Monday, 20 February 2017

Interview with Caroline Cossey

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Caroline Cossey, aka Tula, a former model, and actress from the UK, Bond girl, transgender rights activist, one of the most inspirational transwomen in the history of the transgender movement, ranked #24 (1995) in FHM's 100 Sexiest Women, author of two biographical books. Hello Caroline! 
Caroline: Hello Monika!
Monika: I must say that for many transwomen, including myself, you have always been one of the most charismatic role models. I am just wondering whether you are aware of how many lives you saved, not only in the UK but elsewhere, by simply being yourself?
Caroline: It gives me great comfort to know that the greater good came from all the pain and suffering resulting from being outed in terms of spreading international awareness and in helping other trans people find their self-worth, direction, and life’s purpose.
I’ve had the repeated privilege over the years of people writing me or telling me I saved their life. It would have all been worth it to save a single life so I’ve been very blessed in that regard.

Modeling photo

Monika: While preparing myself for this interview and reading different articles about you, I have just realized how strong you must have been through all those years. The first test that you passed was when as a young girl from Norfolk you managed to fight against being bullied and ridiculed…
Caroline: Being bullied and ridiculed at such a young age is crippling and without such a close and loving family I have no doubt I would’ve taken my own life. It knocks all your self-worth out of you and turns you inwards from the world. I became extremely introverted.
To this day I still have triggers that are very upsetting and I suppose I will for as long as I live. I think it’s important to remember we all have this strength inside us. We endure scars but they tell the story of our triumphs, not just the story of our travails.
Monika: Having transitioned at the age of 20, you started an unbelievable career that many young girls can only dream of. What did you feel when your beautiful face started to appear in advertisements and on the covers of many fashion magazines?
Caroline: As trans women we all have insecurities. The modeling industry is a purely visual industry and a highly competitive one at that, so being able to achieve the success that I did was tremendously reassuring and gratifying. I worked across the entire spectrum as a model in nude pinup, calendar, fashion, swimwear, hair, and beauty ads. That in itself was even more gratifying because I wasn’t hiding anything under clothes. It was the biggest compliment to be paid to have pictures taken of me.
Monika: When you became a Page Three Girl for The Sun and Playboy pin-up girl, did you finally feel accepted as a woman? Did it empower you?
Caroline: Yes, absolutely. To understand that I think it’s important to consider the context of the times. I had no trans role models and there was so much hostility directed towards and ignorance in regards to trans people.

Girl power.

There was extraordinary pressure to feel accepted, to pass; for my self worth and for my safety on a daily basis. Would I feel the same way today?
I hope not, we’ve come such a long way but if society draws rigid lines around sex then the fallacy of passing will always come into play. It’s madness because there will always be cis men and women who don’t “pass” in that sense.
Monika: Your career peaked with a role of a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only (1981). Did you like acting in that movie?
Caroline: Walking along the side of a pool is not what I call acting but I was very proud to be cast as a Bond girl. At that point in my career, I had done or was also doing lots of little cameo appearances on different TV shows as well as commercials and what could have been a ten-year run as a staple on the gameshow 3-2-1. Ironically, it was that success that gave the relentless journalist more funding for my outing.
Monika: We have been very serious so far. A light question now … Which Bond do you find most attractive: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig?
Caroline: Sean Connery for me was the sexiest and the best Bond with all that he brought to the screen.
Monika: Being a Bond girl put you in the spotlight, which finally resulted in your being outed in The News of the World. Your career was shattered in one day. You had to fight against hatred and transphobia…
Caroline: It absolutely crushed me. I was desperate and suicidal. Only with my family and close friends’ support was I was able to get up and fight. They had portrayed me as a con but it was I who was the victim and this should never have happened. Had my paperwork been in order and if I had the legal support back then it wouldn’t have happened so I set out to change the law and took the British government on.

On the modeling catwalk.

Monika: If I remember well, The News of the World had done trans-outing before. In 1962, their article ruined April Ashley’s modeling and acting career too…
Caroline: Actually it was The Sunday People that outed April Ashley but a tabloid all the same. The checkbook journalism back in our day has a lot to answer for! Thank God privacy laws are so much better today.
Monika: In retrospect, you had the intelligence, talent, and looks (still have!) to become a great Hollywood actress or famous model. Do you regret anything? Could you achieve more in this respect?
Caroline: I think we all have our destinies and mine played out how it was meant to. There are days I feel like I was born forty years too soon but I also managed to achieve a lot considering the hostility, restrictions, and lack of opportunities of those times and I was able to invoke change. I’ve been lucky.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which are featured in films, newspapers, or books these days?
Caroline: I am absolutely delighted because the awareness and visibility help turn the wheels of acceptance and continues to nourish an improving support system.
Monika: Coming back to your unbelievable strength, the next blow came in 1983 when you and Count Glauco intended to marry, and UK courts refused to recognize you as female.
Caroline: I had a willing partner to marry and it was a long and grueling journey I embarked on. I had to exhaust all domestic remedies before being able to take my case to Strasbourg. I was taking the British government to court on two counts: The right to amend my birth certificate and the right to marry.

Glamour shot.

Monika: In 1989, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in your favor, it seemed that finally, you ran out of bad luck. You married businessman Elias Fattal, but again, another blow. Again you were outed by the media, and he decided to leave you.
Caroline: I won on both counts at Strasbourg but the British government appealed the decision and won on the appeal. I had met Elias Fattal and we married.
On the day that we returned from our honeymoon, it was the front page of News Of The World that I had married multimillionaire Elias Fattal. We had decided not to tell his family about me being transsexual because they had such a hard time coming to terms with the fact I was Christian.
We wanted to wait until they got to know me first and planned on telling them when we had to deal with surrogacy. He was summoned home and his brother William took over and I was given my marching orders and the marriage was annulled.
Rejection at such a happy time in my life cut me deeply. It would have been easier to deal with if he had died.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now? I have a feeling that in the past, the role models such as Christine Jorgensen, April Ashley, or you were more credible. All of you were next door girls that suddenly became famous, so you were natural choices for role models, unlike today when transgender celebrities are somehow unreal and difficult to associate with …
Caroline: Each and every transgender person that has been public has contributed in an enormous way. They have come from all walks of life and made themselves visible across different careers.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Caroline: Yes I think so. As minorities, we can move mountains when we fight together for more legal recognition and equality. At the end of the day, it is about fighting marginalization. Whether that’s about race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or anything else is secondary.

Caroline with her sister.

Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Caroline: I do what I can and when I can as much as possible. Sarah McBride who is the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign is working wonders. It’s imperative we’re seen everywhere. It is the only way we’re ever going to right the misconceptions.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Caroline: Love is so important. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to find it in other people but we all need love in our lives. To give love, to receive love, there’s nothing more powerful. It’s the love in my life that makes me feel whole. It always has been.
Monika: I guess your mother and sister have always been your closest soulmates?
Caroline: I’ve always admired my mother for her strength and determination. She made it through the depression and the second world war. It instilled some wonderful survival skills and respect and appreciation for the gains that many take for granted.
I shared so much with my sister growing up. She was my confidante. We dressed up and played with dolls together and developed a very close bond from very early on and became the best of friends for life.
Monika: You wrote two books: “Tula: I am a Woman” (1982) – the one that I am particularly fond of, and “Tula: My Story” (1992). In 2015 you released the third book titled “My Story.” Can we find there any new experiences that you did not cover in the previous two biographies?
Caroline: I thought about extending My Story since its release in 1992 but decided to keep it the way it was to tell the story of that time. It had been brought to my attention that the books were being sold at some crazy prices so in 2015, I released My Story as a Kindle eBook and as an audiobook on to help a few new generations and make it cheaper, easily accessible, and widely available.
Monika: You sold the movie rights to your life. Would you prefer your character to be played by an unknown transwoman or famous cisgender actress from Hollywood?
Caroline: I will be happy if I’m played by an actress and not an actor.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Caroline: At the moment I'm a full-time caregiver for my mother who is bedridden and 90 years old and with the help from my husband I'm coping as it is very challenging.
My mother has given me so much love and support when I've needed it most and it’s been my turn the last ten years or so. There are a couple of projects in the works but they’re not my priority.

Caroline with her husband.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls and women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Caroline: You are not alone. There is so much information and help available, just reach out. And always remember, chin up as we have nothing to be ashamed of. 
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Caroline: Yes I agree. Your gender is just one part of your entire being.
Monika: Caroline, thank you for the interview!
Caroline: My pleasure.

Main photo credits: Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Source: Facebook.
All the photos: courtesy of Caroline Cossey.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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