Pilot Bob Zoey Tur currently faces the greatest challenge of his/her life. (Photo courtesy News Media Films)

Pilot Bob Zoey Tur currently faces the greatest challenge of his/her life. (Photo courtesy News Media Films)

At 53, legendary helicopter pilot/TV reporter Bob Tur is in a highly competitive and dangerous business. How dangerous? Bob once rescued 54 people from 22-foot seas which were battered by gale force winds. Not exactly work for the faint of heart.

A longtime Santa Monica resident, Bob has won two Emmys and is known nationwide for capturing dramatic video footage during the 1992 Los Angels riots. He calmly testified at the subsequent “L.A. Four” criminal trial even though he’d received death threats and was forced to carry a concealed weapon. Again, clearly not for the faint of heart.

Tur’s fame grew internationally with his memorable coverage of the infamous O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. But all this success came at a considerable price — three heart attacks and bypass surgery. He never smoked or drank but was apparently producing so much testosterone that it was essentially killing him.

There was also an “interpersonal” price. While at CBS, Bob’s pilot/TV newsman rival was Dirk Vahle at NBC. Dirk so disliked Bob that he refused to even talk to him.

To be fair, Dirk is not the same guy he used to be. In fact he’s no longer a guy at all. Following a “transition period” and eventually SRS (sex reassignment surgery) Dirk became Dana. (Now a helicopter stunt pilot for the movie studios.) As for Bob, a few months ago he also began the transition, including HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to become Zoey Tur.

What are the odds that two men in the same high-profile business and working in the same metropolitan city would both become women? (Oddly enough, many men who become women have hyper-macho occupations, including a former Navy Seal.)

Bob’s transition, while possibly off-putting to some, is a fascinating story. And by the way, while Dirk disliked Bob, Dana is quite fond of Zoey. In fact, on Wednesday the two had lunch at Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ restaurant in the valley. (The name alone makes me hungry.)

You could say Zoey and Dana are becoming bosom buddies. (I can almost hear the groans.) Bob actually has a terrific sense of humor about his transition and jokes, “It takes a real man to become a woman.”

I know Bob because for seven years he lived in my apartment complex where we often worked out in the gym. I had absolutely no idea he has “gender dysphoria.” Simply put, this describes people “disconnected” with the sex they are born with. For his entire life Bob has felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body. And it turns out there’s scientific evidence. In fact, it’s estimated that gender dysphoria exists in 1 in every 11,000 births.

Until recently, gender dysphoria was treated as a “disorder,” and often as a mental illness. Therapy, medications and even exorcism have been used to “cure” the patient. But, with advances in technology, i.e. detailed brain scans, gender dysphoria is now considered a genetic, medical condition. These days there are medical options, though too late for untold thousands.

Alarmingly, the suicide rate for those with gender dysphoria is estimated as high as 50 percent. In Zoey’s case, living life as a man, despite all the personal and job success, was filled with periods of deep depression. Ultimately, Zoey came to the realization that becoming her real self, a woman, was the only option that would save her life.

Complicating this already difficult decision was the fact TMZ broke the story, which was picked up by international news outlets for the whole world to see. Zoey has two adult children, a son about to start medical school and a daughter who’s a major network TV reporter and is, unfortunately, struggling with this radical change.

Zoey hopes in time the transition will be easier for her daughter to accept. In the meantime, after a lifetime of battling with the issue, Zoey is committed to her new path. In a few months she will have facial feminization surgery and early next year will undergo SRS to complete the transition process.

The downside of having one’s transition story featured on TMZ is obvious, including zero privacy. But for Zoey there’s an upside that may be worth it. She’s committed to inspiring others, especially young people, who are emotionally troubled by gender dysphoria, that there are positive options.

“People thought I was brave doing rescues and TV news flying helicopters,” Zoey says, “but brave is being yourself. And for the first time in my life I’m being brave.”

In the meantime, me being me, I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Hogly Wogly’s BBQ delivers.

 

You can follow Zoey’s transformation at facebook.com/robert.tur. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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