Caroline's story

Caroline Cossey
↑ Caroline Cossey. She's a lady.

I remember the early eighties... A funny time, everything changing. But boys still liked their Raleigh Choppers, Doctor Who on a Saturday afternoon. Marmite soldiers for tea, imagining that they were James Bond, licensed to rescue the beautiful screaming girl from the vile clutches of the villain.

Unless, of course they were the sort of boy who wanted to be the one doing the screaming...

The sort of boy who wanted to be glamourous, gorgeous and, hopefully, gagged and bound, waiting to be whisked away in the nick of time by a handsome man in a safari suit and an improbable foreign location. You see, some boys wanted to be Bond girls...

Boys like Barry Cossey, cruelly bullied at school in Norfolk in the sixties. Barry knew something was wrong and left home in his teens to become Caroline. She took the stage name Tula along with the hormones and went to find her fortune as a showgirl in the seamier quarters of London and Paris.

Tula was the archetype of the early seventies showgirl: tall, skinny, exotically androgynous, with hormonally assisted curves and a surgically augmented bust, the face of an angel. And a little bit extra, which she hid with a cruelly tight customised G-string until she could have the surgery, at the Charing Cross Hospital in London, 1974.

Barry Cossey Barry Cossey Caroline's first model card, 1970s
↑ Barry to Tula. Caroline's transition.

Post-op, Caroline's career took off. No longer a topless burlesque dancer, she became a highly sought-after glamour model and commercials actress, in an age when her lanky, Jerry Hall-esque looks were the height of fashion.

She featured in a famous campaign for Smirnoff Vodka in the UK, whose tagline "Well, they said anything could happen" takes on a weird resonance in the light of her checquered history. She was a cheesecake hostess on TV quiz show 3-2-1 and went out with sportscaster and national institution Desmond Lynam.

In short, she lived it up! Who wouldn't, having been liberated into a body she felt that she had been cheated of for the first decade and a half of her life: "Now that I could enjoy sex as a woman, I'm afraid I went a little wild. Fortunately, that was all before AIDS," Cossey told Playboy in 1991.

The famous Smirnoff Ad.
↑ The Smirnoff ad with the ironically appropriate tagline.

The pinnacle, and a step onto a bigger stage, she hoped, came in 1980 when she was cast in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only. The boy from the fens had become a Bond girl.

Then her world fell apart.

The Sunday tabloid rag The News of the World (known idiomatically as "The News of The Screws" in Britain) outed Caroline soon after the release of the film. She was devastated - any opportunity for a normal, successful life as a glamour model and actress wrenched away from her in one weekend.

Caroline (far left) in For Your Eyes Only
↑ Caroline (far left) in "For Your Eyes Only"

An unpleasant period of her life now began. She became the perfect target for a peculiarly British sort of prurience - fascinated by a "bloke who got his tits out for the lads". The country had never seen anything like her. She was hounded by the press, persecuted by tabloid journalists and photographers asking unbelievably ignorant questions.

In the first of many brave steps, Caroline made the decision to take it head on. The result was the publication of her 1982 book, Tula: I am a Woman, which sought in straightforward terms to defuse the situation by telling the story in full, from her point of view.

I Am A Woman (1982) My Story (1991)
↑ Caroline's two books, 1982's "I Am A Woman" and "My Story", published 1991

If anything, the press coverage intensified, but now it was largely sympathetic pieces in organs like The Sunday Times. Eventually, Tula was able to return to modelling. Inevitably, many of the jobs, such as the well known Sauza Tequila ad, now focused on the issue, not the person. And a career on a bigger stage was now irretrievably gone.

Eventually, she was able to pick up the threads of her life. On a skiwear shoot in Italy, Caroline met an Italian advertising executive, Count Glauco Lasinio, who had read and been impressed by I Am A Woman. Caroline recalls that "he was the first man I'd been out with who knew from the beginning all about my past. Eventually, we fell in love, and to my surprise, he asked me to marry him".

Life is Harsh: Sauza Tequila
↑ Sauza Tequila, "Life is Harsh" (1997)

British law regarding transsexuals is farcical. The law regards gender reassignment as merely a cosmetic procedure, and the changes in legal status allowed are accordingly cosmetic. Caroline was allowed to be called female on her passport, and... that was about it. To all intents and purposes, in the eye of the law, she was and is still male. It says so on her birth certificate. It is illegal for her to use a women's lavatory. If she were convicted of a crime, she would go to a men's jail. Obviously, she was not allowed to marry another man.

Again, Caroline would not take this lying down. In 1983, she began legal proceedings against the British government to get the legal status of transsexuals changed. The process was to drag on for seven years and go through successively higher levels of the judiciary until it reached the European High Court in Strasbourg in 1989.

During this period, she campaigned tirelessly for transsexuals' rights, appearing countless times in the media. Her ties with the Count suffered and they separated. In 1985, she met Elias Fattal, a Jewish businessman. A professional relationship soon became personal, and in 1988, they were engaged.

↑ Fantastic 1980's video featuring big hair dayglo Caroline!

On May 21, 1989, Caroline and Elias married, at a synagogue in St. John's Wood, London. The European High Court had ruled in her favour a fortnight before, so she was now legally allowed to marry, although the government had immediately lodged an appeal, scheduled for the subsequent year. On their return from a blissful honeymoon in the Caribbean, Caroline discovered once again that what fortune and commitment create can be dashed in a day by the tabloid news.

The News of the World had done it again. Caroline's mother and sister were waiting for her at the airport on their return from the honeymoon with the bad news. Elias' family were orthodox Jews, and they immediately summoned him to account for his marriage to Caroline who had already been obliged to convert to Judaism to prevent Elias from marrying a Gentile. Soon, she had lost him back to his family. Now she received death threats. Her car was sabotaged.

At the lowest ebb of her life, she again attempted to cope by writing, publishing her second book, My Story, in 1990. Again, she was in the public eye as the British government's appeal against the Strasbourg ruling came to court. This time, the court found in the government's favour. The year of transsexual enfranchisement was over.

Caroline continued to campaign for transsexual rights, and appeared in a much-publicised centrefold for Playboy in 1991 in return for their agreement to publish a full and frank account of her struggle and her life.

And there is a happy ending. Now settled in the Southern USA, Caroline is happily married to David and continues to receive the love and support of her family. She's said that she sometimes wishes that she'd led a more private existence, but I think the transgendered Bond girl has found some measure of peace in her turbulent life.

Let's hope her dreams finally stay true...

Tula - vintage 70s glamour
↑ Tula - vintage 70s glamour


This piece was originally written in 2000 for the pre-blog version of the draGnet (v3). It was later re-presented (on September 8th 2005, fact fans) on draGnet 4.0, and I'm republishing it again because many people still come to my site searching for it and I think it's a decent bit of writing. It's also been ripped off on a couple of sites, so I wanted to reclaim it in some way.

Caroline Cossey (aka "Tula") was my first transgender role model. As a young schoolboy, I was enraptured by the story of the boy who became a beautiful and glamorous model and actress. I bought her wonderful book I Am a Woman and still dip back into it today.

Caroline is not just a pretty face but has tirelessly used her looks and profile to campaign on behalf of transgendered people. Her work in the nineties cartainly contributed to the widening of civil rights to transsexuals in the UK's 2003/4 Gender Recognition Bill. She's still a hero of mine and wherever she is enjoying a quiet, married middle age, I wish her nothing but the best.

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