Up the Valley: Rainbow Valley

Recently-released data from the 2010 US Census reports that the number of same-sex households in Napa County totaled a scant 0.85%, making it the second lowest in the Bay Area, behind only Santa Clara County.

Knowing friends, neighbors and customers in the LGBT community, these numbers are clearly wrong.   Apparently the census only counts those as LGBT who live together in a shared household. LGBT Americans living alone, or with a friend, or with mother, are not added to the same-sex tally by clueless census takers, even if they answer the door wearing a rainbow-colored thong or a KD Lang t-shirt or are Chaz Bono. This latest singling out of single people only fuels my fears of a national conspiracy to eliminate the chronically unmarried, or at least to isolate us in camps outside Salt Lake while Mitt Romney looks for partners for each of us so we can finally be part of a family, but don’t get me started.

Now before any sensitive LGBT readers unaccustomed to my scribblings feel their feathers ruffling, let me point out that I have lived in San Francisco and Manhattan, worked in the theatre, co-wrote a book with an Ethel Merman-impersonating gay therapist about the friendship between gay men and straight women, attended multiple productions of cabaret shows featuring my friends’ singer/dancer/model boyfriends, and while producing a play in San Francisco once drove a convertible in the LGBT Freedom Day Parade. So please forgive. But why am I being so defensive? If the census is correct, I have no worries: Taking the percentage of Napa county residents living in St. Helena, the percentage of those who read my blog, the percentage of those who are LGBT, and the percentage of those who are not my friends and required to agree with me, then there is statistically no one left to be offended.

So let’s be honest: while St. Helena includes many LGBT community members, they tend to blend in here more than in some other places.  In a town where standard female attire features cropped hair, unisex shorts, down vests and flip flops, it’s hard to spot the lesbians. And I’m sure you’ll agree that flamboyantly gay men are thin on the ground here compared to, say, Greenwich Village or the Castro.  This is directly attributable to one basic fact: St. Helena gay men can’t run around half-naked. In parts of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere, gay men, having labored at the gym and naturally wanting to display the results, can be seen wearing fewer clothes than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model while ordering venti cappuccinos at Starbucks. Yet in St. Helena, where public drinking is not only encouraged but forms the basis of the local economy, public nakedness is legislated (along with marijuana use, but see wine and the local economy above). I have two dapper friends here who are a gay married couple, and these guys wear more clothing on their bodies in a given day than most of my Manhattan gay friends have in their entire closets. From the top of their tastefully hued high starched collars down to their patterned socks and shiny-toed shoes, only a glimpse of skin is exposed – kind of a Technicolor version of Muslim chador. I have always assumed that this was because they are both heavily tattooed, but am too polite to ask.

Back to the census, faulty counting also explains Santa Clara County’s sorry results in the same-sex category. It is frankly difficult to tell the males from the females in Silicon Valley; downright impossible in parts of Cupertino and Sunnyvale. If instead of “same-sex” the census takers were looking for sex-undetermined, or sex-never, or sex-not while-I’m-still-living-with-my-parents, then Santa Clara County would have bested the Bay Area.   And in case you doubt whether Santa Clara deserves its last place finish in the same-sex household derby, note that the local sports team color is teal, which would never have been chosen by either a lesbian or a gay man, being much too flamboyant for the one and much too retro-70’s-Linda-Evans-in-gaucho-pants for the other.

No, the census has it wrong; Napa County is a well-educated, tolerant, progressive, Prop 8-defeating environment where the LGBT community is not only welcomed, it has been rendered 100% as remarkable and unremarkable as the rest of us. And that’s a statistic in which we can all take pride.

Laura Rafaty is a three-time national award-winning columnist, a Tony-nominated theatrical producer, Producing Director at Lincoln Theater, and attorney at NapaValleyImmigrationLaw. Read more at laurarafaty.com.