• K.E. Berringer

Caroline Cossey

For Her Eyes Only

Caroline Cossey, also known by her stage name Tula, is a former model who made appearances throughout the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s. She was a highly coveted model, known for her stature and beauty. She was such a popular model that she appeared in Playboy and was even given a brief cameo in a James Bond movie. However, she gained international attention when she was publicly outed as transgender in the early 1980s.

Cossey, pictured in 1991.

Early Life

Caroline Cossey was born on August 31, 1954, in the small village of Brook, located in Norfolk County, England. Cossey was assigned male at birth under the name Barry Kenneth Cossey. She was born with Klinefelters Syndrome, which causes boys born with it to have an extra X chromosome. Women are typically born with XX chromosomes, while most men are born with XY chromosomes. Those with Klinefelters instead have XXY chromosomes. Though Cossey's variation of Klinefelters is rarer, as she actually has two extra X chromosomes, making her genetic makeup XXXY.

Cossey as a young child, circa 1959.

Since Cossey has Klinefelters, it meant that growing up, she tended to look slightly more feminine. She also picked up traits and habits that are more stereotypically feminine, at least by the standards of the late 1950s. While Cossey's brother and his friends were out playing games, she would instead be found with her sister playing with dolls or dressing in their mother's clothing. At school, Cossey got along better with the girls, which led to frequent bullying from the boys.

Once Cossey hit puberty, her looks became even more feminine, while the bullying only got worse. Cossey had always known she was different than the other students, but she had not always been able to figure out why. After a health class in high school, she realized she was not attracted to any of the girls she went to school with but was instead attracted to the boys.

Cossey kept this realization to herself. She did not feel safe revealing this to anyone, not even to her parents or siblings. Not only did she live in a small town where gossip like this would spread quickly, but England at this time had a reputation for being hostile towards LGBTQ+ people. Attacks against the community not only happened often, but they were normalized. Homosexuality had only just become legal in the UK in 1967, around the time Cossey was realizing her feelings.

Cossey, aged around 15.

At 15, the bullying became too intense for Cossey, so she left school. At first, Cossey worked in a clothing shop, then a butcher shop before she eventually left for London at the age of 16. Cossey would call leaving for London "running away". Not that she was running away from the bullies that tormented her, but rather she felt like she was running away from the feelings she was experiencing.

After arriving in London, Cossey found herself becoming a part of London's LGBTQ+ community. She became more comfortable with the idea that she was attracted to men, but she struggled to find exactly where she belonged in the community. Cossey would have a few relationships with men, but they did not bring her the fulfillment she thought that they would.

One day, Cossey ran into one of her neighbours. She knew that this neighbour had been transitioning from a man into a woman, but this neighbour told Cossey that she had recently undergone surgery to complete her transition. Cossey soon came to a realization. The reason she had not found fulfillment was because she was not interested in being with a man who loved her as a gay man, she wanted to be loved as a straight woman.

At 17, Cossey began hormone therapy, along with psychological therapy to ensure that this was what she really wanted. She decided that she was ready to come out to her family. At first, she only told her siblings, who passed the news along to her parents. It was a shock to them, especially her parents. After a while, they accepted Cossey for who she was. They realized that they were not losing a son, only gaining a daughter. Cossey soon changed her name from Barry to Caroline.

An early head shot from when Cossey was around 18.

Early Modelling Career

As Cossey progressed further in her transition, she began to gain more confidence. Finally, she was feeling comfortable as herself. In order to progress in her transition and pay for breast implants and gender reassignment surgery, Cossey began several new jobs. One of her jobs was working at a club as a showgirl and after she had gotten breast implants, she worked as a topless dancer in London and Rome.

This led to Cossey signing her first contract with a modelling agency, where she took on the stage name Tula. At 6'0 tall with a naturally beautiful face and soft voice, Cossey was perfect for modelling. Her particular look, which was more androgynous was also popular for the early 70s.

On December 31, 1974, in Charing Cross Hospital, Cossey underwent gender reassignment surgery. With this, Cossey's past would be kept between only a select few.

Cossey in Australian Vogue.

Cossey's career soon began to take off. First, she began by appearing in print ads, but she soon transitioned into television commercials. Soon, she was gracing the pages of magazines such as The Sun, Australian Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Only a year or two after beginning her career as a model, she was able to fully support herself with the money she made from modelling. She had even become a bit of a minor celebrity and began a relationship with Count Glauco Lasinio, who was fully aware and accepting of the fact that she had not been born a woman.

In 1978, Cossey was given a spot on the British game show 3-2-1. However, before she could appear on the show, a tabloid journalist contacted her claiming that they had discovered her past. Not only that, but they threatened to release it if she went on the show. With no other choice, she was forced to drop out. This claim gained traction amongst other media outlets, who secretly began their own research into Cossey's personal life.

Cossey pictured with Roger Moore and the other girls of 'For Your Eyes Only'. Cossey stands on the far left in the white bikini.

Cossey continued on in her career, trying to put the threat behind her. In 1981, Cossey would experience one of her most successful years yet. She posed for Playboy magazine early in the year. Later in the year, she was given a role to appear in the next film in the James Bond franchise, For Your Eyes Only. Her role would only see her briefly in one scene, but it was still enough to classify her as one of the 'Bond Girls'. No matter how much screentime she got, though, this was a role any other model would have killed for. For Cossey, not only was it a major step in her career, but it was also an opportunity to move to bigger films with bigger roles. That is what she hoped for at least.

But, shortly after the film was released, an article from the British tabloid News of the World revealed the past Cossey had worked so hard to keep secret. In 1981, the tabloid paper ran the headline "James Bond's Girl Was a Boy". Underneath, for everyone to see, was a large photo of Cossey.

The 'News of the World' article that outed Cossey.

Controversy and Activism

Just like that, Cossey's world came crashing down. This article framed her as some sort of imposter, who was just charading as a woman. They acted as though Cossey had purposely tried to trick the public and they villainized for nothing more than being herself.

Cossey could have considered her career over after this. No company would want to hire a model who was transgender to represent their brand and any chance of a movie career was over. Some companies even began to run ads using Cossey's image, with slogans such as "She's a he. Life is harsh." The majority of the public did not simply want trans people kept out of their media, they wanted those who participated to be publicly shamed for doing so.

So, Cossey also lost any chance of being treated like a normal human being. Suddenly, it was like she was back in high school, except now she could not escape her bullies so easily. She nearly completely withdrew from the public eye and was afraid to leave her home out of fear she would be attacked. She was constantly sent death threats, and it all took a toll on her mental health. It was so bad that she often contemplated suicide.

Cossey and Lasinio.

Slowly, as public attention turned away from Cossey, she began to feel safe again. Lasinio had stayed by her side throughout it all, and he eventually proposed to Cossey. She accepted, but they soon realized that they could not be married. Lasinio had come from Italy. He knew that there, if one transitioned in the same vein as Cossey, then they would be classified as both physically and legally whichever gender they transitioned to. So, in Italy, Cossey would be a legal woman and the two could be married there. In England, this was not the case. Cossey was physically a woman, but not legally. Legally, she was still considered a man.

Upon finding this out, Cossey realized that someone needed to advocate for the trans community. No matter if her outing was forced on her or not, she knew that she was one of the few public figures who was publicly transgender. The person to fight for the community had to be her.

As Cossey looked further into the law that prevented her from marrying, she realized what other rights she was prevented. She was permitted from using women's washrooms, and if she was arrested, she would be sent to a male prison. In the eyes of the law, she could not even be considered to be sexually assaulted if such a thing happened.

Cossey started to petition for trans rights in the UK. Lasinio stood by her, though their engagement would eventually end. He would always remain one of her biggest supporters, though. In 1982, Cossey released an autobiography titled I Am A Woman. She hoped that it would humanize her in the eyes of her detractors. Despite her past, she wanted to prove that she was just like any other woman.

To be considered a legal woman, Cossey would need to have the sex on her birth certificate listed as female. But the British government would not let her change it. In fact, Cossey was only permitted one official document that listed her as a woman; her passport. In 1983, Cossey began legal proceedings against the British government. She argued that since she was physically a woman, it was unfair of the government to prevent her from being one legally. The process would be agonizingly long and it would take years before she could argue her case.

Cossey hardly sat and waited while the fight proceeded. She continued to make public appearances to rally people behind her cause. Slowly, she bought trans rights to the forefront of British culture and made the topic less taboo. Cossey also returned to modelling, occasionally appearing on the runway. She even appeared in a 1985 music video for the band The Power Station (a band notable for having two members of Duran Duran).

In 1985, Cossey met Elias Fattal, an Orthodox Jewish businessman. The two fell in love and when Fattal proposed, Cossey explained to him why she could not marry him just yet. Fattal, upon hearing this, only asked her if she would convert to Judaism. She agreed.

In 1989, Cossey's case reached the European High Court in Strasbourg, where it was examined by the European Court of Human Rights. They agreed with Cossey and decided that she should legally be recognized as a woman in England. That year, the sex on Cossey's birth certificate was changed from male to female. The British government filed an appeal, but it was not to be reviewed until 1990.

On May 21, 1989, only weeks after the ruling, Cossey and Fattal were married in a Jewish ceremony in St. John's Wood, London. The couple left for their honeymoon in the Caribbean, excited to spend the rest of their life together. They had even planned to meet with a surrogate once they returned home.

The second 'News of the World' article that was released on Cossey.

As soon as they had returned to England, though, Cossey was shocked to find that News of the World had published another article on her. This time, they publicized her recent marriage, running photos and everything.

Though Fattal knew about Cossey's past, he had not mentioned it to his parents. They were very strictly orthodox and did not approve of his marriage. They demanded that Fattal divorce Cossey, which he did. Their marriage ended just as soon as it had begun.

The release of this article dragged up old memories and sentiments. Not only had it brought on the end of her marriage, but the public seemed to be more hateful than before. The death threats even became so intense that someone ended up sabotaging Cossey's car. Things only got worse when Cossey's case was taken back to a British court, and they ruled against her. Her birth certificate was changed back from female to male.

Cossey was upset. She thought she would finally be able to move on with her life, only to be brought back to the same place she had already pulled herself out of. This time though, she knew what to do. She wrote and published a second autobiography, My Life. She also attempted a return to acting. However, she was not receiving any roles that she wanted. The only roles she was being offered were as trans characters. She would not take any of these roles. She was not going to be just 'the trans actress' in the same way she had become 'the trans model'. She was going to be an actress, the same as any other.

A 'Playboy' cover from 1995, with Cossey on the cover.

Cossey realized that her career as a model could be used to her advantage. She wanted to publicize her story in the pages of a magazine. However, she was not just going to settle for any little magazine. She wanted to make a return to Playboy, this time with the public fully aware of her authentic self.

Cossey got in contact with Hugh Hefner, who was sympathetic after hearing her story. He invited her to the Playboy Mansion where she could be interviewed and take a photoshoot. in 1991, an article titled "The Transformation of Tula" ran in an issue of Playboy, along with a photospread of Cossey. This made her the first trans model to receive a photospread in the magazine.

In preparation for the release of her Playboy spread, Cossey appeared on several different American TV shows, including The Joan Rivers Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, The Phil Donahue Show and The Howard Stern Show. Her interviews, particularly with Hall and Rivers, were rather awkward. The public had little knowledge of how to discuss the topic of being transgender, and seemingly even less on how to talk to someone who was trans. It is Cossey's interviews with Phil Donahue and Howard Stern that really showcase how many felt and feel about transgender people, though. While the other two interviews tread lightly on the topic and only border on showing any true feelings, Donahue's and Stern's interviews make no effort to hide their discriminatory feelings.

The Phil Donahue Show would let people from the audience ask questions, and in her appearance, many of the audience members use their time to hurl insults at Cossey. Similarly, when Cossey appeared on The Howard Stern Show, its host showed up dressed as a woman. Stern made fun of Cossey and her story, not only insulting her to her face, but also with her mother sitting right beside her. The interview was supposed to be an opportunity for Cossey and her mother to discuss what it was like for the two, but it was really just an opportunity for Stern to humiliate Cossey. Cossey later said of Stern's actions, "...I just felt like, I don't need this. I need to keep my sanity."

Throughout the interviews, Cossey somehow managed to keep her sanity. She remained composed and showed elegance when dealing with insults. Instead of responding solely with more insults, she responded instead with levelled and sometimes witty answers. Still, her appearances were little more than a space to show off the ignorance that led to Cossey being outed in the first place.

Cossey and Finch at their 1992 wedding.

Life After the Public Eye

In 1992, Cossey remarried to Canadian engineer David Finch. Both he and his family knew about her past. Luckily, no one had any objections.

Though Cossey's birth certificate still listed her as a man, this was overlooked at the Montreal Church the two married in. As of September 2021, the two are still happily married. They would later move to Atlanta, Georgia, and both became U.S. citizens. Both Cossey's mother and sister, who she had always had a close relationship with, lived near her in America. They made sure to meet up as much as possible, and though her mother has since passed away, Cossey's sister and her still remain close. Lasinio would remain one of Cossey's top supporters until his death in early August of 2019.

In the mid-1990s Cossey stepped away from the spotlight. This time, it was solely her choice as she felt it was the right thing for her to do. She was ready for a quiet life with Finch.

However, she has quietly continued her fight for trans rights and acceptance. In 2004, her lengthy court case and tireless hard work finally paid off. That year, British law finally allowed trans people to change their sex on their birth certificate. In the eyes of the British government, Cossey is now, finally, legally a woman.

Cossey in 2016, posing for HBO's 'The Trans List'.

Conclusion

Acceptance of the trans community and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole has become far more welcomed in todays society than ever before. Though, the bigotry that once left Cossey nearly helpless persists. In the end, though, it seems that Cossey has gotten the best over her detractors, at least to some extent.

When Cossey became a model, she never intended to be labelled as 'the trans model'. Cossey only wanted to be a model, who was accepted the same as anyone else. When she was forced to address her transition, she turned her forced outing into an opportunity to fight for other trans people and show them that they could find their own acceptance. Through her hard work, she made strides that so few were able to. Cossey will forever be more than just 'the trans model'. She is Tula, who graced the cover of Playboy and was a Bond Girl. Tula, who fought for the rights of normal, everyday people.


Notes

  • Ines Rau is commonly credited with being Playboy's first transgender model. Though this is partially true, it is not wholly true. Cossey receives the title of the first transgender model in a Playboy photo spread, while Rau receives the title of Playboy's first transgender Playmate.

  • Cossey's role in For Your Eyes Only can be seen here at 0:21. She is seen in the white bikini climbing out of the pool.

  • To find a playlist of TV interviews Cossey did in the early 90s, click here.

Further Resources

  • I am a Woman, Cossey's first biography from 1982.

  • My Story, Cossey's second biography from 1991.

Sources

Photos