In 1981, Caroline “Tula” Cossey appeared in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only and scored a coveted Playboy pictorial. But it all came crashing down when she was outed as transgender by News of the World.
A decade later, Cossey approached Playboy about appearing again, and became the first trans woman to openly appear in the magazine in 1991.
After Hugh Hefner’s death last week, Cossey praised the publisher.
“R.I.P Hugh Hefner 🙏 Thank you for allowing me to share my story and for your support and platform that helped my campaign for trans rights and visibility.”
R.I.P Hugh Hefner Thank u 4 allowing me 2 share my story & 4 ur support & platform that helped my campaign 4 trans rights and visibility. pic.twitter.com/yYh2SpbGMq
— Caroline Cossey (@Caroline_Cossey) September 28, 2017
When Playboy republished her spread in 2015, she told the magazine that doing the shoot had had a tremendous impact on trans visibility.
“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.”
“I wanted to fight for the right of recognition. And Playboy gave me the opportunity to ask for a whole hour on most of the talk shows,” she added.
“It wasn’t just a 10- or 15-minute segment; it was an entire hour. And it gave people the chance to get to know me, to feel the situation and hopefully gain empathy and understanding. That was my goal, and Playboy was a great platform for that.”
— Caroline Cossey (@Caroline_Cossey) July 23, 2017
Almost immediately after his death, though, debate surfaced about whether Hefner was a trailblazer for sexual freedom or an exploiter of women.
For Cossey, at least, he was a hero: When she was introduced to him at the Mansion, she recalled, “He looked into my eyes and I immediately knew he felt my story,” she recalled. “He felt my cause.”
After his death, she told told HuffPost, “Mr. Hefner once said that life is too short to be living someone else’s dream and I think it spoke loudly of how respectful he was of the individuality of others. He certainly was with me.”
Bigender activist Tina Williams credits Hefner for allowing women to be more sex-positive—and body-positive: “He challenged what he derided as ’puritanical’ attitudes toward sex and empowered women,” Williams wrote on Facebook. “Also, by publishing Caroline’s story, he challenged people’s attitudes to trans women.”
Cossey, now in her early 60s and married for more than 20 years, underwent gender confirmation surgery in 1974. Looking at the success of Laverne Cox and shows like Transparent, she says, “I was probably so many years too early.”
She’s a little gobsmacked by how society has evolved, even if there’s much more work to be done.
“Every time something positive happens, I’m watching with my mouth open, gasping and thinking, ’fabulous.’ It’s the changing times… It’s not ’fashionable.’ It’s reality. It’s the way it is.”