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From My Wrenching Coming Out to Marrying the Man I Love: How the World Has Changed

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My mom and I had our version of the "I'm gay" conversation in 1977,
over Filets o' Fish and french fries, sitting in our station wagon in
the parking lot of a Bay Area McDonald's. I was 14. The talk came
about thanks to a program that had aired a few nights earlier on PBS
called Word Is Out, a documentary about gay lives. In 2012 a program
like that wouldn't garner a second glance, but back then it was
something entirely radical. My mom and I had a close relationship, but
she was as much a product of her environment as I was of mine (she grew up in Depression-era Baltimore, become a 1960s
housewife who clipped coupons and held bridge parties, and then, in the 1970s, suddenly found herself a divorcée), and so, as we discussed
the program, she said the requisite thing that so many people say when
addressing the idea of same-sex unions: "I think it's unnatural."

The dialogue quickly escalated between us, with Mom eventually
blurting out, "Are you gay?" and me responding, with
impeccably self-righteous teenage insouciance, "How dare you ask me
that question" -- which, of course, meant "yes." I followed that up with a
very stern laying down of the law. "If you have problems with this,
I'll see you later," I said to her, with complete seriousness. And in
short order my mom's problems with same-sex unions evaporated.

I've always been gay. I've never been anything else. I never dabbled
in girlfriends, and it never occurred to me that my yearnings were in
any way peculiar or shameful. My mom, once she got over her initial
resistance, was actually pretty ahead of the game, consciousness-wise.
But that was how I experienced my identity privately; beyond me, my
mom, and our station wagon, the world in which I lived as a
14-year-old was typically American Brutal. I can't remember a time
that there wasn't a background chorus following me around, calling out
"faggot," "sissy," "femme," "girl," "woman," "gay," or "queer" -- the
whole tiresome litany. By the time I was 16 -- the year when I was nearly
killed in a gay-bashing -- I'd had enough. I dropped out of high school
and moved in with my 37-year-old boyfriend, Charles.

The story of how I came to be interested in food is as uneventful as
the story of how I came to be gay: I simply always was. Whatever I've
been doing in my life, I've been the food guy -- when I was in art
school, working in the movie business, traveling the world, whatever.
My dad was the cook in our family, and although he and I were never
close, it was through food that we found closeness. My memories of him
are always entwined with us cooking together, eating together,
exploring restaurants together. When he left when I was 13, I took
over as the cook in the family, and this way that I'd found to
communicate with my dad became a way to communicate with everything.

My love for the stories and histories that people tell through food is
what brought me to Saveur, and in the work that I do as a magazine
editor, being gay is not really something that stands out. But the
world of food, particularly of high-end cooking and restaurants, is
dominated by heterosexual men and a very heteronormative machismo. As
food has taken on a larger role in popular culture, the idea of
culinary brutality -- the fire, the knives, the butchering -- has become
status quo, and those who don't fit the mold of the rugged, rock-star
chef can suffer. As an editor, I'm not required to be the subject. I'm
not considered in the same category as those chefs; I cover them in
the pages of the magazine I edit. But an interesting thing has
happened in my parallel role as a critic on Top Chef Masters. There, I
share the screen with the chef contestants, men and women who are at
the top of the culinary world, and it's my job to judge the fruits of
their labors.

Being a part of Top Chef Masters is an unadulterated joy, and when I'm
on camera I embody a character, one whom viewers seem to find
polarizing: They either like it and find it entertaining, or they're
really not into it. And in my casual survey of the Not Really Into
Its, who frequently like to make their opinion known on Twitter, in
their blogs, and in the comments sections of others' blogs, there's a
surprising amount of commentary along the lines of "ew, I think James
Oseland is gay." Whenever I read one of those comments, I'm immediately
plunged back through time to be, again, that kid who's being chased
around the playground. Maybe I'm just too sensitive to be on TV.

But at a moment when those comments seemed to be at their height, a
wonderful thing happened. Last December, I got married to my partner
of five years, Carlos Daniel Dos Santos. I wrote about it in the
pages of Saveur
(in one
of the proudest moments of my career, Out called Saveur the gayest
magazine of March 2012), and our de facto wedding album was hosted on
BravoTV.com.

Never before have I been the recipient of such love and support. Sure,
my husband and I received a handful of negative notes, but the
overwhelming majority -- 99 percent of hundreds of communications -- were
positive. I got emails, tweets, handwritten letters, cards from the CVS, from friends and loved ones but also from strangers, fans, people
who only knew me through the character they see on Bravo and who were
moved to happiness by my own happiness. What an amazing thing that in
my lifetime, in the relatively short period between that wrenching
conversation in the McDonald's parking lot and that moment late last
year, the world could change so much. How fabulous is that?

Top Chef Masters premieres tonight, Wednesday, July 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. Click here for more info.