Bob Tur and Sex Change

Bob Tur was, for many years, a helicopter pilot who broadcast traffic and weather reports in the Los Angeles area. He had a brief brush with fame during the Rodney King riots, when L.A. police chief Darryl Gates called him “The most dangerous man in Los Angeles.” (For broadcasting the exact location of rioting.)

Recently, Tur has been interviewed on a number of L.A. news outlets. He’s having a sex change.

Okay, cool. I wish him much luck. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I support people’s right to sex-reassignment procedures. I hope this makes him happier in life.

But… He’s said a couple of things that sounded odd, and I wanted to ask (and perhaps debate) the details.

Specifically: he said that men think with the brain’s cerebral folds, but that women think with the corpus callosum. Men think with Gray Matter, and women think with White Matter.

I’m pretty sure this is not true.

He also said that, after six weeks of estrogen implants, his way of thinking has become feminized. As a man, he used to be very good at math. Now, he has trouble adding up simple sums.

Is loss of math ability a normal effect of estrogen implants in men? Is it really established that men are good at math because of hormones? (Tur said this was so: he said that math is part of the masculine “fight or flight” instinct.)

My opinion is that Tur has bought into some myths regarding men and women, and especially regarding brain structure and function. My opinion is that if six weeks of hormone implants have caused him to lose his ability to do mathematical calculations, something is seriously wrong, and he ought to have the results examined critically by medical specialists.

Is any of what he has said (and I am endeavoring to quote him accurately from interviews on KNX AM and KFI AM news/talk radio) valid? I’m worried that he’s falling for nonsense and may be in the grip of some bad science, or, worse, bad medicine.

A friend of mine transitioned for a male to a female and told me that it changed the way she looked at life and how she processed emotions. She said that every man should go on hormones for a little while just to see what it was like. But she didn’t make any mention of forgetting how to do math or fix automobiles or the other stuff she was good at back when she presented as a man.

Transgendered people are just people. And some people have wacky ideas.

Sounds like an exaggeration. Testosterone does affect math ability measurably; even a man’s natural testosterone fluctuations cause his math skills to measurably rise and fall. But we’re not talking about “can’t do math”, we’re talking about small changes.

As for “men think with grey matter, women with white matter” that’s an exaggeration too, but with a hefty kernel of truth to it.

Can the brain’s grey and white matter be changed in adulthood through hormone treatment?

Not that I’ve heard of.

I doubt he’s concerned about hard science right now. He’s made a decision to do something, for whatever reason, and he’s using these factoids as a way of explaining it. It’s pretty common behavior.

Sounds like a combination of woo, wishful thinking, and a smidge of badly misunderstood science.

For example, there are definite structural differences between the brains of men and women. However, this is something determined at birth, and isn’t going to change through use of hormones. Moreover, there’s mounting evidence that transgendered people’s brains have the structures of the gender with which they identify. If this is true, than Ms. Tur would have had those female structures since birth. In her terms, she would have been thinking with her “white matter” all along.

Hormonal changes can affect cognition, as anyone who’s been through puberty can attest. I’m unaware of any direct link with math abilities, although it can affect one’s ability to concentrate, which could make it harder to do math. Like Der Trihs said, this isn’t going to mean you suddenly forget what a cosine is, but you’re more likely to forget to carry a 2 and get a wrong answer. This is probably exacerbated by the short amount of time she’s been on hormones. Her body’s probably not used to them yet, and it may take some adjustments to get the dosage just right.

The idea that this is tied into the flight or fight response, and that flight or fight is specifically a male response, is absurd. Virtually every animal on the planet has a fight or flight instinct. The ones who don’t tend to come to a very bad end. (see: the dodo).

Thank you for that: that’s entirely new to me. It comforts me that she isn’t just making stuff up.

Also, it may have been dumbed down for radio broadcast interviews. It’s hard to do radio and include all the proper exceptions, explanations, and context.

This makes sense…

Thank you, everyone: I’m feeling a little more comfortable with Tur’s interviews. I hope she continues to be as happy as she seemed to be.

(My personal view is that big life-changing alterations in life-style don’t provide real lasting comfort. People who win big in the lottery are often just as miserable rich as they were poor. Many people who fall in love fall right out again. I know a nice lady who made contact with her son, whom she’d given up for adoption when he was an infant. They were ecstatically happy with each other…for two days. Then the bloom was off the pumpkin, or whatever, and now they only exchange Christmas cards. But if a sex change is Ms. Tur’s “magic bullet,” I hope it works!)

Those other examples don’t belong in the same category. Gender dysphoria is biologically driven; it’s not about “life style”, it’s about a brain/body mismatch and how having the wrong hormone balance affects the mind. That’s not going to go away.

But the treatment might not have the big, life-changing effects that the patient hopes for. I’m not really categorizing anything, but cautioning against getting one’s hopes too high.

And, sure, any improvement is a good thing. If Tur imagines this to be a 10,000% improvement in her quality of life, and, after a year, it only provides an 80% improvement…that’s pretty good. The interview hinted to me that Ms. Tur was anticipating something miraculous.

(I’ve been a fan, by the way, from long ago days. When Tur was a helicopter pilot, he not only broadcast the traffic, in one nasty L.A. flood, he landed and rescued people. That’s pretty cool. Man or woman, Tur has class.)

You know, folks really ought to tag me when these threads come up…

OK, time for some fact and some personal experience. Which is also fact but is an appeal to authority.

Every person is a unique snowflake. Yes I know a researcher found identical snowflakes once, but bear with me. The important thing to note is that every transsexual has a different reaction to hormones. In terms of what is affected most, severity of effect, speed of effect, and net positive/negative results. We are only just recently being able to develop some good statistical data on how hormone replacement therapy (HRT) impacts transsexuals.

Generally speaking, one starts to feel the effects of HRT within the first week. And it’s no wonder one does. For example, a standard birth control pill may have from 0.020 - 0.035mg of estrogen or analog in it. I take 8 mg per day…do the math, that’s as much as 400 low-dose birth control pills. 2 mg is dissolving under my tongue as I type. Plus, we take them sublingual, which according to my research can increase the uptake by 2-4 times from oral. Again, huge doses. Most transwomen take spironolactone and/or other anti-androgens which can cause significant physical and cognitive effects. Since I have the magic “I” in my designation, I only take a very tiny amount of spiro, the smallest they prescribe.

These impacts can be serious, profound, and unbalancing in some transwomen. They can lead to spatial awareness changes, difficulty manipulating objects physically, and yes changes in cognitive thinking. Generally speaking, loss of math or other abilities is something noted after 6 months-2 years of HRT, not within the first 6 weeks. But it’s just as likely that the entire unbalancing impact has rendered Ms. Tur with a deficit in thinking.

The spatial awareness changes hit me in months 2-4, and they are documented via controlled studies as being true - after HRT, transwomen have a spatial awareness which is between that of men and women. Example: although I have a tight garage entrance, I’ve never, ever touched the sides of it in 13 years of living at my house. Within the first 3 months on HRT, I hit the sides of my car numerous times backing in or out. I also found walking down stairs required a mental adjustment. Most critically, my fencing skills worsened dramatically. One of my key tactics is an ability to “pull distance” - meaning that I can retreat just an inch or so out of reach of my opponent’s lunge, then riposte quickly and hit them. Within the first 3 months of HRT, everyone somehow magically moved about 3 inches closer to me…I re-took several beginner’s classes to re-learn distance.

Has my math thinking worsened? As difficult as it is to subjectively say this with any accuracy, yes, I think so. I used to be able to do things like add an entire grocery list in my head. Now…it’s like something is blocking me, like there is some problem understanding some math operations. But I didn’t notice that until about 6 or more months on HRT, and I have since been able to recover most of my skill - you can get used to hormones over time and mitigate some changes, but many of them you cannot, and some over time will become permanent.

So what Ms. Tur says is at least possible from the standpoint of the impacts of the hormones. I won’t comment on the claims of brain folds and thinking, other than to say becoming a transsexual woman does not make one a neurologist.

Oops! I’m still new enough around here that I haven’t figured out who is most associated with what issues. (Der Trihs and religion, got it! You and transsexual issues, uh, er, no, I hadn’t spotted.)

(FWIW, let me know if you spot a “furry” thread that I’m not in!)

re snowflakes, really? Wow… re hormone therapy, that makes perfect sense. In the mental illness thread, it’s been emphasized that no two people react to anti-depressants in the same way, so it isn’t too surprising the same would be true of hormone implants.

I’ll give Tur a big pass, given that she was talking to mass-market daytime talk radio, and not writing a scientific paper. A little imprecision of language is actually appropriate to the medium.

To me, this is depressing, for two reasons… Ideologically, I’m still uncomfortable with sexual differences in mathematics skills. It troubles me, as it can be used as a basis for improper sexual discrimination. (Much like the current debate over women in combat.)

The other reason is…I love math! It’s so doggone beautiful! It saddens me to think of anyone missing the opportunity to participate in it.

n/p., I was mostly joking…since I came out as an intersex transwoman I’m paying close attention to these threads.

Well my point is it may not be sex-related at all. It may just be a side effect of the massive amounts of hormones we transsexuals take. I’m not certain that one can easily set up a good study to isolate which it is, however.

Isn’t there a link between male memory loss with soy based products because of a chemical the mimics a female hormone? Or has that been discredited?

It’s just that there are so many members and guests… I feel as if I’m only now really “meeting you” and that, until now, I hadn’t really recognized you as an individual. So… Pleased to meet you!

Ah! I wasn’t clear. Excellent point. What are the ratios, approximately? I mean, say a typical, average, biological woman normally has x amount of estrogen in her body, but a transsexual individual in hormone therapy receives x times … what? Five times as much? Ten? You say “massive.” Is it clear how massive?

(When estrogen is given in hormone replacement therapy for older women, what might the ratio be?)

(Just as a pointless aside, I am a frustrated sf/fantasy writer, and one of my books is dedicated to Bob Tur. I met him, very briefly, many many years ago. I hope that her new life is a very good one. And…yours!)

I liked you better when you were the coal lady! Awwww…who am I kidding? I like you just as much now! :smiley:

Ideally a transwoman will have a hormone level which will range from about the same as an average woman, to maybe double that level. The problem is, almost all transwomen started out as XY males, and never produced much estrogen to speak of. So if you’re looking at the cognitive dysphoria issue, it’s more fair to compare XY males with transwomen - in which case, the circulating hormones could be easily 10-20 times what they had as a male.

For some numbers, an XY male might have an average of 20-30 pg/ml of estrogen (as estradiol), but a transsexual might have 150-300 pg/ml, with some getting as high as 500 pg/ml. An XX woman’s estrogen varies considerably over her cycle and from woman to woman, but could range from 50-300 pg/ml, less a peak before ovulation.

I’m genetically not XY or XX - my estrogen levels typically ran from 50-100 before I started HRT, with the highest measured being 157. So hormones treated me better than they would have an XY male.

HRT in XX women, when it is given (it’s really falling off now, due to the risk of breast cancer), attempts to either bring levels up to those of a normal, younger woman, but at least 50% of such.