Pages Navigation Menu

Tula: I Am a Woman (1992)

Tula: I Am a Woman (1992)

©1992, 2013 by Margaux Schaffer and Dallas Denny

Source: Schaffer, Margaux, and Denny, Dallas. (1992, March). Tula: I am a woman: Interview with Caroline Cossey. International TransScript, 2(2), pp. 18-22.






In 1992 Margaux Schaffer and I met British model Caroline (“Tula”) Cossey, who had been outed as a transsexual by British tabloid newspapers. Margaux Schaffer and I interviewed her for JoAnn Roberts’ unfortunately short-lived magazine International TranScript.

Caroline was gracious enough to allow AEGIS [the 501(c)(3) nonprofit I started in 1990] to hold a nightclub event in her honor. Atlanta trans groups pitched in. There was music, refreshments, copies of Caroline’s autobiography My Story for sale, and, of course, Caroline itself. It was a fabulous night with hundreds of attendees.


International TranScript Pages (PDF)

Tula: I Am a Woman

Interview With Caroline Cossey

By Margaux Schaffer and Dallas Denny of AEGIS

An ITS exclusive interview with world famous, politically active, and controversial Caroline Cossey


International model Caroline Cos­sey, also known as Tula, has been in the news a bit lately. Actually, she’s been in the news a lot, ever since a British tabloid exposed her trans­sexual status. Before this “outing,” she was a very popular model, and had even appeared with Roger Moore in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only. It was only a small part, but it and her status as a “Page Three Girl” in the weeklies made her a likely tar­get, and the inevitable happened—she was revealed as the former Barry Cossey.

Caroline dealt with the publicity by writing a book, Tula: lAm a Woman, in which she told her side of the story.

Now Caroline is back with a ven­geance. Her appearance in the Sep­tember issue of Playboy magazine generated more mail than any feature they had ever done. She has ap­peared on a variety of television shows, including Donahue, the Joan Rivers Show, and the Montel Williams Show. Her mother, Doreen, who ac­companied her on her latest trip stateside, was with her on the sets of several shows, including that of the Howard Stern Show. Mr. Stern, to the shock of both the Cosseys, showed up in camp drag as “Helen” Stern, graphically depicting his “sex change” with a knife and a sausage. Unruffled, Caroline told him, “Dar­ling, you’re not transsexual. You’re a crossdresser.”

Caroline has recently written a second book, My Story, and it is quite good. In it, she tells the story of her unhappy childhood in the small village of Brooke, in the Norfolk countryside; of her teen days as a gender pioneer, a boy who wore makeup; of her career as a showgirl and dancer; of her entry into the world of modeling; of her public ex­posure; of her love affair with Italian Count Glauco Lasinio; and of her brief but tragic marriage to Jewish magnate Elias Fattal, a man who abandoned her because of an imma­ture need to please his mother. My Story ends with Ms. Cossey’s account of her legal trials and tribulations, in which she first won in court in her attempt to have herself declared le­gally a woman, and then lost when the British government appealed.

Caroline has vowed to fight for the rights of the more than 10,000 British transsexual men and women who have the wrong sex on their birth certificate. To this end, she has been spending a great deal of time in America lately. She was in Atlanta in October, looking at a condo and searching for a spot for a night club she plans to open. She took time out of her busy schedule to meet with us.

She showed up on time, after a late lunch, casually dressed, and wearing almost no makeup (she dill looked great). We sat in the lobby of the luxurious Wyndham Hotel, where she un­successfully tried to get a cup of decent tea from Babul, our African waiter, who kept offering her strange brews made with herbs and spices. She unselfconsciously flirted with Babul. Flirting comes naturally to Caroline; she told us it’s part of her job.

Dallas: You were rather brutally “outed” by the British tabloid, News of the World.

Tula: We don’t call it outed. I thought that outed was a term used for homosexuals.

Dallas: It is. I think that in this country if you’re outed, it means you’re publicly exposed.

Tula: I had a career. What hap­pened was, it goes back to when I was dancing at seventeen. I shared a dressing room with another showgirl, Diana, that I confided in—obviously, with two years with her, I would tell her. Her boyfriend at the time was a photographer who suggested doing some pictures of me for the maga­zines, and then weeks later, telling them how we had fooled them. That didn’t appeal to me at all. I finished that job, and then I went on tour and I didn’t see Diana for many years. And this one particular pho­tographer turned up when I was on a game show as a hostess. He was go­ing out with one of the girls. She said to me, “Why is it that you’ve never been booked by Brian for a shoot,” and it freaked me out, for I knew that it was the same photographer.

At that time, I was Tula, and she asked me if I was Caroline. So Ijust knew he knew, and I got out of the contract, and I got off to Australia, thinking “I can be away, and it’ll drop.” Two papers let it drop. News of the World persisted. And the lengths they went to—paying people to say things about me and bothering my family in Norfolk. They had pictures of me doctored up with my hair cropped off, ’cause I was a page three girl, which is a bit glamorous, and they had pictures of me that they showed my dad, saying, “Is this your son?” And they showed them to people in school and said, “What was he like in school?” It was just unbelievable. And then I heard they paid to get access to the medical file at Charing Cross, where I had my surgery.

There was so much distortion when it all blew out. There were so many things written, and twisted, and distorted. In one of the maga­zines someone sent me, were glam­our shots of me, and then this school shot from a term ten years before mine. And they had this poor local boy pointing his finger at the photo­graph, saying it was me. It wasn’t.

Dallas: You dealt with it publicly by writing a book. How did you deal with it privately?

Tula: It was a pretty tough time for me. I felt suicidal. I felt ashamed. I felt all the things we shouldn’t feel, being transsexual. God made us this way. We have no choice, really.

So I dealt with it in the best way I could. My agent said, “Well, you’ve got more control if you do a book than if you sell a retaliation story to a newspaper.” So I did the book, which was paperback at the time. A lot of people I knew fled to the hills, and I figured they were shallow and they weren’t my friends to begin with. But my clients, that I felt I owed an explanation to, I told. I lost some of my bread-and-butter stuff, which was the corsetry and swimwear and catalog work that keeps models going between shows.

Margaux: You’re doing a lot of promo work for your new book.

Carolyn Cossey Interview, Photo 1Tula: At the time I did the first book, there was a pressure, and things were twisted and distorted. Then what happened with the British government and my situation last year and the year before with my husband and all that just fueled the fire in me. I feel more people under­stand more and there is more accep­tance and recognition that people like us get. And that’s why I’ve be­come more public about it. There’s a lot [of people] that write to me and say, “I think you’re doing incredible things, but I’m paranoid, I’ve got this job,” or “I’m in this relationship and I hate to be public with it.” That’s why I’ve agreed to do as much as I can, for as long as I can cope with it, and then I’ll say, you know, well, enough is enough. I’ve explained to you that I want to open up a club as a way of showing people that you can be transsexual.

Margaux: It’s a form of vindica­tion, like being in Playboy.

Tula: Well, yes, that was. At the time, I had not worked for four years, ’cause I was married to a very wealthy man that didn’t want me to work, and when he dumped me, my agent called me and said, “I think the best therapy for you is to get back to work.” She knew that my case was coming up in the courts, and she said, “What better platform than something like Playboy?” That had such appeal, but I said, “At my age, you know, people don’t want to know,” and she said, “No, not a cen­ter spread. A celebrity spread.” And it all started me doing the celebrity spread after I went down and met Mr. Hefner and explained what it was all about. They were going to run it, but unfortunately, they had all this problem with this one big adver­tiser that was doing ten million dol­lars worth of ads, and he threatened to pull all that if they ran me. What they did was, they shelved it. All the foreign editions have been coming out for the past year, and finally this advertiser pulled anyway, for some other reason, and they decided to go with it, but instead of offending other advertisers, they thought they would just put me in as a feature—run me in as a feature and wait to see what the response was. Now I’ve got an agent and I’m doing much more seri­ous work—Vogue, and stuff. I don’t want to be seen nude again.

Dallas: Have you spoken with Playboy about the response?

Tula: Yes. They’ve had more re­sponse from this than they’ve had on any other articles that they’ve run, which is great. Unbelievable.

Dallas: Most of it was positive?

Tula: Yes. I’m going down to L.A. next Monday, and I’m hoping to pop in and say hello to Mr. Hefner and thank him. I’m pleased, because Playboy, that’s great. I wasn’t going to do Penthouse, although they were trying to negotiate.

Carolyn Cossey Interview, Photo 2Margaux: Playboy is a part of Americana and the mainstream, and I think it’s far more effective than a couple of closed journals or a couple of talk shows. You find an audience that is synonymous with the person on the street.

Tula: I’m the first transsexual that’s ever been featured knowingly. I said to Gary Cole at Playboy, I said, well, I’m pleased that it’s gone like this, because maybe you’ll have a playmate that’s transsexual. You know, every month, they have these girls in the center of the magazine.

Margaux: I want to see a trans­sexual Miss America, and I’ve heard that they were questioning [contes­tants] on that.

Tula: Miss World, there was a Miss World, and I knew a Miss Hong Kong contestant that was transsexual, but she was booted out. But that’s gotta change, because, you know, in those competitions you’re dealing with beauty. I’ve always said as a model, if someone wanted to book me for face value, surely it’s totally ir­relevant what my chromosomes are or what I had between my legs when I was a child. They’re booking me for what I look like now. I’m like a coat hanger for clothes.

Margaux: People are being ex­cluded for other things that are to­tally irrelevant to their performance.

Tula: L.A., what’s that program you have here? L.A.—

Margaux: Law. I thought of you when I saw that episode.

Tula: Someone phoned me and said, “I think there’s something that might have been based on you,” and all that. I was amazed when someone sent me the tape. Little things like that. You know, times are changing.

Dallas: Let’s do the crossdresser question (we had previously dis­cussed with Caroline the fact that a number of crossdressers had been of­fended by a remark she had made about men with hairy chests). What do you think about crossdressers?

Tula: Well, I don’t know much about them. You’re talking about transvestites. I mean, there’s an awful lot of men that wear women’s clothes, and they get turned on. That’s great, you know. Whatever turns you on. Does it bother me? No. Live and let live is my motto. I get tripped up sometimes, like I told you earlier, when I say things like, I’ve done Playboy, or I’m speaking up for transsexuals. I like to show that we can look sexy and attractive, and we don’t have hairy chests. We don’t look like men in drag. And then an awful lot of transsexuals write and say, “Well, you’re one of the lucky ones. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and so do transsexuals!” Joan Rivers said to me, “How did you deal with hair and things?” There’s a lot of guys that are very hairy. There are a lot of women that are very hairy, as well. I’ve seen some real buggers on the beach, especially in India.

Dallas: You’ve mentioned on tele­vision that you have an XXXY chro­mosomal pattern.

Tula: My mum took me to vari­ous hospitals when I was ten, or eleven or twelve, for I was having blackouts. It was all hormonal. But no one knew what they were dealing with; it was out in the country. It wasn’t until years later that a girl­friend went to the specialist who did all these tests and after that I thought, well, I’ll never go, but then I did, and it was discovered that I was three X’s and a Y. I think the term is mosaicism. The doctor said to me, “A few of your cells will be XY, a few will be XXY, and the rest will be XXXY.”

Dallas: Now that Margaux is fin­ished with your new book, I get to read it. Tell us about it.

Tula: Any day now I’ll be given a publishing date. Three publishers are negotiating for it. So long as they don’t twist it or alter it.

Margaux: Will the U.S. edition of the book be very different from the U.K. version?

Carolyn Cossey Interview, Photo 3Tula: I don’t want it to be, no. I’m going to add two chapters which will all be about Atlanta, and Playboy, and all that, which will be great. Up until now, I’ve got some great offers. Two that I spoke to want me to open up in the area of my life as a model and “kiss and tell.” I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with nice people in modeling. It might make me a few more bucks on the book, but I want to feel proud, and I’ve had the feeling of having my life threat­ened, and I don’t particularly like the idea of being uncomfortable because I’ve said I slept with so-and-so, and he was great—had ten inches or whatever (laughs). That wouldn’t make me feel proud about myself.

Margaux: Your book is being published by Faber and Faber.

Dallas: But only in Britain, so far. How can someone in the United States get a copy?

Tula: Faber and Faber have Faber, Inc. in Boston. It’s like a sister to Faber in England. They were talk­ing to me about distributing the book, but I want to sell the rights to a separate publisher. We’ve just had the Frankfurt Book Fair, which was last month, and I have these three people I’ve been talking to—Stuart Lyle, Harper Collins, and William Morris, who has a division of pub­lishing. So it’s one of those that hopefully will publish it, or maybe my agent might publish it or come up with a new prospect. As long as it’s treated in the same manner as Faber did. When they approached me, I had Sedgewick and Jackson, which was on the same situation, which was “You’re gonna make a for­tune with this, but you’ve gotta name drop,” and I thought, “My God.” And then when I met Faber, they wanted to get into the real thing about being transsexual and my feelings, and the legal situation, and the hospital, and to get people aware, and to realize that we have a bad time. I think it was handled in that way with re­spect. I won’t sell as many copies, but I figure I’m not doing it to sell as many as possible. I’m doing it for people. I get letters that say, “I never knew that people like this existed. I just assumed that you were transves­tites—men who like to dress up, or whatever.”

Margaux: What you see in the tabloids is, very unfortunately, what most people think.

Dallas: And sometimes on the talk shows. Even Geraldo, after ten years, doesn’t know the difference between a transsexual person, a crossdresser and a drag queen.

Tula: Donahue was very nice. I mean, we were having a little chat. When I first was deciding to do a show over here, I was talking to Sally, Oprah, and Donahue. Now, Donahue has had more awards for handling the subject of transsexual­ism and homosexual and any un­usual situation—more awards on the program, which is why I agreed to do his show.

Margaux: He does it with more compassion, I think, than anyone else.

Tula: Geraldo has a new show, “Now It Can Be Told.” I’ll be doing him with my Canadian boyfriend, if I can fit him in on my next trip. I didn’t want to do his chat show, which is a bit—he likes to get people ruffled, I think.

Margaux: I refer to it as thuggery, because the audience tends to be pretty much in consensus with what he believes. So if you have a belief that is outside the mainstream, you tend to get beaten up.

Tula: I’m doing Montel Williams on Monday. That’s from L.A. They might have other—not transsexuals, but I think like a transvestite, and someone they mentioned, another type of person I’m not familiar with. Women into, like, bondage, I sup­pose. They’re into leather stuff.

Margaux: Some time ago, when you married a Jewish gentleman, he went back home to see his mother about your situation and didn’t come back. What would you say to him if you could?

Tula: I gave him almost two years to come back. Then I met David, and I managed to finally have feelings again. I’m having an active sex life, but for all of two years I didn’t. I mean, in my job, I flirt and laugh and all the rest. But I mean, that’s my job. I still had hoped that my hus­band would wake up, or trip over, knock his head, and realize because we had covered every aspect of the ins and outs of telling his family, and the possibility of what would hap­pen. But unfortunately, his brother got to him before he could tell his mother, and he came up with the ploy of not telling his family that he knew. He told them that he didn’t know, that it was, like, I duped him.

So I don’t know what I would say. I don’t know if I would be able to contain myself. I don’t know. I mean, I feel desperately sorry for him. I mean, he has to look at himself in the mirror on a daily basis, so if he can live with that, good luck to him. I don’t think he can, ’cause I know the man that I married.

Did I tell you my club concept?

Dallas: It’s going to be a Euro­pean-style show bar.

Tula: Well, it’s going to be Pari­sian. I’m going to have girls coming in, all transsexual. Twelve maximum, I think. I want to get really top girls. I’ve got a ventriloquist. She looks like your mum. She’s got this little voice. And then there’s this fire eater, and a girl that does a strip. She looks like Sophia Loren. She’s incredible. Very talented. And then there’s one that’s gonna do a … I don’t know if you’d understand the accent. It’s very funny. She’s very beautiful. She sits in a rocking chair and does poetry with this really comical accent.

There’s a man in LA who is a co­median. He was in the film “Morning After” with Jane Fonda. He’s a trans­vestite. A funny transvestite. He looks to me like your grandad, and doesn’t try too hard, but he’s so funny. He picks on the audience, and he goes off and then there’s all these drag artists coming on. I’d love for him to work for me as a master of ceremonies bringing on each girl, who will have ten minutes.

Margaux: In September, when you visited Atlanta, you were given an honorary citizenship by the mayor’s office, Maynard Jackson. Jackson later went on record, saying he didn’t think that anyone whose “primary claim to fame was having had a sex change operation” deserved the award. Will you invite him to your club?

Tula: Well, the next time I’m over, were gonna have a little drag party, and I hope we’ll have him an invite.

Margaux: I think we’ll definitely need to. You can ask him to show up for the club’s opening.

Tula: He can be there on opening night, but he’s gotta come in drag.