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Playboy to Feature Its First Transgender Playmate

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 decision.

“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.”

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A 1965 picture of Hugh Hefner, photographed by Larry Gordon, on the cover of Playboy’s November/December 2017 issue.

Credit
Larry Gordon, 1965

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.

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Caroline (Tula) Cossey, far left, a transgender English model, appeared in a Playboy pictorial for the 1981 James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” alongside other Bond girls.

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Playboy Enterprises

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.

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“I would have never thought about people being so transphobic,” Ines Rau said on Thursday about the comments she saw on social media. “It makes me even more proud and happy to have done that, because we need to make a mentality change.”

Credit
Derek Kettela

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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