Saturday, December 19, 2015

Meet Tula, One of the World's First Transgender Models


During the late '80s or early '90s one of my sisters brought over a knitting book she had recently purchased of sweater patterns inspired by famous artwork throughout history (a really '80s theme if I ever saw one.) All of the models were British and one in particular was very striking looking. Her name was simply stated as Tula. It was a couple of years later that we recognized Tula as she was being interviewed on The Phil Donahue Show, and we were floored to learn that she used to be a man.



Transgender seemed to be the buzzword of 2015, namely due to the publicity around Bruce--I mean, Caitlyn Jenner (sorry, but as a '70s child it's still hard for me to get used to the new name.) But Tula was already secretly breaking ground as a transgender model and actress in the 1980s. She even starred in a Power Station music video and had a small role in "For Your Eyes Only." It was the role that lead to her secret being exposed, as The News of the World declared, "James Bond Girl Was a Guy." It was the headline that sabotaged her career and would bring a series of heartbreak to Tula. 


Such a revelation wouldn't have batted an eye today -- but during the early '80s, before the AIDS crisis and when homophobia and abuse of homosexuals ran rampant in the UK -- the headline set off a firestorm that threatened Tula's career (even though as a woman, she wasn't homosexual.)




Tula's real name is Caroline Cossey, but she was born Barry Kenneth Cossey in Norfolk, England in 1954. Cossey was born with Klinefelter's syndrome, a chromosome condition which can cause a male to develop more feminine features. Cossey's childhood was marked by teasing and bullying, and when he became a teenager he started receiving hormonal treatments and -- working as a burlesque dancer -- started saving money for a series of operations to transition into a female. Cossey's final surgery and legal name change took place in 1974. 


Cossey began to get modeling work under the name Tula. At 6' tall, she was in demand and appeared in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. In 1978, she appeared on a British game show called 3-2-1, and was contacted by a tabloid journalist that said he knew her secret and planned to expose her. She dropped out of the show and maintained a lower profile until being cast in the Bond film.



After the secret was out, Cossey wrote a 1982 autobiography called "I Am A Woman." She became outspoken against the British government for transexual rights, and in particular the right to change her sex to female on her birth certificate. During this time she also became engaged to an Italian advertising honcho (the first man to date her knowing about her past.) The engagement ended, and in 1989 Tula married a Jewish businessman, confessing her past life to him and even converting to Judaism before the wedding. Tula was legally able to marry, thanks to a ruling by the European High Court that recognized the rights of transexuals. Unfortunately The News of the World seemed to be out to get Cossey, again. They published photos of her honeymoon, again reminding readers that she used to be a man. When her husband's family, who were Orthodox, saw the expose and learned of her secret, they forced him to divorce her and have the marriage annulled, something that devastated Cossey. She received death threats and someone vandalized her car. She had already contemplated suicide after the newspaper's first damaging headline ran about her. 

"My heart was broken," she later said. "The whole thing is ugly. But you pick up the pieces and get on with your life."


Hugh Hefner took an interest in Cossey's story. He invited her to the Playboy mansion, and as Cossey recalled, "he looked into my eyes and I immediately knew he felt my story. He felt my cause."


Playboy interviewed her and ran a photo spread in 1991. Earlier this year, Cossey told Cosmopolitan that she'll always be grateful to Hefner for his generosity and treating her with respect. The Playboy piece got her invited onto talk shows to discuss the struggles of transgender people. 




By the mid-90s Cossey had abandoned acting, modeling, and the media spotlight. She married a Canadian man named David Finch in 1992 (above) and currently lives in the Atlanta area. Her sad story ended up with a happy ending and no doubt her struggles helped make it a little easier for Jenner and other high profile transexuals to gain acceptance. 


(And as far as I'm concerned and her stunning modeling work attests to, Cossey is all woman.)


Here's Cossey in Power Station's "Some Like It Hot" video:


2 comments:

  1. Great post! I didn't know Cossey's story at all (but I certainly know the video!).

    It's my end of the year post to all the bloggers I know and love! Pam, you have a great blog and I'm always glad to stop by and see your latest stuff.

    Thanks for your hard work, great posts, and bloggy friendship. Wishing you all the best in 2016 from "the Flipside."

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    1. Cherdo! I was just thinking today that popping over to catch up your site is long overdue; I'll go do that right now. Thank you for your kind words and I sure hope you have a rocking 2016 as well!

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