Playboy’s First Transgender Model

Before Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Amanda Simpson, there was Caroline “Tula” Cossey

She was a striking 6-foot-tall British model whose face graced magazine covers and was displayed in national ad campaigns for vodka and lingerie in the late 1970s. Tula debuted as a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only, to promote the film with other Bond girls, in a Playboy photoshoot, in June 1981 (Image 1).

Tula’s career was soaring and life was good. But everything changed the following year when a British tabloid ‘News of the World’ revealed Tula’s secret in a single headline: JAMES BOND GIRL WAS A BOY. Indeed, Tula came into the world as Barry Cossey.  She knew she was different from the beginning—a woman born in a man’s body. In 1974, after years of hormone therapy, counseling and breast augmentation, she completed her transition with gender-reassignment surgery at a London hospital. 

In 1982, the tabloid’s announcement turned her into a media sensation. She became known as the “transsexual Bond girl.” People around the world from all viewpoints—some naive, some ill-willed and many outright confused—wanted to know her story. So, she decided to tell it, to own it and become a well assured, yet resistant, leader in educating the world about her experience being transgender. She used her platform to bring attention to a much ignored, misunderstood and opposed minority group with intentions of inspiring others to be empathetic.

Within the next decade, Tula made an even bigger name for herself:

  1. She battled the British government to change her gender on her birth certificate;
  2. She talked about her transition on TV programs like The Howard Stern Show and The Arsenio Hall Show;
  3. In September 1991, she became the first transgender woman to appear in Playboy magazine (Images 4-6, two different issues internationally).

No matter how confident she was and how ready she was for change, the world just wasn’t able to handle a woman like Tula (not yet, at least). After her feature in Playboy magazine, the media hype was reignited but this time with more negative than positive reinforcement and by 1993, Tula had disappeared from the public eye.

She recently interviewed with Playboy magazine on her experience after being known as the transgender model of the ’90’s, her later career successes, and her personal life. Check it out here.