Joyce activated, issue 51

I’m putting this week’s issue in front of the paywall to make my concerns regarding Ireland’s plans for a draconian new hate-crime law widely available.

Joyce activated, issue 51

I’m putting this week’s issue in front of the paywall to make my concerns regarding Ireland’s draconian planned hate-crime law widely available.

If you are not a subscriber to my weekly newsletter, you might like to sign up for free updates. I hope that in the future you might consider subscribing.

On June 13th I made a lightning trip to Dublin, to speak to Irish senators about the hate-crime bill making its way through the legislature. It has already passed the lower house, with only a handful of votes against it; on the evening of June 13th it was discussed in the Seanad (Senate), with the justice minister, Helen McEntee, batting away all criticism and very few voices of dissent. An op-ed in the Irish Times the same day was similarly Panglossian. Written by Seamus Taylor, an academic and former senior official in the UK’s office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it concluded that all that was needed to make an already good bill better was to add a definition of hate (at the moment, there is none).

The meeting I spoke at was called by Rónán Mullen, a conservative Catholic senator who is leader of the Human Dignity Alliance, an anti-abortion party formed in 2018. Also on the panel were Lorcan Price, an Irish barrister who works for ADF International, and Jill Nesbitt, one of the dauntless women trying so hard to wake up Irish legislators to the dangers of self-ID. I spoke about the chilling effect, in particular as it would affect speech on transgender issues. Lorcan explained why, in his view, the new law would contravene both Ireland’s constitution and its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. Jill focused on the problems likely to follow from the addition of gender identity as a protected characteristic for the purposes of hate crime.

With these briefings, you never know who will turn up—or indeed if anyone will. In the event, there were about five senators and some aides; not bad for a bill that Irish legislators seem determined to subject to no scrutiny. A half-dozen journalists turned up to the press briefing afterwards, again more than Rónán and I had feared. Depressingly little scrutiny, given the bill’s sweeping provisions, and the likelihood that it will pass with few or no amendments.

What follows are my tidied-up speaking notes, with some additions to give context. For regular readers, the introductory material will be familiar; skip down the page to ** if you don’t want to wade through.

Five years ago, I was working as The Economist’s International editor, commissioning and writing articles on a wide range of topics, from the future of nuclear power to whether “truth and reconciliation” processes work well enough to justify allowing people guilty of war crimes to go free. One fateful day in the first half of 2017, the paper’s editor was sitting next to me at lunch and asked me: “Why do kids keep coming home and say ‘such and such is trans’?” I replied that I didn’t know, but would look into it and try to find an author. Though I had no idea about that at the time, that conversation changed the course of my life.

I ended up writing about it myself—an only semi-satisfactory article, because it was so hard to get a handle on what people were talking about. Many potential interviewees I reached out to either didn’t reply, or brushed me off with platitudes. They seemed to think I was doing something very wrong simply by asking obvious questions—the sorts of questions journalists ask of all sorts of people, all the time. Basics like: what does “trans” mean? What is “transition”? Do people feel better afterwards? Why do some people say they “feel like” members of the opposite sex? And the big one: should those feelings give them licence to use facilities restricted to that sex?

The difficulty of getting facts, the science-denial that was universal among proponents of “trans rights” and the circularity of their core mantra, namely that “trans women are women” all kept bothering me. And about a year later I became seriously concerned that grave harms were being done in the name of this ideology: harms to women, who were losing single-sex spaces, services and sports; children, who were being taught that one’s sex is a matter of feelings, and lesbians, who were being pressured to include men who identified as women in their dating pools. I wrote another, longer article, which appeared in Quillette, a newish online outlet dedicated to difficult topics. Nowhere else would publish it.

I started thinking about writing a book about it. But by this time I was Finance editor at The Economist, a time-consuming and responsible job but obviously nothing to do with trans issues. For months I havered, concerned about the time the project would take—time that I did not really have. By now I knew that women were losing jobs and facing death threats for expressing the slightest scepticism about so-called “trans inclusion”. But what worried me more was whether I was the right person. I didn’t have skin in the game. I’m not gender-distressed or trans-identified, and neither is my husband or either of my children.

And then, in late 2018, I met detransitioners for the first time. At a meeting called in Manchester by a radical-feminist collective, Make More Noise. A half-dozen young woman, all of whom now identified as women, and as lesbian. All had been gender non-conforming in childhood; most had suffered mental-health issues, including anxiety, bulimia and self-harm. Doctors had diagnosed them with gender dysphoria (a fancy word for distress), and given them testosterone, which left them with permanently lowered voices, thick facial and body hair and distressing changes to their genitals. Some had had double mastectomies; one, at age 21, had had her uterus and ovaries removed.

That night, for the first time, I articulated the thought I’d been circling around for months: “They’re sterilising gay kids.” My hesitations vanished. As a journalist, you’re supposed to run towards the news. A scandal that is being suppressed for political convenience isn’t the sort of story you should ignore.

Well, I wrote my book, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality (recently reissued as Trans: Gender Identity and the New Battle for Women’s Rights). And although my career at The Economist continued to flourish, I became increasingly convinced that the book alone wasn’t enough. After taking a year’s sabbatical starting in April 2022, I decided not to return to my staff job, and to start working for Sex Matters, a new non-profit human-rights campaign group.

Sex Matters was co-founded by Maya Forstater, who lost her job at an American think-tank, the Center for Global Development, after tweeting about her concerns about “gender self-ID”—the policy of allowing people to change their legal records to reflect the sex they want to be, rather than the sex they actually are. Her employment-tribunal case against CGD led to the precedent-setting ruling that so-called “gender-critical” belief—holding that sex is real, binary and immutable, and that those material facts should be recognised in law—is protected under the category of “religion or belief” in UK employment and anti-discrimination law. That is the animating principle behind Sex Matters: that in many situations sex is irrelevant, but when it’s relevant, it’s sex that’s relevant, not self-identified “gender” or “gender identity”.


I now believe that what in my book I call “gender-identity ideology”—the claim that self-defined gender should trump sex when it comes to classifying humans—is far from the liberal, kind approach it is portrayed as. Indeed, it is quite the opposite: part of a generation-defining threat to liberalism and indeed rationalism; and also deeply cruel. I feel both the threat and the cruelty daily, in work and in my personal life.

This is an ideology that is particularly harmful to women, because women’s ability to play a full part in public life requires us to be able to draw boundaries, on occasion, that exclude all men. That’s all men. Including the men who wish they weren’t men, and the men who think they’re not men, and the men who identify as women. All men, however they identify.

It’s particularly harmful to children, because children believe what adults tell them. They’re suggestible, their identities are still in formation, and the idea that you can really be a member of the opposite sex is a seductive one for quite a lot of them. Disproportionately the ones who are going to grow up gay, the ones who have autistic-spectrum disorders, the anxious or self-harming or depressed ones, the ones who are being abused.

And it’s particularly harmful to gay adults, for two reasons. The first is that without a meaningful definition of sex, there cannot be sexual orientation. What does it mean to be same-sex attracted, if “sex” is a matter of self-identification? The second is that gay adults are disproportionately likely to have been gender non-conforming in early youth—there’s a strong association between a strong early preference for the stereotypical activities and presentation of the opposite sex in childhood, and growing up gay. Now those children are being told that their atypicality makes them “really” members of the opposite sex. This lie starts some of them on a pathway towards cross-sex hormones, genital surgery—and eventual sterility.

All of what I’ve said till now is deeply unpopular speech with some people. Because it punctures dearly held beliefs about people’s identities, some of whom experience what I say as unkind, even hateful. And I regret that. I don’t revel in being unkind, still less “hateful”. I’m not someone who seeks controversy for its own sake. But neither do I shy away from it. And on this subject I speak to prevent harm, and to prevent unkindness.

Let’s go once more through the three groups I said are most harmed by public policy based on substituting self-declared gender identity for the objective material reality of sex.

First, women. Well, right now, as I speak, Cameron Dixon, a man who now goes by the name Cara and calls himself a woman, is one of 13 participants listed in the “women’s” category of the TransAtlanticWay, a cross-country cycling challenge in Ireland. Dixon, who is from Stokesley, England, is topping the women’s leader board, riding 350km ahead of the first female entrant.

It’s bad enough that women are losing prizes and opportunities; for the most vulnerable women in Irish society, the stakes are much higher. Since Ireland introduced legal gender self-identification in 2015, meaning that anyone who wants can fill in an online form, get it notarised, send it off with their original birth certificate and get a replacement with the sex falsified, several violent and dangerous men have been incarcerated alongside women.

Barbie Kardashian—a man who was recently jailed for four and a half years for threatening to torture, rape and murder his own mother, and who is “legally female” and universally called a woman in Ireland’s self-satisfied, corporatist mainstream media—was until recently held in Ireland’s sole women-only prison, in Limerick. He is being moved to a men’s prison only because the staff in Limerick don’t feel safe having to handle him—no one seems to give a toss about the female inmates.

As for children, by telling them lies about their bodies and the material reality of being a member of this evolved mammalian species, we’re creating mental distress and confusion. We’re tormenting lovely little atypical kids by telling them that their atypicality isn’t just that—atypicality, and so what?—but a sign that they are really the opposite sex. We’re telling them that if they don’t fit into the pink or blue box designated for their own sex, they should declare they are the opposite sex so they can fit back in. This is homophobic and all-round horrible. It’s the very opposite of progressive.  It’s cruel.

As for gay people, once sex becomes a matter of self-identification, so does sexual orientation. Those of us who are straight, and those of us who are men, aren’t by and large the ones who suffer. It’s lesbians who are being told that they must consider men who identify as women as suitable sexual partners, on pain of being labelled bigots if they won’t. My lesbian friends tell me that a quarter to a third of the profiles on lesbian dating apps are now of men, and that if they make it clear in their own profiles that they will only consider partners who are really female, as opposed to pretend-female, they are banned for “hate”.

All this is happening in large part because the gender-identity ideology that has so captured many countries in the Anglosphere, Ireland among the most completely, is by its nature a linguistic movement. There is no material reality to the notion of gender identity; it’s a belief that a minority of people have about themselves, given life by utterances and nothing else. A person declares their gender, declares their pronouns, and everyone else is supposed to ignore the evidence of their own senses, their own understanding of the nature of humans, and accept that “people are who they say they are”. Someone who speaks against those linguistic utterances has to be silenced because they destroy a dearly held fiction.

So it is no coincidence that this draconian, Orwellian, Hate Crime Bill enshrines within it a circular, non-reality-based definition of “gender” or “gender identity”. Here’s that definition, in all its glory:

“‘Gender’ means the gender of a person or the gender which a person expresses as the person’s preferred gender or with which the person identifies and includes transgender and a gender other than those of male and female.”

This is pure gobbledegook, and circular to boot (a circular definition is one where the term to be defined appears in the definition, and so it never manages to get off the ground). The thing is, there’s no non-circular definition of “gender identity” that doesn’t depend on stereotypical expectations of the sexes—and they appear here in the form of “gender expression”.

As for hate, I know what it feels like to be its target. I’ve experienced serious death threats—there’s a trans-identified man in custody right now for making gruesome, sexualised threats to kill me and Kellie-Jay Keen, another campaigner for women’s rights. He’s a man who identifies as a woman and has a previous conviction for threatening another shopper in a supermarket with a claw hammer in a row over him trying to steal alcohol. He’s terrifying.

That’s hate. He has threatened publicly to cut up my face, to tear out my eyes. He’s threatened to burn down Kellie Jay’s house. And he’s not the only person to make such threats against me and other women campaigners. He’s just one of the few who was stupid enough to do it with a Twitter handle linked to a name he uses, and saying where he is based, when he’s already been convicted of violent crimes.

That’s hate. Me saying that men are men, that no man can become or be a woman, that a man who “feels like a woman” is having an entirely male experience, albeit an atypical one—that’s not. Those statements are not just true, but in some situations essential to say, in order to uphold other people’s human rights.

Free speech isn’t just for the fun of it. It’s supposed to be legally protected because it’s precious. Irish legislators are being asked to pass a law that will criminalise “hate”—undefined. Which protects “gender”, defined circularly—that is, undefined.

This will mean that nobody can talk using ordinary clear language about what I write about in my book, namely one of the worst medical scandals in history, and it’s being perpetrated on children.

Seriously, Ireland is about to pass a law that could criminalise mere possession of the book I blew up my life to write. I know there’s a “safety clause” that excuses works of scientific or artistic merit—but please. The people who call me a Nazi, genocidal, antisemitic, racist, homophobic and so on, and who threaten me and my family, don’t think my work has scientific or artistic merit. That clause isn’t going to stop them going after me.

The problem isn’t so much that I might actually be charged and found guilty. It’s that I can’t be sure I won’t be. This is the so-called chilling effect.

I hear from my fellow thought criminals all the time. Most people agree with me entirely on issues of sex and gender: that sex is real, binary and immutable and in some circumstances that matters; that people’s feelings of gender identity may be very important to them but should not be allowed to override sex in places where sex matters; that belief in gender identity as a construct is just that—a belief—and it’s one that many people, including me, do not hold.

But increasingly, people don’t dare say these things.

And so, I want to take this opportunity to say some things that could soon be crimes to say in Ireland. They’re all true, and they are all important:

Men can’t be women. None of them, no matter how much they feel like they were supposed to be women.
Children shouldn’t be given puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones. Ever. Doing so is a grotesque human-rights abuse. They shouldn’t be told they can change sex. They shouldn’t be told that their feelings define their identities. It encourages mental unwellness.
No men, and that includes men who say they are women, should be allowed into women’s spaces or sports.
Being a man or woman is entirely a matter of biology and not at all a matter of identity.

I’m not saying these things for fun, let alone to be hateful. I’m saying them because doing so is essential to protect people’s human rights.

Children’s rights to be told the truth, and to grow up healthy and in full possession of their fertility.

Women’s rights to assert their boundaries, which on occasion, for our, safety dignity and privacy, will have to exclude all men, no matter how they identify.

Gay people’s rights to assert same-sex—not same-gender-identity—orientation.

You may think that this law couldn’t affect you, that you couldn’t fall on the wrong side of the thought policing. That the only reason I say these things is because I’m a bad person. You’re wrong. If I can end up as a thought criminal, which I have, anyone can.

I’m a technocratic centrist floating voter, who has voted at various times for all of the UK’s main three parties. As a senior journalist for The Economist, I couldn’t have been more establishment. I used to go to Davos. I’ve interviewed Tony Blair and Lula da Silva. I’ve had dinner with Bill Gates and George Soros. These days I spend a lot of time going in and out of Westminster; on June 12th Parliament debated a petition started by my colleague Maya, for which she and I held several briefings with MPs and peers.

I am saying these things because I feel a moral imperative. You may not feel that moral imperative, but all that means is that you’re like the person who doesn’t realise they are in a prison, because they are not, at this moment, pressing up against the bars. All that has to happen for the person to realise they were in a prison all along is that they start to move around a little. And suddenly they are up against the bars.

My free speech is your free speech. You don’t know what unpopular thing you may one day feel a moral imperative to say. I didn’t know five years ago that I would end up here, telling people who call it hate speech, that human rights depend on acknowledging the immutable, binary reality of human sex, and on being able on occasion to name people’s sex, even when they don’t want you to.

I urge Irish legislators to think again about voting for this law in anything like its current form. I leave it to others who are legally qualified to talk about issues of constitutionality and proportionality, and whether it’s compatible with Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention.

Perhaps if you bring it in, it will be challenged and overturned. I hope and expect that it will be. But in the meantime there will have been a serious chilling effect; true and important and urgent things will not have been said that should have been said; and vulnerable people—among them children—will have suffered avoidable, irrevocable harm.

And finally, apologies for missing an issue last week—my time was completely taken up with final briefing and preparation for the Westminster Hall debate on the Sex Matters proposal to clarify the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act. That happened on June 12th, and was absolutely brilliant. The MPs speaking in favour of clarity had all the strong points and those calling for muddle misrepresented the law, tried emotional blackmail and just generally made fools of themselves (Kirsty Blackman—a mother of two—saying that she didn’t know what sex she was, but thought she might have XY chromosomes and merely had a “fair idea” of how her genitals looked, was definitely the lowlight). Sex Matters has written it all up.

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