A few days ago, I had an operation to correct a condition that had gone from being an inconvenience to something potentially much more dangerous. Touch wood, the procedure went well. Certainly, my surgeon seemed satisfied when he saw me a day later.
As for the nurses who looked after me, they couldn’t have been kinder or more patient as in lay there in my M&S nightie, from which tubes emerged carrying all manner of bodily fluids to various plastic bags.
When they asked me, I said I was happy to be called Diana, as opposed to Ms Thomas. Mostly, though, I was ‘love’, ‘my darling’, or even, on one occasion, ‘sweetheart’.
So far, so normal. But here’s the thing. The procedure carried out on Monday was called a HoLEP. That’s short for ‘Holmium Laser Enucleation of the Prostate’.
Diana Thomas (pictured) says: ‘Politically, I think we have to find a way to acknowledge and even celebrate the identity of trans people that does not undermine everyone else’s identity’
Using a laser inserted into my abdomen via a catheter in my urethra, the surgeon blasted away two-thirds of my grossly oversized prostate gland.
Now, the thing about prostate glands is that only men have them. And the thing about me is that although the name on my driving licence, tax return and NHS record is Diana Thomas, I was born male.
I spent most of my childhood at all-boys’ schools. I rowed in a men’s Eight at my Cambridge college. I had girlfriends, married a woman and fathered three children.
Physically, I’m 6ft tall. I can sing in a deep bass voice, and, until recently, possessed a beard, hairy legs and, bizarrely, a much higher than average testosterone level.
I even wrote a book on masculinity, called Not Guilty which was interpreted as being an attack on women, although the real reason I wrote the damn thing was to work out what it was I was missing. Because I had known for a very long time that I was not really one of the guys.
The difference became obvious as I entered my teens, back in the early Seventies. The boys at school had posters of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini on their walls. I had pretty collages of pictures from Vogue.
At first I thought I might be gay, but, as I grew older, I only ever had relationships with girls and, later, women. Gradually, however, I became aware that there were people called transsexuals who had ‘sex changes’. And that I might be one of them.
By the time I was at university, I was seeing my first shrinks. They told me my feelings of being in the wrong body were just sexual fantasies, a phase I would get over. I was desperate to believe that was true.
I wanted to be a husband and father. Those dreams came true, but none of them would have been possible had I transitioned back then. As a trans woman, I would have been a social outcast.
So I do not regret my male life. The love I felt for my family was and always will be true. But it took a huge psychological effort to fight the battle against my true self.
I was filled with shame, self-disgust, bursting with pent-up anger and unhappiness. And yet, ironically, I thought I was protecting my family and my marriage by trying so hard to be a real man.
In hindsight, I think I should have had the guts to be totally honest with myself, and everyone else, much sooner. Being true to who I am has made me a calmer, happier person, and much easier to be around.
So here I am, divorced and single at the age of 62. I’ve spent the past five years, and the best part of £40,000 (funded by a house sale and cashing in pensions) on the hormone, laser, electrolysis, styling, surgery and coaching needed to feminise my face, hair, body and voice.
My oestrogen and testosterone levels are now indistinguishable from those of a woman my age taking HRT. I even use the same patches as a couple of my girlfriends. My muscle mass has reduced, my fat ratio has increased and, for what it’s worth, my 36B boobs are entirely natural. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would by now have had my final Gender Confirmation Surgery. With any luck, that should be possible within the next six months.
But as I emerge into my new female life, I find that I, and other trans people like me, are at the centre of one of the most bitter wars raging through our culture. On the one hand you have the radical feminists, and the occasional household name, who maintain that no one born male can ever truly be considered female, no matter what the state of their hormones, their genitalia or their legal gender.
Diana Thomas before her transition, as Dave Thomas. ‘My experience of coming out as transgender and living as a trans woman has overwhelmingly been one of kindness, acceptance, tolerance and well-wishing’
On the other are the trans activists who insist that all a person should have to do to change sex is wake up one morning, say, ‘I’m a woman,’ or, ‘I’m a man,’ and that is enough to make them what they want to be, regardless of how they look, sound, talk or behave.
Personally, I try to define myself in ways that make sense, to me or any other reasonable person.
So five years ago, I could say ‘I am transgender’, and know that it was true and I had the psychiatrists’ reports to prove it. Now I can say I’m a trans woman, and expect to be treated as female, and people who encounter me don’t seem to have a problem with that.
Finally, when my transition is complete, and I possess a Gender Recognition Certificate, I will define myself as a woman. Because that is what the law will say I am, just as an immigrant who has obtained UK citizenship is legally entitled to say they are British.
And just as it is racist to deny the British identity of a fellow citizen simply because they are an immigrant, so it would be transphobic to deny my legally female gender just because I was never a little girl.
Of course, as my experience in hospital this week has shown, part of me will always be male . . . but that doesn’t make me any less of a woman.
Caught in the crossfire of the pro and anti-trans lobbies are endless public institutions, so terrified of defying the latest woke diktats that they have entirely lost the faintest vestige of common sense.
I mean, just how lunatic do you have to be to transfer a male sex-offender — convicted of raping women — to a women’s prison, just because he has suddenly decided that he’s female, too?
That has nothing to do with trans people’s rights, but it fuels the myth that trans women pose a threat to women born that way. And it distracts attention from the need for better medical care for trans people, and protection against the prejudice, discrimination and violence they still face.
As I was lying in hospital, another battle was raging in the trans war, and, once again, it was a battle supposedly fought for trans rights that will do nothing but harm to trans people.
It all started when Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust went ‘full woke’ on the subject of their maternity unit. Except in some cases it can’t be called ‘maternity’ any more — it will be known as ‘perinatal services’.
Nor can people giving birth to babies through their vaginas be referred to as ‘mothers’, as opposed to gender neutral ‘parents’. Nor can such a person whose baby is happily guzzling milk from their nipple be described as ‘breastfeeding’. The correct term is now ‘chestfeeding’.
The reason for this is that trans men, who have retained the female reproductive system they were born with, can and do give birth. And Brighton is probably the most LGBTQ-friendly place in Britain.
Now, I accept that the hospital was trying to cater for all the people who use its services. But did no one stop for a second to consider how bog-standard natal females, who account for 99.9 per cent of all births, and regard motherhood as the most profoundly female of all experiences, might feel?
Was it not entirely predictable that female columnists would be rushing to their keyboards to bash out furious diatribes against yet another assault on women’s rights — and their fundamental identity? And did those columnists not have a point?
Politically, I think we have to find a way to acknowledge and even celebrate the identity of trans people that does not undermine everyone else’s identity.
Of course, there are bound to be complications. As it was impossible to get my surgery on the NHS during Covid, I had to go private. That meant I had a room to myself. But suppose I had been at an NHS hospital: should I have been on a male or female ward? Where can a female with a male health condition go without causing stress and embarrassment to her, or to other patients around her?
I honestly don’t have an answer. But it does embody a dilemma at the heart of a trans person’s life.
It’s not that we don’t believe in the idea of male or female: it’s that our personal experience tells us gender is neither so simple, nor so absolute, as a question of X and Y chromosomes.
Science has long known that some people are born physically intersex. Now research is suggesting that hormonal issues in the womb can cause the disparity between mind and body, the ‘gender incongruence’, as it is now termed, that is at the heart of the trans experience.
We’re born this way and we spend our lives working out how best to match our ambiguous, shades-of-grey identity with the demands of a world that is used to simple black and white. That does not always entail the full gender transition that I am undertaking.
It’s as if trans people are on a bridge between male and female. Some of us cross right to the other side. Others are quite happy going some of the way, stopping and thinking: ‘Yes, this is far enough.’
Along the way, I believe we need to acknowledge who we were as much as who we become. And I also wish people could stop fighting and striking poses and simply behave like human beings.
My experience of coming out as transgender and living as a trans woman has overwhelmingly been one of kindness, acceptance, tolerance and well-wishing.
Most normal people, who don’t insist on seeing everything through a distorting lens of radical politics, have no problem accepting someone’s right to live their best life.
None of us is perfect, but most of us try our best to be decent and kind to others. And that is what people have been to me.
I’ve come out to big, burly geezers who know me as a fellow West Ham supporter, and they’ve reacted just as positively as the mostly female, mostly 60-plus members of the choir in which, pre-Covid, I used to sing.
Old friends have rallied round: one couple even held a party to introduce the new me to our circle of old university friends.
My two sisters think of me (and, I suspect, prefer me) as their big sis, rather than big bro. My father, bless him, was over 80 when I told him. He could have been excused for mourning the loss of his only son. But he only ever thought of my wellbeing and happiness.
Almost the best times are when I’m accepted without people even knowing they’re doing it. I was out for a walk recently in the lovely, downland countryside near my Sussex home, when I approached a gate across the path.
A couple were coming the other way. The man called out: ‘Do you want me to keep it open for you?’
The woman with him laughed, gave me a conspiratorial, female eye-roll and said: ‘Well, she’s not going to jump over it, is she?’
It was all I could do not to give a triumphant fist-pump and a shout of: ‘Yessss!!’ I was being accepted and treated, by a complete stranger, as a woman.
Which brings me back to those lovely nurses looking after me this past week. No one had given them any PC instructions about how to respect the sensitivity of trans people. They did not use some contorted form of language to pretend that medical reality was anything other than it actually is.
They just acted with warmth, consideration and respect to me as a human being. They accepted the evidently female nature of my personal identity, and the undeniably masculine origins of my body.
Honestly, it’s not that hard. Anyone can do it, if they try. And thankfully, most people do.