James Greenwood is best known as a vet, potter, author and TV presenter. He has also recently become a parent through surrogacy. It was great to speak to James for National Coming Out Day and to ask him to share his own journey.
I began by asking James about his coming out experiences?
I grew up in the 80s and 90s and I can distinctly remember the headlines in the newspapers, the prejudice and the bigotry around being gay. That had a profound effect on me. For me, growing up gay in a small community, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, I didn’t know any gay people or have any role models. I grew up thinking being gay was the worst thing that could happen. I was 24 and I tried to come out, but that attempt didn’t go very well.
What happened next?
By the second time it almost felt like an ultimatum. I had reached my own rock bottom and I realised I had to do something about it and find my own place. I met my now husband at the time and he was a great support. If people don’t like that or if there are sacrifices that come with that then so be it, this is who I am, because I want to be my authentic self and put that out there. There was a lot of worry, upset and misunderstanding but with time that has healed. I’m in a great place now and I wouldn’t swap being gay for the world.
You have recently become a parent. Can you tell us about your surrogacy experience?
I realised that being a dad is always something I wanted. My husband and I started exploring different options around six or seven years ago. We decided to focus our efforts on surrogacy. From our experience, UK surrogacy has been brilliant and the lasting bond we have formed with our surrogate is so special. No one is being forced into UK surrogacy, in that the surrogate is choosing to be involved of their own good will to help others become parents. There is still a lot of public misconception around surrogacy. When I hear people comment that we’re simply ‘using’ the surrogate, it couldn’t be further from the truth. We welcomed our first son in May 2023. It’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.
What were the greatest challenges with surrogacy in the UK?
Abroad, a contract is often agreed. Some people prefer this and it’s perhaps a legally better protected path to parenthood, but for us it didn’t feel right to be so far from home and was prohibitively expensive. Surrogacy in the UK is based on trust. The only money exchanged is for agreed expenses incurred by the surrogate. There is less of a formula to follow. It can be a lengthier process, which puts a lot of future parents off. The legal framework is outdated and the pre and post birth support from the NHS is not aimed at same-sex parents. It can seem gendered and heteronormative, but the actual experience we had from the clinic and the hospital at the birth and our GP service has been positive. The legalities around gay parenting need updating, but surrogacy in the UK does fundamentally work. It offered us the most magical path to parenthood.
Tell us about For the Love of Animals?
Core and centre, it’s a book that celebrates some of the incredible animals I met early on in my life as a vet. I wanted to write a book that explores what it means to be a vet, the highs and the lows, including the impact it’s had on my mental health. Vets are four times more likely to die by suicide. I also emphasise the positive effect animals have on our lives. Oliver, our first dog, had a phenomenal impact on my life and he supported me coming out as gay. Facing the world on your own can feel so daunting. Animals are often there for us. For the LGBTQIA+ community that is sometimes overlooked, they have such a powerful influence on our lives.
Do you have any coming out tips?
Take your time, as you need to feel ready in yourself. Choose your team. Being your authentic self is the most incredible and liberating feeling. Stay safe, so perhaps start talking with trusted family, friends or even helplines. If you can get that first conversation, ideally with someone you can trust, then people will be able to help you. There is so much love out there, so don’t feel as if the world is against you. The LGBTQIA+ community is ready to welcome you with open arms.