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Defending free speech: a conversation with Helen Joyce, author of “Trans”
by  Minerva

Some of you will have seen coverage of the spat between academics in Cambridge over the right to free speech and the expression of gender critical views versus the need to protect students being exposed to material they may find ‘disturbing or shocking’. The Telegraph has reported views from both camps (frustratingly behind their paywall).

Cambridge college master emails alumni after donors pull funding over her critism of gender-critical speaker

Students should sign free speech 'waiver' to attend university, says Cambridge professor

A few members of CW-T were able to join the conversation between Helen Joyce and Professor Paratha Dasgupta, organised by Professor Arif Ahmed on 25th October. We can assure you that there was nothing ‘offensive, insulting and hateful’ to anyone in the views expressed by Helen.


Instead, we heard how Helen’s upbringing, education and experiences led her to a commitment to explaining mathematics to non-mathematicians, editing the Royal Statistical Society's journal, and joining ‘The Economist’ as education correspondent. In July 2018, she curated articles on transgender identity for ‘The Economist’ which led to a backlash. Her book ‘Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality ‘was published in 2021 after rejections by a number of publishers – and is still to find both a US and an audio publisher.


Helen explained the premises in her book:

  1. Sex is real and binary

  2. And often matters

  3. Especially for women and girls.

Its about sex - not transgenderism. We all have a sex- why is this hateful? Sex is important in prisons, sports, changing rooms and health care. Why shouldn’t the consequences be discussed? Why should those who comment be scared and shamed into silence? Commentators, particularly women, are controlled by the threat of ‘social death’, the impact on family and friends and on their employment.  (See Kathleen Stock, Jo Phoenix, Maya Forstater etc). 


These premises form the introduction to the book whilst the ramifications are explored in the following 13 chapters. These include 

  1. The ‘exceptional accommodations’ made for those who identify as trans gender include the legal fiction which allows a change of gender without surgery and so a ‘woman’ with a penis.  (Human Rights Lawyers said the legal change couldn’t be made contingent on sterilisation).  The involvement of doctors in providing access to hormones and surgery achieves somatic modifications whilst showing little understanding of the genetic differences between male and female expressed in every cell. 

  2. The impact on children, women and society as a whole of the ‘neo-religion’ of gender identity. Vulnerable children, often with other mental health issues are being medicalised (and sterilised) to support the narrative that trans gender identity is innate. Social contagion is an issue in the stark rise in the number of girls presenting to services since 2011. It is homophobic in that gender non-conforming children are transed when they may have grown up to be same-sex attracted.

  3. The societal impact, particularly the impact of gender identity on same sex relationships, the harassment of lesbians and the expectation that women will accommodate trans women in their single sex spaces, sports etc. This has a major impact on the human rights of females.  


We’re grateful to Prof Ahmed, Prof Dasgupta, Dr Helen Joyce and Caius College and its staff for hosting this important discussion, advocating free speech, and managing a challenging and respectful Q&A. The conversation was recorded and is available on YouTube:


There were loud protests, drumming and chanting from a lively crowd outside Great St Mary’s and some banging on the fire door by trans activists. We respect their right to peaceful protest as they should respect our right to free speech.

A few brave students joined the audience for the discussion and the Q&A session. One has written movingly of her experience of trans healthcare for Varsity, and has given permission for linking it here.

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