have regrets about not starting this process earlier?
What do you think was stopping you?
I didn't want to hurt anybody. But I was not helping anyone because I was hurting myself. They called me a lot of things: macho, aggressive, cowboy, rescue guy. And the truth is, nobody ever called me a liar, but I was a very big liar. I lied to myself and I lied to my family.
Do you think some of those qualities were a part of your personality or you actively had to create them as part of your persona?
I think it was part of my personality as a guy, but the people who have what I have, the commonalities are they are often left-handed, they are 30 IQ points above average, they are fairly conservative, they often have wives and children. They are in traditionally male roles. A lot of pilots, a lot of military pilots, a lot of computer programmers and a lot of spies, a lot of CIA guys.
I was reading about the Navy Seal Team 6 member, Kristin Beck, who came out as transgender. In her interview with Anderson Cooper, she spoke about fears that someone might kill her. Do you have a response to that?
I did a lot of those aggressive rescues. I remember the Coast Guard refused a rescue, and the sheriff's department and fire department refused as well. I wound up doing it and pulled 54 people out. In a sense, I was addicted to adrenaline. And maybe part of me hoped that I would die. I did a lot of overseas flying and I thought it would have been easier to go that way. But I'm glad I didn't.
Being male was killing me in another way. I had three heart attacks and triple-bypass surgery. I was a genetically predisposed to heart disease. I never smoked or drank heavily. I was producing so much testosterone that it was killing me. The interesting thing is the estrogen is what keeps women from heart disease. This can give me another 20 years of life. Being male was emotionally, mentally and physically killing me.
Is there something you would like to get across to people out there who might be silently struggling with this like you did for many years?
That’s the primary reason to be out. I have received well over 500 texts and emails since late last night. And many of these women are saying their husbands have this or their child does. What I'm telling them is they need to get educated. They need to realize it's genetic and they need to talk about it. Information is very important, followed up with talking about it, getting that person to confess and getting therapy. It may break up marriages, but this is genetic. It is not a fetish. It is not behavioral. It is a physical genetic thing, and if you understand that, there is no shame.
Do you feel that other transgender public figures have an obligation to come forward?
I think people have to do what they need to do. So I don’t want to say that. One of the Wachowski brothers (the directors who made "The Matrix"), one of them was Larry and later became Lana. Lana spoke before the Human Rights Campaign in San Francisco and I must have watched that speech over 20 times.
So you really connected to it?
Oh yeah. Her story was my story. And she felt that she had an obligation to be honest and help others. I feel I have the same obligation.
TMZ reported you saying that you don't believe "women can make the same quick, decisive decisions as men when piloting an aircraft." What do you mean by this, and do you still feel this way?
I did not say that. I think women and men can do the same job, but they do it differently. There are incredible differences in the way that men and women think. I think that what I was trying to get at is as a male, you might put yourself into a situation that can be very dangerous and you can take unnecessary risks. And maybe you'll get high-yield results. But there's always an alternate way to do something. I feel women are better thinkers overall. Making snap, rush judgments is not necessary the best way to fly a helicopter. You always want to be ahead of the power curve, ahead of the aircraft. And with testosterone, you have a hyper-inflated opinion of your opinions. Men know they're right, right? And women know that’s not true.
Are you asking that people start calling you Zoey now? Do you plan to legally change your name?
I am learning to use it. Really big changes happen around month four and five. And at that point, I have to go to the courthouse and petition for a new name, because you can get pulled over with a license that does not look like you anymore. I have a couple of friends that I hike with who I am very close to, and they named me. We were going through the alphabet and got to Z, and Zoey means life.
It's great. It’s at the end of the alphabet, so it's like the end of one thing and beginning of another.
Absolutely, that’s a beautiful way of putting it.
What is most exciting about the future for you?
I love thinking this way. It's so amazing to process information this way. My mind is at ease. I'm just happy. And one last thing: I love the fact that I am interested in makeup and shopping [laughs].
This interview has been edited for length.
Editor's Note: The Human Rights Campaign organization was misidentified in a previous version of the story.
Bob Tur identified with this video and sent it along after our interview: