Merriam-Webster’s defines “identity” as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual” and “the relation established by psychological identification.” Bing’s online dictionary defines the term as “Essential self: the set of characteristics that somebody recognizes as belonging uniquely to himself or herself and constituting his or her individual personality for life.” On government identification cards, we use a lot of metrics to establish “identity,” of of which being a picture — and according to the South Carolina DMV, that picture had better be of the thing they expect it to be, or you’re nobody.
The day most teens get their first real drivers’ license is usually one of the happiest days of their lives. It’s supposed to be — a drivers’ license is that first step to freedom, to adulthood and release of the constraints that define childhood. And there’s no doubt that 16-year-old Chase Culpepper was expecting exactly that when he went to his local DMV to get a license.
Unfortunately, Chase’s driver’s license had a little “M” next to gender, and the DMV employees couldn’t quite square that with the “F” standing in front of the camera. They forced Chase — a full-time gender nonconformist who dresses like a woman — to remove his makeup and try to look more butch. Why? Because they felt that dressing as a female constituted a “disguise,” or “an attempt to conceal identity.” And, of course…boys “don’t wear makeup.”
Humiliated, Chase did as he was forced to do. But that wasn’t the last thing he did.
Afterward, he and his parents contacted the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which sent a letter to the DMV on his behalf. Chase’s sole request:
“I want the DMV to take my picture again, with makeup, so I can put this incident behind me. The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not meet their expectations of what 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.”
The letter followed hisstatement:
“In the end, Chase was told that he could not wear makeup simply because boys typically do not wear makeup. It was not because his makeup acted as any type of disguise of his identity. Sex stereotypes like this do not justify a government agency’s restriction of constitutionally protected expression.”
The DMV says it’s not budging, because (shockingly), South Carolina’s cops agree with its interpretation on a 2009 clause regarding drivers’ license photos:
“At no time can an applicant be photographed when it appears that he or she is purposefully altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.”
Oh…so it would be bad if a photo misrepresented “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual?” Might such a “distinguishing characteristic” be perhaps the fact that they were a male who dressed as a female? That’s pretty “distinguishing.” Some might say that was a definitive part of their identity…others might say that forcing them to not look that way was, in itself, a violation of the clause. Define “irony.” A representative of the DMV says:
“If it says male [on the license], that’s what they’re gonna look for. They expect the photo to be of a man. If they stop somebody and they’re dressed as a woman, they can straighten that out.”
Dear God…the irony…it burns…
“Straighten that out,” indeed.
So, South Carolina…let’s just make sure to get straight on this. If a person always looks a certain way, and you yourself acknowledge that they’re going to look that way if they get pulled over, then the identification is somehow LESS effective if the picture on the license looks like the person who hands it to you? That’s the “logic” here…really?
(Wait…police have computers with picture capability in their cars now? The Hell you say. Well, ain’t THAT fancy.)
And, of course, there’s some logic in that. Because it’s not as though women change their hairstyles, wear different clothing, or (God forbid) disguise their appearance with some kind of nefarious face paint on a daily basis. Why, Hell…if her drivers’ license says she’s a 40-year-old brunette, she’d better not dye her hair blonde use any of that Cindy Crawford stuff to look 25. That would be “purposefully altering her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his her identity” as a 40-year-old brunette!
And, guys…you’d better not lose a pound after you get your license picture taken. P90X? More like 25 to life. And black people…oh, who are we kidding? You’re getting shot by South Carolina police no matter what.
So, maybe you’re right, South Carolina. People shouldn’t alter their appearance, or look different from exactly what the standards of others say they should look. They should look exactly the way we expect them to look, based on the Arial-font print on their ID cards. In that spirit, given South Carolina’s apparent sophistication and capacity for reason, we’d like to offer our proposal on the only three acceptable drivers’ license photos available in the state.
H/T: Huffington Post