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Conversations At Scarfes Bar: Diana Thomas

Charlotte Metcalf meets Diana Thomas

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Charlotte Metcalf talks transitioning and fighting prejudice with Diana Thomas

Conversations At Scarfes Bar: Diana Thomas

Conversations at Scarfes Bar: Philip Mould

Scarfes Bar has opened up specially so that Diana Thomas and I can have the first post-lockdown conversation there. I lead Diana through a side entrance via the kitchens to the eerily empty bar, chatting about lockdown as we go: ‘Though I lost my wonderful father to Covid earlier this year, I know more people who know a trans person than someone who’s died from Coronavirus – was it really worth closing down a country for?’

It’s the preface to a lively conversation, made all the more enjoyable because Diana and I were at university together, back when she was David. David went on to become a prolific award-winning journalist and editor of Punch, settling down to married life with two daughters and a son.

Needless to say, it has been a tough couple of years, not least with her family, a subject she will never discuss publicly, apart from her father: ‘He never once expressed a feeling that I’d disappointed him as his only son. He was only ever kind and loving and was keeping all my columns to turn into a book for friends. It’s amazing how quickly he accepted me as his daughter.’

Just before lockdown, mutual friends invited me to a small dinner party to celebrate Diana’s first outing as a woman. I had seen David several times during his transition and we’d chatted about facial hair and breasts, but nothing prepared me for how moved I felt when I watched the elegant woman come tripping along the pavement with a dainty, ladylike step.

Diana Thomas

Portrait by Alexandra Dao

Now we meet again at Scarfes and Diana’s in a celebratory mood. For her Telegraph column about transitioning, she’s been named Columnist of the Year and has received the prestigious discretionary British Press Awards Chairman’s Award. She’s also fresh from a visit to a psychiatrist, one more necessary step towards the surgery that will complete her transition.

When I ask her if she can start at the beginning for our readers, she says simply, ‘Not transitioning was an awful lot harder than transitioning.’ It’s also why she decided to abandon anonymity for her column. ‘I spent so much of my life living in shame, as if I’d committed a terrible sin and it made me feel very vulnerable. I’d had enough of that. I wanted to be proud of who I was for once.

‘You have to own up to who you are, and it feels so much better when you do,’ she continues. ‘The vast majority of people I meet are incredibly kind and positive towards me. Ironically, it’s often the ones who regard themselves as liberal that are the most hurtful and condescending. They assume that their supposed moral superiority gives them the right to say whatever they like. So, if I explain why JK Rowling’s opinions offend moderate, intelligent trans people, they’ll say things like, “I find your arguments unpersuasive,” or, “Of course, you’ll never be a woman. That’s just science.” One supposedly well-meaning person kept saying, “I’m the only person brave enough to say this …” as if all my friends were twittering maliciously behind my back.’

Diana uses the analogy of immigration to explain transition. ‘If someone born in India comes to Britain legally, passes the citizenship test and gets a UK passport, who dares say, “You’re not British”? Only a racist. Well, as far as the law goes, when I get a Gender Recognition Certificate, I’ll be a woman, just as that immigrant is British and denying that fact would be no better than racial prejudice.

‘Some people tell me that trans women are still dangerous men who should be banned from women-only spaces. Then they say, “Of course, we didn’t mean ones like you, who look like women.” But I’m fortunate and privileged enough to afford facial surgery and voice coaching. Those who can’t are portrayed as terrifying, big, hairy, Desperate-Dan-in-a-frock trannies when the truth is they’re just poor. Plus, there’s a belief that sex changes are being handed out to children like Smarties, when it’s actually very hard to get gender confirmation surgery at any age. This is all hurtful and scary. It’s encouraging people to feel hostile and even violent towards us.’

For all the problems trans people face, Diana’s view remains positive. ‘I feel I’m writing something of real value because I’m describing the actual experience of being trans, when there are so many negative stereotypes. But I absolutely don’t believe in “cancel culture”. I would much rather defeat ignorance and transphobia with persuasive argument. Let’s get JK into the Oxford Union and then I’ll argue against the motion, “This house believes no man can be a woman”. Bring it on! When I’ve completed my transition and can honestly stand up and say, “I’m a woman,” I will bloody well mean it.’

In Brief

Penthouse or country cottage?

Both – I live in a penthouse in the country.

Michelin star or country pub?

If someone’s paying, Michelin star.

Theatre or gardening?


Glass of wine or green tea?

Glass of wine.

Killer heels or sensible flats?

I’m already six foot, but if I have the penthouse and the Michelin star I probably need the heels.


Lynn Barber / Jay Rayner / Nicholas Coleridge / Seb Coe / Tim Spector / Helen Browning