This is the text of a speech Dr. Helen Joyce gave at Ireland Uncensored, a one-day conference in Dublin on September 16th to rally opposition to the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, a new law that will impose more speech restrictions in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe. The conference was organised by Free Speech Ireland and Gript.
Five years ago, I was working as the Economist’s International editor. One fateful day in 2017, the editor 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. Though I had no idea about that at the time, that conversation changed my life.
I ended up writing an article about it – 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. 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 started thinking about writing a book about it. By now I knew that women were losing jobs and facing death threats for expressing the slightest scepticism about so-called ‘trans inclusion’. But I worried I wasn’t the right person – and if I’m honest also about the toll it would take.
And then, in late 2018, I met a group of detransitioners. A half-dozen young women, 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. I moved to work with Sex Matters, a non-profit human-rights campaign group 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.
I now believe that ‘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.
You can imagine that given that I think this, after years of thinking about it, I regard it as my moral duty to say so, as loudly as possible, as often as possible, in front of as many people as possible.
This is an ideology that is 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 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.
It’s harmful to children, because children believe what adults tell them. 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 harmful to gay people 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. 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. 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.
What happens if you base public policy on substituting subjective, self-declared gender identity for the objective material reality of sex?
For women, it means men in rape crisis centres, rapists in women’s prisons, men winning women’s sporting prizes.
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.
For children, this ideology means telling them lies about their bodies and the material reality of being a member of this evolved mammalian species. This creates mental distress and confusion. 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 the very opposite of progressive. It’s cruel.
As for gay people, once sex becomes a matter of self-identification, so does sexual orientation. It’s lesbians who bear the brunt of it: 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’.
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’.
So it is no coincidence that the draconian, Orwellian, Hate Crime Bill Ireland is considering enshrines within it a circular, non-reality-based definition of ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’:
‘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 tautology – circular gobbledegook. It’s not a definition at all.
As for hate, I know what it feels like to be its target. I’ve experienced serious death threats, some from men who identify as women who have serious criminal records, and who express their threats in gruesome, sexualised, personalised ways. On September 11th in Manchester, as I walked peacefully along the road after a teach-in on equality and human-rights law, I was followed by masked, flag-waving protesters shouting the usual idiotic slogans, with the addition of “Fuck Helen Joyce, my body my choice” and “There are many, any more of us than you”.
It makes some sense to call that hateful – though to be clear, I don’t think we need any new laws to handle this, just better policing. It’s a public-order offence. 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.
Irish legislators are considering passing a law that will criminalise ‘hate’ –undefined. Which protects ‘gender’, defined circularly – that is, undefined.
This law could criminalise mere possession of the book I blew up my life to write. 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 follow me down the street bellowing Fuck Helen Joyce, 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. And I’ve seen the public polling. Most people agree with me entirely on issues of sex and gender.
But they don’t dare say so.
Well, I do, and I’m not going to stop saying it. I don’t do it for fun, I do it because everyone’s human rights depend upon it. I am going to keep saying the following true and important things:
• Being a man or woman is entirely a matter of biology and not at all a matter of identity.
• Men can’t be women. None of them, no matter how much they want to.
• Children shouldn’t be given puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones. They shouldn’t be told they can change sex. They shouldn’t be told that their feelings define their identities.
• No men, and that includes men who say they are women, should be allowed into women’s spaces or sports.
And so, if Ireland, my home country, does pass this dumb new law, I’m willing to go there and say all this again, because I feel a moral imperative. And even if you don’t feel the same urgency on this particular subject, I hope you will support me. My free speech is your free speech. You don’t know what unpopular thing you may one day feel a moral imperative to say.
Dr. Helen Joyce is the author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality and the Director of Advocacy at Sex Matters.
Stop Press: Read Jenny Holland on the crisis of free speech in Ireland.