For the first time in its 64-year history, Playboy magazine will feature a
transgender Playmate, a decision that Cooper Hefner, a top executive at
the magazine, said on Thursday was in keeping with its founding mission of
embracing changing attitudes about sex.
The French model Ines Rau, 26, will appear as the November centerfold in
the first issue since the death of Hugh Hefner, Mr. Hefner’s father and
the magazine’s founder.
Selecting Ms. Rau “very much speaks to the brand’s philosophy,” said Mr.
Hefner, 26, Playboy’s chief creative officer. “It’s the right thing to do.
We’re at a moment where gender roles are evolving.”
Mr. Hefner said he selected Ms. Rau to be a Playmate two months ago
because she’s “lovely” and has “a remarkable personality,” but also to
resolidify the magazine’s voice. “This is really a moment for us to take a
step back and say that so much of what the brand stood for in the early
years is very much still alive in culture.”
When Ms. Rau — who has appeared in American Vogue, Italian Vogue and a
Balmain campaign, among others — heard that she would be a Playmate, she
cried from happiness, she said on Thursday.
“It was a compliment like I’ve never had,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of
beautiful compliments from gentlemen before, but this one really made me
feel very special, beautiful and feminine. I was speechless.”
But the announcement was not without resistance. A quick scroll through
Playboy’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages on Thursday revealed a mix
of reactions. Many commenters expressed support and marveled at Ms. Rau’s
beauty, but others said they were shocked or even appalled by the
“I’ve seen a lot of hateful comments,” Ms. Rau said. “I would have never
thought about people being so transphobic. I knew we still had a lot of
work to do to get to a point where people see trans women as women, but I
would have never thought of that.”
But that resistance only adds to her determination, Ms. Rau says. “It
makes me even more proud and happy to have done that, because we need to
make a mentality change. We have to.”
“My story is very heavy, and you’re going to always have people who don’t
understand and are being very mean, and seeing that, it makes even more
sense to fight for awareness and respect,” she said.
Mr. Hefner, who said he had not questioned his decision in the slightest,
said he was more concerned about moving the conversation around equality
and sexuality forward, and less concerned about alienating readers.
“I didn’t make that decision based off of whether or not individuals who
were paying for products or are fans of the brand are going to be
satisfied with it,” he said. “I made the decision because it was the right
decision to make, regardless of the comments that come out.”
On Sept. 27, two days before the November/December issue went to press,
Hugh Hefner, the embodiment of Playboy, died. Ms. Rau was originally
supposed to appear on the cover, but it was changed to a 1965 picture of
Hugh Hefner, photographed by Larry Gordon.
Some commenters on social media insisted that Hugh Hefner would never have
allowed a transgender woman to appear in his magazine. But in addition to
the fact that Ms. Rau was selected months before his death, her appearance
is not the first time Playboy has featured a transgender woman in its
pages — nor is it even Ms. Rau’s first appearance in the magazine.
The May 2014 issue came with a special section called Playboy A-Z that
featured Ms. Rau fully nude for a spread titled Evolution.
And in 1981, Caroline (Tula) Cossey, a transgender English model, appeared
in a Playboy pictorial for the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”
alongside other Bond girls. She was outed shortly afterward by a British
tabloid, but returned to the pages of Playboy in 1991 for a solo
pictorial, a first for a transgender woman.
“It’s unbelievable the lack of knowledge people have in understanding what
he was trying to accomplish,” Mr. Hefner said of his father. “And that was
really to have a conversation about sex that was healthy and bring it out
of the closet.”
In March 1965, Playboy had another notable first when Jennifer Jackson, a
black woman, was made Playboy Playmate of the Month. Mr. Hefner said the
choice elicited letters that used similar language to what he saw on
social media on Thursday. Playboy’s social media accounts posted snippets
of archival letters from that time alongside new comments about Ms. Rau..
One of the letters, which was shared with The New York Times on Thursday,
read: “At the risk of being labeled bigots, racists, reactionaries and
sundry other things currently in vogue, we entreat you to return to your
time-tested format of Playmate selection, which is more in line with the
thinking of the vast majority of your readers.”
But similar to what populated Playboy’s feeds about Ms. Rau, others
writing in 1965 applauded the magazine’s progressive stance. “In your
leadership of the avant-garde in modern America, you have taken another
giant step forward,” one letter read.
As for the recent rising tide of concern about women’s rights and the
objectification of women — issues that re-emerged after Hugh Hefner’s
death — Ms. Rau said: “I think Playboy always embraced women’s freedom and
beauty. It empowers women in nudity, which is the most simple and
beautiful way to empower women.”
When asked about her experience being photographed this year, Ms. Rau
said: “I was just thinking of being this little lonely boy in the ghetto,
in the shadows in my room. And now I’m in Los Angeles shooting Playboy
looking so beautiful, feeling so amazing. I cried of happiness.”
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