Playboy Debuts its First Transgender Playmate

When Hugh Hefner died, our features editor, Greg Hudson, shared 1700 words worth of complicated thoughts on the Playboy founder’s death. Hefner was, in Greg’s words, “not all that bad.” For example: did you know Hefner was an early agitator for birth control as well as safe and legal access to abortion? I didn’t. But apparently it’s written in the self-proclaimed feminist’s biography.

The November/December issue of the men’s magazine pays tribute to its late EIC, and features a photograph of Hefner on its cover. Flipping through to the middle of the mag, “readers” will find November Playmate, Ines Rau. Now, a beautiful, undressed woman in as the centrefold in Playboy isn’t usually a news headline. But this time, it is: Rau is making history as Playboy‘s first transgender Playmate.

As someone who knows nothing about Playboy (or Hugh Hefner), these two stories somehow *seemed* linked: “Hugh Hefner is dead, and now Playboy can finally be progressive!” It turns out I was wrong. Both Playboy and its creator are undoubtedly problematic (to say the least), but Hefner wasn’t the symbol of gross patriarchy that I assumed he was. When he was alive, Playboy did cool stuff too.

Ines Rau made her debut in the magazine three years ago, and the publicity launched her successful career as a high-fashion model. (Rau has since appeared in a Balmain campaign, continuously fronts editorials for major magazines and has walked couture shows in Paris.)

And Rau wasn’t even the first trans model to appear in the pages of Playboy. Caroline “Tula” Cossey posed for the men’s magazine in 1981, shortly before she appeared in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes OnlyOne year later, Cossey was involuntary outed as transgender by News of the World — but at the invitation of Hefner, she posed for the magazine a second time in 1991. In 2015, the magazine republished the iconic spread.

Playboy‘s embrace of a diverse cast of playmates is progress and Rau’s visibility on the mainstream stage is important. In her Playboy article, Rau speaks to the role that nudity can play in defining our idea of gender: “Nudity shouldn’t be taboo. Nudity means a lot to me, since I went through a transition to get where I want to be. Nudity is a celebration of the human being without all the excess. It’s not about sexuality but the beauty of the human body, whether male or female.”

If Hefner was the champion of diverse sexual rights he claimed to be, it seems fitting to feature his life and legacy alongside the debut of Playboy‘s first trans Playmate. And if he wasn’t, it’s an excellent example of karma.