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Questions on a Postcard
I'm interviewing Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater of Sex Matters
The next one is a two-hander: on Thursday 24 August, I’ll be interviewing Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater of UK policy advocacy outfit Sex Matters. And yes, I recognise this is unusual because I’m the first legal commentator to interview both these famous women at the same time.
Many, many people have interviewed one or the other, and both have become well-known for the quality of their responses and for thoughtful policy insights.
There is method in my madness here. Law & Liberty—the Liberty Fund-owned magazine for which I’m senior writer—has always been a legally focussed magazine that strays into policy and politics. This is important, because Forstater is what lawyers sometimes call a “living precedent”, a real person whose part in storied litigation1 becomes part of legal folklore.
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Generations of law students will underline Forstater’s name as a supporting precedent in exams for certain subjects, while counsel already routinely use her case in skeleton arguments put before the court.2
Often, students learn the stories behind famous plaintiffs/claimants/pursuers: think Mrs. Carlill of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co3 fame and May Donoghue from Donoghue v Stevenson.4 However, it’s also true that famous plaintiffs don’t always talk to the press afterwards about their cases. We see them through court documents and filings, discovery, and counsels’ arguments.
Maya Forstater is unusual in that she’s ready, willing, and able to chat. Interviewing her for a legally focussed magazine is simply too good to pass up.
However, Forstater also co-founded Sex Matters in October 2020, drawing in mathematician and finance journalist Helen Joyce a year or so later. Joyce later left her job at The Economist because she didn’t “in good conscience” think her ongoing campaigning around trans issues was compatible with a reporter’s necessary neutrality. She now works full-time for Sex Matters.
Joyce’s main calling card is her book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, which I reviewed for wonkish British magazine CapX. On the back of that book, she’s appeared on scores—perhaps even hundreds—of podcasts, but seldom alongside Forstater.
I want to find out how and why both women decided to work together, what they hope to achieve, and whether—unlike many campaign groups—they think Sex Matters will ever be in a position to wind itself up.
I say this because many people don’t realise one reason charities like (UK charity, not US riot) Stonewall went so badly off the rails around trans issues is a legal one.
In law, charities are a special kind of trust. The trust one has for the proceeds of a house sale to fund grandad’s residence in a care home—or to manage a family investment vehicle—always comes to an end. Law students and trusts lawyers alike can make your eyes glaze over when discussing the rule against perpetuities: an important legal principle mandating that trusts must always “vest”.
Charitable trusts, by contrast, can live forever: “in perpetuity” as lawyers say. This creates a problem when the charity’s work is done, as Stonewall’s was after the enactment of same-sex marriage into law. How does one, ahem, stay relevant and keep the donations flowing? Who wants to live forever?
However, in working up my questions, it’s important for me to remember that Law & Liberty has a majority US-based audience. Many Americans won’t know Maya Forstater’s precedent-creating history, or how Helen Joyce became so internationally prominent. Those stories are worth eliciting. I’ve also got to be aware that what’s well known to people in the UK won’t be well-known to Americans.
Relatedly, Substack’s statistical elves tell me that a little under half of Not On Your Team, But Always Fair’s subscribers are from the US and Canada. This means you, dear readers, are perfectly placed to let me know what you’d like to know. I’m quite confident that many of you will come up with different questions from mine.
So, questions on a postcard, please.
Housekeeping: because I’m working on Thursday this week, Lorenzo Warby’s next essay in his ongoing series will be published on the weekend.
A selection of cases drawing on the Forstater precedent is available here: https://sex-matters.org/posts/category/case-law/