Channel 4 News alarmingly stands by JK Rowling’s inaccurate and disturbing assertion that trans women are men

British author and screenwriter JK Rowling

Channel 4 News alarmingly stood by JK Rowling’s inaccurate and disturbing assertion that trans women are men in a report published June 12.

In the outlet’s “Fact Check” series, staff dived deep into the fiction author’s claim that a cisgendered man could, without undergoing or showing an intention to undergo surgery, acquire a document that legally recognises them as a woman.

It challenged a previous article PinkNews published June 10 that called this statement “wrong”.

The report concluded that Rowling’s claim is factually accurate, “that hormones or surgery [is] not required for legal change”.

But the report fails to clarify that, no, a “man” cannot do this. Yes, a trans woman, assigned male at birth, can obtain a gender recognition certificate after a lengthy process without surgery. But a cis man can not do this.

Channel 4 News missed the point when assessing the validity of JK Rowling’s views. 

By fact-checking this statement and saying it is accurate, the report runs the risk of being wielded by anti-trans groups like a club to compel trans people to backdown. It denied the very existence of trans people.

Channel 4 News is produced by ITN, an independent news production company that also produces the news for ITV and Channel 5. ITN itself is owned by ITV and the Daily Mail, among others.

So, when approached by PinkNews for comment to clarify whether Channel 4 News is standing by Fact Check’s apparent assertion that trans women are men, an ITN spokesperson responded: “The Fact Check journalism speaks for itself.”

Moreover, various university professors, human rights lawyers and government officials have stressed to PinkNews that, no, a cis man cannot obtain a GRC – a trans woman can. PinkNews has also repeatedly stressed this point to both Fact Check and Channel 4 News.

With the crucial difference here being that a trans woman is not a man, they are a woman, and a cis man is not a trans woman, they are a man.

Channel 4 itself declined to comment when PinkNews asked whether it considered trans women to be women or men.

‘JK Rowling appears to have misunderstood the Gender Recognition Certificate process.’

Many of the concerns listed here were echoed by various experts, who told PinkNews that Rowling’s interpretation of gender law is skewed.

Jonathan Cooper, a leading human rights barrister based at Doughty Street Chambers, and Paul Johnson, a professor of sociology at the University of York, explained how trans woman can apply for a GRC and be legally recognised as a woman, but a cis man cannot do this.

Conversely, a trans man can apply for a GRC and be legally recognised as a man, but a cis woman cannot do this.

Johnson told PinkNews: “A person who applies for a Gender Recognition Certificate via the standard route to certify that they are, for all purposes in law, a woman, is a person who has medically evidenced gender dysphoria, lived as a woman for at least two years, and intends to continue to live as a woman until death.

“That person is, therefore, already a woman in the social sense, and is seeking legal validation of her female gender/sex.”

Cooper explained: “JK Rowling appears to have misunderstood the process, for a trans woman or trans man to receive a GRC, they must go through an elaborate, and for some, a humiliating process.

“A diagnosis of gender dysphoria must be made and the individual must live for at least two years in that gender, and they must intend to do so for life.

“A GRC is conclusive proof of gender identity and it is legally enforceable. However, to be given that recognition, an individual is highly medicalised. It is a long and drawn out procedure.

“It does not require the person concerned to undergo surgery. To require sterilisation, forced therapies and other surgery would be inhuman, but for people who just want to be recognised for who they are, they must go though a gruelling process.

“A man cannot simply announce he is a woman and be given a GRC.

“JK Rowing is misrepresenting the current reality for trans people who wish to be legally recognised in their experienced gender if she suggests otherwise. The ‘man’ that JK Rowling refers to could not get a GRC. Only a trans woman or trans man could.”

The GRC process is a long and gruelling one. 

In Britain, the process by which a trans person can change the sex marker on their birth certificate is, to many critics, a gruelling one. So much so that an overwhelming number of trans people in the UK don’t even have one.

Staggered by bureaucracy and lengthy waits, to acquire a GRC, a trans person must be over 18, have lived their true gender for two years and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Trans folk will often undergo gender affirmation surgeries, as well as hormone therapies, to align more closely with their gender. GRC applicants file two medical reports as part of their application form.

The first is a psychiatrist’s diagnoses of gender dysphoria. The other report is a doctor’s detailing of what surgeries the applicant has already undergone or intends to have – under government guidelines, the applicant does not necessarily have to undergo or plan to have surgery, but GRCs are rarely granted to those who do not seek medical treatment.

But this entire process is, to Rowling, an alarmingly simple one.

In a dense essay, Rowling expressed the view that: “A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law.”

Indeed, what the view chiefly did was expose the widening gulfs that surrounded Britain’s scattered laws around gender and sex.

A trans woman, for example, can cooperate with various businesses, whether it be banks or companies, as well as various official agencies, to change their listed gender.

As much as this ranges from bank statements to utility bills, this also applies to other wholesale identification documents, such as passports or driving licenses. Doing so is, under government guidelines, is part of the “proof” needed that an applicant has lived in their true gender for two years.

What the GRC does, in short, is allow a trans person to change the gender marker on their birth certificate.

As much as many Harry Potter fans have begun reimagining a world without the series’ original creator, trans folk lack the option to change the world of medical panels, yearslong waits for life-saving surgeries and the paralysing, grating feeling of being in a body that does not match the gender you are.

What Rowling’s hypothetical scenario highlights is that gender and sex laws are muddied by technicalities. A government official told PinkNews that a citizens’ legal sex (on their birth certificate) only matters in certain circumstances, such as assessing a pension.

But in the public arena, legal sex is irrelevant. Such as the aforementioned changing of passports and bills – it is all done via self-identification.

The path to applying a GRC is charted by the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Plans to reform the legislation that has administrated gender and sex for the last 16 years were first introduced by Theresa May’s government.

And aims to soften the GRA – to make the GRC application shorter, simpler and more in line with self-identification – were stalled, if not eradicated, last weekend when a leaked government report suggested that plans to reform the GRA have been shelved.

Instead, sources told The Sunday Times, despite an overwhelming 70 per cent of the public responding to a government consultation on introducing self-identification, ministers are choosing to ignore public views altogether.

Trans people simply hoping to achieve a bland and boring life goal of, say, using a public restroom, may struggle now.

Ministers leading the Government Equalities Office will allegedly lay out a plan to restrict trans people’s access to public bathrooms, touching off fears forwarded by “gender critical” groups that trans people using bathrooms that align with their identities endangers people.

They say that a trans woman’s presence in the facility will subject cis women to a greater risk of assault and privacy violations.

There is no evidence to back-up this claim.

Moreover, and in contrast, there is overwhelming evidence supplied by various government agencies, university researchers, LGBT+ advocacy groups and non-profit fact-checkers, when denying a trans or non-binary person, young teens especially, an appropriate facility, it places them at a greater risk of sexual and physical assault and privacy violations.