Teen Born Male Forbidden from Wearing Makeup in DMV Photo

Is a male teenager allowed to wear cosmetics? Not if he wants to get his driver’s license, apparently. Chase Culpepper, a 16-year-old self-identified “non-gender conformist” was told by an Anderson, South Carolina DMV employee that he would have to take off his makeup before he could pose for his license photo.

His lipstick was not for a special occasion: Culpepper wears makeup and either female or androgynous clothing every day. According to Culpepper, he hadn’t give much thought to the photo portion of obtaining his license — he was too busy worrying about the test. After passing the driving and written portions, however, it turned out the biggest roadblock was actually being allowed to have his picture taken.

Because Culpepper had checked the “male” box on his license form, local DMV employees considered his makeup to be a “disguise.” Even since the incident, DMV employees have pointed to a specific clause to defend their decision: “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.”

Obviously, though, since Culpepper wears cosmetics daily, his appearance was no disguise. If anything, wearing makeup in his photo would be a more accurate representation of how he looks on a regular basis. Intentionally or otherwise, banning him from posing with makeup on comes across as a condemnation of his gender expression.

“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,” wrote Culpepper in a prepared statement. “I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I’m somehow not good enough.”

Culpepper has asked for the chance to take another official photo, yet thus far the DMV has not been cooperative. It is incidents like this one that show how behind regulations are when it comes to dealing with contemporary transgender issues. There are a lot of biases and outdated rules that will need to be reexamined in the years ahead.

Michael Silverman, the head of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, has jumped in to support Culpepper. “Chase’s freedom to express his gender should not be restricted by DMV staff. He is entitled to be who he is and to express that without interference from government actors. Forcing Chase to remove his makeup prior to taking his driver’s license photo restricts his free speech rights in violation of state and federal constitutional protections.”

While I’m sure many of us would like a second chance to take our driver’s license photo, Culpepper deserves an opportunity to look the way he wants – and normally does – on his identification.

Sign this petition to ask the South Carolina DMV to give Culpepper a retake.

Photo Credit: WYFF News


Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago

silly, I don't see why he can't

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Ruby, I'm sure it varies from state to state, but in Washington, one has to pass a written test first, then take the driving test, and then and ONLY then, they have their photo taken and it's right there, IN the DMV office..........they have the person stand at a designated point, marked by a white or blue line and the camera is pre-set up to take the photo at a certain distance, and yes, most of the time, people are supposed to just "stand there" and not smile. They look like mugshots.

Ruby W.
vanessa W.2 years ago

@Karen H
I'm in the UK and having a facial tattoo has never been an issue, especially when I renewed my passport and driving licence. I get the impression though you go to the DMA in person to get a picture?
In the UK you send in a photo using their guidelines. You aren't meant to smile in the pictures but both my passport and driving licence have pics of me with a little smile and happy eyes.
My friends, some of who have half face or full face Ta Moko or other South Pacific tatau haven't had any problems at all and they travel extensively for tattoo conventions. People may think a tattoo disguises facial features, but in fact they make us even more recognisable and it may well be easier for security cameras to keep an eye on the decorated people, possible ;)

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

As I've said, law enforcement has it hard enough to identify those who they stop, because nobody's DMV photo looks much like them, or at least, in all MY years of having one, none of mine ever did. I've had cops pull me over for something and look at my license and ask me if it was really "me" mainly because I don't look my age. I wasn't disguising myself in my photo and thought it was horrible, actually. One year, I had my photo taken with a "curly perm" and when it started growing out, had it all cut off. One year, my daughter and I both were bored and dyed our hair red, but on my license, it said "blonde". I don't think cops critique the "hair color" thing so much on licenses, though.

If Chase's voice hasn't changed yet, it could result in some real hard questioning by cops IF he gets pulled over. Is a cop going to ask him to "drop his pants" to prove he's who he claims to be? That most certainly WOULD result in a harrassment suit.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Karen, good points. I think the difference is that tattoos are permanent. If one is covered with them (and except for Mike Tyson, most don't have them on their face), they won't show in a DMV photo mostly, but if they do, then the person will have the same ones. They actually would be more proof of identity. In this kid's case, it's make-up which can be far different from day to day, depending on his "mood", I guess. He never says if he wants to become female, so who knows about next month, next year or whatever (most licenses are for 5 years) and he changes his mind and decides he no longer wants to "dress up"? He's 16, and at that age, nothing is very stable.

Karen H.
Karen H.2 years ago

Interesting how so many people here think wearing makeup is a disguise.
I remember when it was illegal to have a tattoo below the wrist, below the ankle and above the neck. Now we've got people who have virtually no clear skin showing--it's all tattoo. And that could definitely be considered a disguise.

Alex Perea
Alex Perea2 years ago

*boy (wish there was an edit function, lol)

Alex Perea
Alex Perea2 years ago

Terri, there are so many things wrong with your statement, but let's address the first that come to mind.

For a start, he is not pretending to be female. He ticked the box for male. He is not transgender, he is simply a bot who likes to wear make-up.

Secondly, leading on from that, why does wearing make-up mean a person is pretending to be something else? What law states that only females can wear make-up? The act of wearing make-up does not defy any natural or man-made law that I can think of. Make-up is freely available for anyone to wear, male or female, and just because men do not USUALLY wear it shouldn't preclude them from being allowed to, if females are allowed to.

Thirdly, even if he WAS transgender, he wouldn't be 'pretending to be female'. In that case he WOULD be a woman, because transgender women are still women, even if they are 'born with a penis'.

And finally, he IS looking 'normal' for his picture. That is how he usually looks. That IS his normal, just like many women feel much more normal in their make-up than without.

Leave the poor kid alone. If girls can wear make-up in their ID photos, there is no reason on Earth why a boy can't do the same if that is what is natural to him.

Terri Lynn M.
Terri M.2 years ago

If you were born with a penis, you are a male and pretending you are not by dressing and making yourself up as a female doesn't change the fact that you are pretending. The DMV is right. He needs to look normal for the DMV photo. If he wants to play girl, fine, but not in the DMV photo.

Carole R.
Carole R.2 years ago

Thanks for the post.