People Profile: Caroline “Tula” Cossey
by Mila Madison
Cossey was born as Barry on August 31, 1954 in England. She was born with a variant of Klinefelter’s Syndrome where instead of having XX chromosomes or the usual XXY associated with Klinefelter’s, she was born with XXXY. Though raised male, she possessed a very feminine appearance throughout puberty. She has been said to have experienced an unhappy childhood filled with gender confusion and bullying from classmates at school. She would drop out at the age of 15.
At 16, she moved to London and worked at various low paying jobs. Her transition began at the age of 17, when she started hormone replacement therapy. She became a showgirl in the London nightclub scene. She would then go on to work as a showgirl in Paris and as a topless dancer in Rome in order to pay for her gender reassignment surgery. She legally changed her name to Caroline and in 1974, at the age of 20, she completed her surgery.
“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.”
Keeping her past a secret, Cossey began to model under the name “Tula”. She would go on to appear in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Australian Vogue. In 1978 she was cast in an English game show called 3-2-1. Cossey would soon quit the show after a tabloid reporter threatened to tell her secret.
In 1981, she was cast as a bond girl in the film “For Your Eyes Only”. After the film was released her story was reported in a tabloid piece called “James Bond Girl Was a Boy.” Distraught by the release of the article, Cossey contemplated suicide as she dealt with the ramifications of being publicly outed by the article. This prompted her to write her autobiography titled, “I am a Woman.”
Cossey would continue her work as a model. She would become engaged to an Italian Ad Executive named Count Glauco Lasinio. Lasino encouraged her to be an activist and she petitioned the English government to grant rights to transgender individuals. Her engagement with Lasino soon ended. She would go on to star in Power Station’s “Some Like it Hot’ video in 1985. In 1989, the European Court of Human Rights legally recognized her as a woman and she was married to a Jewish Businessman named Elias Fattal after she converted to Judaism . The same tabloid that outed her years before, News of the World, then publicized the marriage. Upon learning about Cossey’s past, Fattal’s family would pressure him into having the marriage annulled.
“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.”
In 1990, the European Court overturned their decision to recognize Cossey as a woman. That same year she returned to modeling after a four year hiatus. Cossey would appear in Playboy magazine as Tula in 1991. The magazine would openly acknowledge her transgender status in the layout. She would go on to write her second autobiography titled “My Story” in 1992. The book would cover the details of her transition along with the details of her battles with the European Court System.
She married a Canadian man named David Finch in 1992 and moved to Kinnesaw, Georgia where they currently reside. Her legal rights in England would be later recognized in 2004 with the Gender Recognition Act. Cossey would go on to keep a low profile for over 20 years.
Cossey recently gave her first interview in almost two decades in June 2015 where she spoke with Playboy regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s transition and her own journey. “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.” Cossey told Playboy. Regarding the growing acceptance of the LGBT community Cossey stated, “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.”
Caroline was a transgender pioneer in a time when being so was even more of a taboo than it is today. She broke down barriers and paved the way for today’s top models such as Andreja Pejic and Isis King. She fought for transgender rights in a time when it was unheard of. Her story is truly inspiring.
Watch Caroline Cossey in the video for Power Station’s Some Like it hot: