Caroline Cossey was decades ahead of her time.
Whenever the question of the future of the James Bond franchise comes up, there is a split. Some people want it to embrace the modern era, with more representation and less of a focus on a white cis male gallivanting around the world, while others want it to maintain its traditional formulas.
Something both groups can probably agree on: the 1981 Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, starring Roger Moore as the gentleman spy, isn’t the best in the series. Even the most ardent fans place it somewhere in the middle of the oeuvre—it’s totally fine, but it’s not a lot of people’s favorites.
Something it does have, however? The first trans Bond girl.
The Bond series isn’t famed for its progressiveness when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond creator Ian Fleming pushes the ridiculous theory that gay men can’t whistle. Diamonds Are Forever features a pair of gay henchmen, Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore is a lesbian who is remarkably easily ‘turned’, and From Russia With Love features lesbian Rosa Klebb, whose name is apparently a pun on the Russian phrase for women’s rights, Fleming suggests that feminism was for humorless unattractive lesbians. No Time To Die, the most recent Bond film, has a brief moment in which Ben Whishaw’s Q is implied to be gay, so things have moved on slightly, but only slightly.
It seems safe to say that the producers of For Your Eyes Only didn’t know about the trans status of model/actress Caroline Cossey, but soon enough the whole world did.
Cossey was born with a rare variation of Klinefelter syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. Regular Klinefelter syndrome affects up to one in 500 live male births and involves an extra X chromosome, while the variation Cossey was born with affects one in 85,000 and involves two extra X chromosomes. Raised as a boy, Cossey knew from a young age that her body didn’t fit who she was. She enjoyed wearing her sister’s clothes and dreamed of being a Bond girl.
She began hormone therapy at 17 and after top surgery, worked as a topless dancer in Paris and Rome. At 20, she had full sex reassignment surgery and changed her name officially to Caroline. She became a model, using the name Tula, and immediately found success thanks to her striking looks, appearing in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue as well as on Page 3 of the tabloid The Sun. She partied a lot—including an alleged affair with British broadcasting icon Des Lynam—and then Bond came calling.
Cossey doesn’t have a large role in the film—she is uncredited as one of several bikini-clad women at a pool belonging to the villainous assassin Hector Gonzales, essentially glamorous set-dressing to get across the sheer opulence of his life. She’s primarily seen climbing out of the pool and walking towards the camera. There’s nothing to the role beyond looking good and not wearing much.
However, for Cossey, this was just the beginning. Playboy ran a piece accompanying the movie featuring a shoot done the day that sequence was filmed, featuring a grinning Moore surrounded by bikini-clad models, his shirt unbuttoned. Cossey is the woman on the far left. She appeared in another image, topless, her arms covering her breasts, making her the first trans model—admittedly, one Playboy didn’t know was trans, later writing “she fooled us”—to pose for the magazine.
However, shortly after For Your Eyes Only came out, the tabloid News Of The World ran a front-page story headlined “James Bond Girl Was A Boy”. Cossey was devastated. She considered taking her own life but decided instead to use her outing for good, beginning an eight-year campaign to change British law surrounding transgender people, a fight which took her to the European Court of Human Rights. Legally, her surgery was seen as a solely cosmetic procedure, no different from a nose job.
The continued publicity surrounding her also brought work with it. She worked with the band The Power Station—a supergroup fronted by Robert Palmer and featuring members of Chic and Duran Duran—on their none-more-80s videos for Some Like It Hot and Get It On.
Cossey won her case against the government and was legally recognized as a woman. Uncertain about her future, she trained in acupressure and entered into a relationship with a client, Elias Fattal. Fattal proposed without knowing Cossey’s full story—all he knew was that she couldn’t have children. She presented him with a copy of her autobiography—which had been published as Tula rather than the Caroline he knew—and he read it in front of her, only asking afterward if she was up for converting to Judaism.
However, on returning from their honeymoon in 1989, they found the News Of The World had run another story, headlined “Sex Change Page Three Girl Weds”, which ended the marriage—Fattal’s family were a lot less understanding than he had been. The UK government also successfully overturned the verdict of her case on appeal, meaning she became legally male again.
Cossey got back into modeling, and approached Playboy again, resulting in a nude shoot and accompanying lengthy interview in 1991—a fairly progressive move on Playboy’s front, and relatively sensitively handled for the time. "Playboy’s readership is mostly male and heterosexual, so it allowed me to get out there and prove that people like myself can be sexy and attractive,” she later said.
Despite the publicity leading to more acting work, and Cossey’s pride at being able to champion her cause on talk shows, she decided to retire from the limelight, moving to Atlanta with her second husband. Eventually, in 2004, the British Gender Recognition Act let her legally change her gender on her birth certificate and finally become who she always knew she was.
Whatever happens with the Bond franchise going forward, it’s quite something that one of their most progressive moves—inviting the viewer to ogle a trans woman just as freely as it invites them to ogle cis ones—was an accident.