Betty Greene Salwak

Face Value

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | August 20, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: identity, peacemaker, personas, portrait

Upon offering my first (guest) post for Bilerico, I was told I needed to submit a portrait photo to go with it. Wait. A picture? Now? As the One Who Wields The Camera, I don't have any pictures of myself. And those few that exist elsewhere are pretty bad. I hate cameras that are aimed at me, but it's only because they hated me first. And now I had to send out a picture that very night. I washed my hair and changed my shirt. Showtime.

I was alone. My camera's viewscreen is fixed to the back, making it impossible to view the shot. That left my laptop. For the next thirty minutes, I wandered around the house, trying different backdrops, holding my computer up in front of me, awkwardly smiling at the screen, and clicking on the touchpad. The screen reflected blue rectangles in my glasses. That tilt of the head can look pretty coquettish. What about lighting? What's that behind me in the shot? No, dog, not now.

I ended up standing between the bookshelf and the lamp. I found one shot that would do. (See that photo on my bio.) The picture that accompanies this piece was taken--on my computer--in the back yard a few days later. No reflections in cloudy natural light!

All this so that you would see the person I wanted you to see. The one I present to the world. We all do that, don't we, and not just for the camera. Each of us presents a carefully crafted picture of personality, identity, and appearance for public consumption. And we do this with the hope of acceptance to some degree or another. It makes us feel safe and whole. We want to belong.

That acceptance is not guaranteed. Some will find a person's presentation not to their liking for any number of reasons. And here's where we fail to acknowledge the personhood of an individual who is different. I must confess that I love it when a scruffy curmudgeon of a blogger posts pictures of gay paraders dressed like ground zero of an explosion of feathers and glitter and says, "I love my people."

It is incumbent upon each of us to accept a person's definition of self, whether within our community or not. It is an expression of peacemaking to be able to accept people at face value, even when or maybe especially when the veneer is transparent. To accept face value is to build trust, so that eventually the person beneath the persona feels safe enough to show you what's inside. Is this who you want me to see? Fine. That's who you are until you tell me otherwise, either in words or actions.

Lights, camera, action and reaction: it's the drama of life. Make it peaceful.

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Accepting people at face value. I think most of us who come to this site are able to do that, but all around us, a battle rages regarding the specifics that go beyond face value. A medal winning runner is questioned about her gender. Some people are alarmed about who might be in the next stall of a public restroom. Some angry commenters stalk this blog for their self-serving gotcha moments about the correct way to refer to someone for whom gender is a defining issue (and no one is safe from those nasty mayflies because they can't even agree amongst themselves about how they want their own nametags to read).
Betty, I'd add one element to your statement about why we present a carefully crafted picture. Some of us who do it actually don't care about acceptance. We do it because we are performers, and our online image is a performance. Find us elsewhere on the net and you may find an entirely different image, voice and persona.

Tony, while we are all performers, am I wrong to think that those who do not care about acceptance are quite rare? It would be an unusual person who does not need to belong to some group.

Most of the condemnation that comes from the straight community starts with assumptions about face value: "I will tell you who you are." This is an important point I need to be making elsewhere.

But from my outside view, it seems there are factions within the LGBTQ community that swirl around challenging a person's/group's right to identify themselves. Those issues are straining the community's solidarity at a time when cohesiveness is imperative for gaining ground in the struggle for equality. Acceptance of face value—at least at first—is a great equalizer and allows for other issues to be dealt with by the community as a whole.