By Alex Temblador
Playboy has always been a symbol for sex, and the women who’ve been featured in Playboy have always been the epitome of sexy. So it is no surprise to the society of 2015 that a beautiful woman by the name of Tula would have graced the pages of Playboy, but in 1991 many people were not as accepting of Tula as they may be today because Tula was Playboy’s first transgender model.
Tula Cossey is making headlines again with a new interview by Playboy set to release in their July/August print issue. Tula, 60, now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband of 23 years. She’s even converting her best-selling memoir, My Story, to an e-book.
Discussing her e-book, Tula said, “The story itself is about injustice. I’ve always felt I was forced into this situation. The book is obviously topical, and I hope it helps people. People go through my situation and they’re rejected and resented and they have a hell of a time.”
In the 1970’s Caroline “Tula” Cossey, a British model, appeared in Australian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar before being casted in “For Your Eyes Only,” a James Bond film in 1981. To promote the film, Tula and other women from the movie appeared in a Playboy pictorial. However, the next year a British tabloid called News of the World outed Tula as transgender with the horrible headline, “James Bond Girl Was a Boy.”
Tula was living in a time where transgender was much less accepted and not well-understood. She didn’t have Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner preceding her, she was the precedent. As she said, “I feel like I was probably so many years too early.”
After being outed, she became a media sensation, but rather than hide, Tula hit the media back with two memoirs, TV interviews with The Howard Stern Show and The Arsenio Hall Show, and fought with the British government to have her gender changed on her birth certificate. She eventually won the battle and her gender was changed in 2004. Furthermore, in 1991, she asked Playboy to pose once again and became the first transgender woman to have her own pictorial in the magazine.
When asked if the pictorial helped Tula’s cause, she said, “It helped to no end. Playboy’s readership is mostly male and heterosexual, so it allowed me to get out there and prove that people like myself can be sexy and attractive. That’s what I aimed to do at that point. I wanted to fight for the right of recognition.”
Following the pictorial, Tula’s career as a model changed. As she said in the interview, “My career had definitely taken a turn. I was being offered only trans roles on shows like Hill Street Blues. I thought, No, that’s not right. I didn’t like it. There’s a difference between being known as Tula the transsexual international model versus just a successful model. It wasn’t the same. I felt like a circus act.”
Even though LGBT rights and transgender awareness has made some headway since the 90s, Tula still feels the pain from the things she endured from others during the media sensation. She said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop feeling like a second-class citizen. It’s embedded and instilled from birth. You grow up, you don’t fit in, you don’t belong, you’re bullied. That doesn’t go away in five minutes. I don’t think it ever goes away.”
However she tries to remain positive about her experience: “I do feel a hell of a lot better. I’m an optimist and try to make light of the tragedies I went through, to see the funny side, and that has helped tremendously. I’m never going to be ashamed of something I had no control over.”
Despite the rise of transgender awareness, Tula is still shocked to see visible transgender actors and models on TV and in film and the praise and love they receive from society. “Every time something positive happens, I’m watching with my mouth open, gasping and thinking, Fabulous. Laverne Cox is so comfortable talking about it. It’s the changing times,” she said.
Despite the hard years, the ridiculing by the media, Tula still wishes to help other transgender people.
As she said, “With what time I have left, if I can help in any way, I will. Even Playboy rerunning my pictorial means something, so thank you, Hef. Live and let live.
We have such ugliness in this world over religion, gender seems like a minor issue.”
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