Show of hands, please. Who hates your driver’s license photo? Uh huh, me, too. All of the license photos I’ve had over the years either make me look like a lunatic or a moron, or a moronic lunatic. And, when they tell you to smile in the photo? Bitch, I will not be smiling when the cops pull me over for speeding so if you want this picture to look like me, let my scowl shine, m’kay?
Chase Culpepper, like most sixteen-year-olds do, went to his local DMV, here in South Carolina, and took his driver’s test; he passed. But when he went to have his picture taken, Chase, a gender non-conforming teen — he identifies as male, but wears makeup and women’s clothing regularly — was told to “go home” and “take off the makeup.”
A DMV employee removed Chase from the line and made him wait for a department manager, who also said that he needed to go home and remove “all of it” and then said, “[i]f your name is David Jones and it says you are a male, then you should look like a male."
Trouble is, that’s Chase. He wears make-up, so what?
Now, though, Chase is suing the ate of South Carolina, arguing that by denying him the right to have his driver’s license photo taken as Chase appears every day, constitutes sex discrimination and violates his right to free speech and expression under the United States Constitution. The suit, filed by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund [TLDEF] also “seeks a ruling under the U.S. and South Carolina Constitutions that the DMV’s photo policy is unconstitutionally vague, too broad, and lets DMV employees arbitrarily decide how a driver's license applicant should look, without regard for the rights of the people they are supposed to serve."
Let me make this queer: that picture is Chase Culpepper. It’s how he presents himself to the world every day; it's how his family sees him, it's how his friends see him; it's him. And if we are going to let the folks at the DMV refuse to take our photos unless we present ourselves in a way they deem appropriate, then let’s play real fair.
All those men and women who lie about their weight on their licenses, when it’s clear they’re packing on at least another twenty-five pounds or more, should be told to step on a scale first; that woman with the bad blond dye job should be told to change back to her normal color; any man that does not look manly — whatever that means — should be sent packing until they look masculine; and the same goes for the woman who looks a little less feminine; tell her to go home and put some makeup on because if their license says Diana Jones, and says you are a female, then, gosh darn it, she best look like a woman!
"My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not match what they think a boy should look like. I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I’m somehow not good enough. I want to take my license photo again, with makeup, so I can be myself and express to the world who I truly am.” — Chase Culpepper
Now, the DMV is arguing that Chase is trying to disguise his appearance by not appearing as a male when, in fact, all he is doing is expressing himself, daily. And Beth Parks, a DMV spokeswoman, dismissed the notion that the DMV's policy on altered appearances did not apply to Chase because he normally wears makeup.
"I understand that he does wear makeup all the time, and for women, regular everyday makeup is acceptable, but it is unusual to see it on a young man."--Beth Parks
I guess that’s true, it is unusual, especially here in South Carolina, but who are we, who is the DMV, to say that a young man who wears makeup shouldn’t? I don’t see anyone rushing to tell women who don’t wear makeup to slather it on. And if, one day, Chase Culpepper decides he no longer wants the makeup, I imagine he will be first in line at the DMV to get a new photo taken, but until then, let Chase be Chase, makeup and all, because what does it hurt?
If we can’t be ourselves, and we have to be whatever the DMV arbitrarily thinks we are, or should be, we are in a heap of trouble. I mean, if we have to live in a world where other people dictate how we present ourselves in public, then I'm headed down to The WalMart to start sending people home to change.