“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”
That was the claim from author JK Rowling in an online essay she published this week. She was setting out her views on sex and gender after she faced backlash for tweets on the topic.
PinkNews, a UK-based website which reports on LGBT issues, described the claim in an article as “wrong”, “incorrect” and “not true”. The article, published on 10 June, says that if an applicant for a GRC has “not had any treatment or surgery, they must send a report that details what treatment they plan to have.”
But the Government Equalities Office, which oversees the process by which people can change their legal gender in the UK, told FactCheck today that: “You do not have to be taking hormones or planning to get surgery to get a GRC” and “it’s not in the legal requirements that someone be taking, or planning to take, hormones”.
After FactCheck contacted PinkNews for comment on the apparent mismatch between their piece and government rules, they edited part of their article.
The new version states “it is possible to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate without having had surgery or hormones”, though says these instances are “rare”.
The revised PinkNews article no longer contains the statement “it is incorrect to claim that a man ‘who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones’ can ‘be a woman in the sight of the law,’ as JK Rowling claimed.”
In a statement to FactCheck, the editor of the PinkNews website, Ryan Butcher, told us: “PinkNews was happy to correct this inaccuracy, but stands by its challenge of JK Rowling’s interpretation of the process.”
What are the criteria for changing your legal gender?
If you want to change your legal gender in the UK, you must obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
To get a GRC, you must be over 18, have “lived full time in your acquired gender for at least two years” and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – which the NHS defines as a “sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity”.
Proof that the applicant has lived in their “acquired gender” (the gender they are transitioning into) can take the form of bank statements, utility bills, passports, “or other documents of an official nature”.
Evidence is then submitted to a panel, which decides whether to grant the GRC.
What are the requirements around hormones and surgery?
Some trans people take hormones and/or have surgical procedures to align more closely with their acquired gender.
GRC applicants must also submit two medical reports: one from a gender specialist or psychologist confirming the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the other from a registered doctor that details what other medical interventions the applicant has undergone.
It’s that second report that Ms Rowling’s claim refers to.
Government guidance for doctors says the report must detail “whether they [the applicant] have undergone or are undergoing or have planned any treatment for the purpose of modifying their sexual characteristics” and that “if the patient has not had surgery then the report must explain why”.
We asked the government whether this means that it is possible for an applicant to not have – and not plan to have – any surgery or hormones and obtain a GRC.
A government spokesperson told FactCheck: “You do not have to be taking hormones or planning to get surgery to get a GRC, but you do need to have an approved medical practitioner diagnose you as having gender dysphoria, and have lived in your new gender for at least two years”.
They confirmed: “it’s not in the legal requirements that someone be taking, or planning to take, hormones”.
This is consistent with guidance from Mermaids, a UK charity for trans children and teenagers that has campaigned to make getting a Gender Recognition Certificate easier.
Mermaids says: “If you haven’t had any surgery then the report must explain the reason why. This could be because you are on a waiting list, because you aren’t medically able, because you are waiting for improvements in surgical techniques, because you don’t feel the need for surgery or for any other reasons, but an explanation must be given.”
The government did not comment directly on the Mermaids guidance when we put it to them, but a spokesperson for NGA Law, a UK firm that provides legal services for people seeking a GRC, told us that the guidance was “right”.
Pink News’ reply
In a statement, the editor of the PinkNews website, Ryan Butcher, told FactCheck:
“While JK Rowling may be correct to say that a trans person does not have to undergo hormone therapy or surgery in order to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate, her simplification of the process to millions of her followers, who may not know the realities of the trans experience, is worrying.”
They said: “An earlier version of a PinkNews article, which addressed these issues, contained an inaccuracy regarding Gender Recognition Certificates due to the extreme rarity of the process being completed without hormone therapy or surgery. PinkNews was happy to correct this inaccuracy, but stands by its challenge of JK Rowling’s interpretation of the process.
“Trans rights are human rights and do not come at the expense of women’s rights.”