Joyce activated, issue 85

The snap election, and what I've been doing when I wasn't at the gender coalface.

Joyce activated, issue 85

I’ve been doing some new and interesting things behind the scenes – of which more at the bottom of this newsletter. And my latest column in The Critic has just come out online, building on a previous edition of this newsletter in which I talked about how angry I felt post-Cass. The anger has simmered down again, but the specific rage against Ruth Hunt has hardened rather than fading.

But first, the minor matter of the snap election. Last week turned into a mad rush around Monday lunchtime, when the rumours suddenly sharpened. At Sex Matters, we scrambled to pull together a short take on the various strands of work, where the key areas are and our wishlist for what the next government would do. We were certain it was coming by about 4pm, by which point several journalists had been in touch to ask what we thought the next government should do on gender-related issues. By shortly after 5pm, when Rishi Sunak had finished his impression of a drowned rat in the downpour outside Number 10, we had our “manifesto” ready to go. Not bad, considering that the base case we and everyone else had been working towards was an election in October.

I’m genuinely politically unaligned, so when I say Sunak’s announcement in the pouring rain, with the background of a protester playing “Things can only get better”, was shambolic, I am not making a party-political point. Add in the announcement that introducing national service would feature in the Conservative manifesto – whatever you think of national service in the abstract, it’s got such a “look, squirrel” appearance – and it’s really heartbreaking to think that promising measures on gender-related stuff that have taken years to get off the ground could now vanish in the gap between governments. 

That said, there’s no need for despair. The consultation on the gender-questioning schools guidance has already closed, and surely at least the first analysis of the responses must be sitting in the Department for Education waiting for the next education secretary. No doubt the civil servants in one of the most captured departments in Whitehall will seek to lose it in a drawer somewhere, but this topic has engaged parents, and school leaders are desperate for something prescriptive and legally reliable. We just have to make sure it doesn’t disappear.

Sensible proposals for sex education – which includes materials on gender identity, and for which there are no national standards – are out for consultation too. There’s also a call for evidence under way asking for examples of official and quasi-official bodies getting the law on single-sex spaces wrong. All these things will keep running whatever happens, and although it’s tiresome that new ministers will have to be convinced of their importance, I think we have a decent shot at that.

I often think of those online ads that pop up all over the place offering “one quick trick” for something – canonically, getting rid of belly fat. Of course, as with belly fat, there is no on quick trick. Certainly, there were more things I had hoped would be nailed down under this government. And certainly I’m cross if I allow myself to think about all the time that was wasted before it really got going – the Department for Education was faffing around for years before it finally got serious about writing guidance for schools on what to do when a kid identifies as trans, and spent ages making an absolute mess of it. In a variation on the (irritating) Irish joke, to get to where we need to be, I wouldn’t start from now.

The next five weeks will no doubt continue to be quite frantic. And then it’ll be the first 100 days, when the next government seeks to set the tone for its entire term. It’s been a long time since Labour was in power, and it’ll take a while for those of us who interact with government to stop thinking “Labour” and start thinking about the various departments and their ministers and advisers, and of course make the opposite switch from thinking about the Conservative power brokers and once more lump them in together under the heading of “opposition”. 

I don’t know how it will shake out, but I do know the important ministries will be education and health, primarily, because this disaster has unfolded as a sort of relay race between the two, mediated by laws both real and de facto. Doctors tell patients that they can do something that will result in being “treated as the opposite sex”. Everyone else is told that someone who says they have transitioned really has changed status – and the main places they have been told this have been universities and schools. Once more people think this is right, doctors can point to societal “acceptance”. At each turn of the ratchet laws and policies, both written and unwritten, come into line to tighten it further.

Unwinding it means coordinated moves in both health and education systems. It also means unwinding laws. If there had been time before the change of government to fix the definition of sex in the Equality Act that would have been immensely useful – but as I say the law followed the system changes elsewhere. The legal skulduggery will have to be sorted out at some stage, but even before it is there is nothing that says we must continue to teach children lies or offer gender-distressed people unethical treatments.

What I’ve been doing when I wasn’t at the gender coalface

Onto more cheerful matters: I’m starting a new joint venture! I’ve mentioned a few times, in interviews and in articles, that being called antisemitic had a silver lining, namely that a distinguished Orthodox rabbi got in touch to offer his support and commiserations, and we have become friends. He’s Harvey Belovski, who recently stepped down from his position as rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue in Golders Green, a strongly Jewish area in North London. As he said when we first spoke, it is immensely unhelpful to people like him, who spend their lives fighting antisemitism, when people are falsely accused of it. He has helped me enormously to cope with the constant repetition of this vile slur: I often quote a message he sent me once, in which he wrote “I know many antisemites and you’re my favourite.”

Harvey is an experienced executive coach, and I have been offering training in writing and dealing with the media for some years now. For the past year we have been talking about doing something together, and we zeroed in on helping people to switch to something very different mid-career, as we’ve both done. To quote from our website blurb: “In recent years, both of us have navigated surprising twists and turns in our personal and professional lives, as we discovered new purpose and the courage to leave behind the familiar and seek new challenges.” We’re both keen on helping other people who dream of doing something similar to make their dreams reality.

Here’s our website. Shoutout to my husband for the clever company name: H2Org. (He’s also good at puns and crosswords.) If you would like to know more, contact us on

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