For the first time in 64 years, Playboy has a transgender Playmate: Ines Rau. The 26-year-old French model earned the coveted centerfold spot in the forthcoming November/December collector’s issue, which will include a 1965 photo of its founder, Hugh Hefner, who died from cardiac arrest less than a month ago, on the cover.
But this isn’t the first time the magazine has featured a transgender model. In the ’80s, trans model Caroline Cossey was featured in a James Bond-themed editorial. (She appeared in the magazine again in 1991.) Rau, who’s walked for Hood By Air and has starred in ads for Balmain and editorials for Vogue Italia, has also previously posed for Playboy, appearing in its May 2014 issue.
Despite the publication’s rather progressive track record in regards to Playmate casting (in 1992, for example, it featured lesbian and LGBTQ advocate Stephanie Adams), the decision to spotlight Rau has been met with transphobic backlash on social media. Cooper Hefner, Playboy’s chief creative officer and son of Hugh Hefner, told the New York Times that the reaction is similar to the glossy’s first-ever black Playmate of the Month, Jennifer Jackson, who appeared in the March 1965 issue. For reference, the magazine has posted side-by-side comparisons of reader comments from both events on its Instagram account.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Hefner told the newspaper about featuring Rau. “We’re at a moment where gender roles are evolving. 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.” He added that the decision wasn’t questioned “in the slightest,” and that he was more concerned about moving the dialogue about equality and sexuality forward rather than worrying about alienating some of Playboy’s more conservative readers.
As for Rau, who looks like smoke show with bunny ears, this is a total pinch-me moment. “I was just thinking of being this little lonely boy in the ghetto, in the shadows of my room,” she told the Times. “And now I’m in Los Angeles shooting Playboy looking so beautiful, feeling so amazing. I cried of happiness.”