Disguise and Deception

 photo chase-culpepper_zps4614b15a.jpgChase Culpepper is a 16-year-old resident of South Carolina.  Like 16-year-olds all over the country, Chase applied for his drivers’ license this past March.  Unlike most 16-year-olds. DMV officials forced Chase to change his appearance before they would take his license picture.

Chase prefers male pronouns at this point, but wears girl’s clothing and make-up.  DMV workers accused him of not looking the way “a boy should.”  They refused to take his picture as long as he was “in disguise.”  

CNN’s video is not embeddable

The government should not be in the business of telling men and women how we are supposed to look as men and women.

–Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF)

 photo chase-culpepper1_zpsef43cdfb.jpgAt the time, Chase wanted his license, so he wiped off his make-up and removed his mascara.  He got his license, but he wasn’t happy.

No amount of makeup remover can erase how he feels.

TLDEF says that the DMV stifled Chase’s freedom of expression, deliberately suppressing the more feminine and androgynous aspects of his personality.

Silverman wrote an open letter to the DMV’s executive director, Kevin Shwedo and general counsel, Frank Valenta in early June.

Chase’s message was accurately understood by DMV staff members, who were concerned that Chase did not appear to be a typical male.  That he is not a typical male is the very

message that Chase was conveying through his gender expression.


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.


We want Chase to be able to go back to the DMV in Anderson, his hometown, and have his photo taken the way he looks every day with makeup on.


Chase says he is eager to do so.

 photo chase-culpepper2_zps26efd160.jpg

Chase is happy with who he is.  Chase’s mother loves him just the way he is.  The government should not tell him there is something wrong with him just because he doesn’t meet the DMV’s expectations about what a boy should look like.


Beth Parks, spokeswoman for the DMV, says the department has a policy on driver license photos.  The policy says that

at no time will an applicant be photographed when it appears that he or she is purposely altering his or her appearance so that it the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.

Parks says the concern is with law enforcement personnel being confused:

If it’s Thomas Jones on the license and yet it looks like a female, that is very confusing for them.  They want to know what the identity is.


It seems to me that Chase is a fairly gender-neutral name.  

Or maybe the issue is that a police officer, upon seeing Chase’s driver license, might treat Chase like a girl rather than like a boy.  Do leo’s habitually treat men and women differently?

The accusation of deception is a constant in the lives of transgender people.

Linda Harvey of the anti-lgbt and ultra-conservative Mission America condemned transgender people and our rights on her Wednesday radio show.

I think America is quickly moving into chaotic territory where we are blessing and approving behaviors that so completely defy reality and the will of God that the consequences will be devastating, especially to kids.

If Satan were to devise a strategy to confuse and undermine the moral base of America, he could not have chosen a better vehicle than pushing gender confusion, which is just the latest offshoot of the homosexual movement.


Janet Mock also addresses the issue of deception in an interview with Jessica Valenti at the Guardian.

Valenti:  There are so many false and damaging narratives about trans people that the media and pop culture propagate.  Is there one that you find particularly harmful?

Mock:  The most harmful is the myth that trans women are not “real” women or trans people are inauthentic and therefore our identities, experiences and bodies must be investigated and interrogated. The media commonly frames our narratives in this way and it’s harmful because it undermines trans people’s experiences and teaches others that they too should be skeptical about trans people’s lives – until trans people “prove” their realness.

Valenti:  Can you talk about the concept of “passing” and what it means for the trans community?

Mock:  I have such a difficult time with the concept of “passing” because I feel it gives this idea that there’s some kind of deception or trickery involved in our identities.  I am a woman, people perceive me as a woman, and when I walk on the street, I am “passing” as anything. I am merely being myself.  Often, my trans-ness does not lead the way when I walk into spaces and that allows me safety and anonymity.  And because trans people are marked as illegitimate, our bodies and identities are often open to public dissection – and this is a major burden for many trans people, a burden that I often do not have to carry in every space I enter because of the way that I look.  Our safety should not be based on the way that we look.


    • Robyn on June 21, 2014 at 00:03

    …how much easier it would be to advocate for transpeople if we all passed better.



    Not a pretty girl

    nor an attractive woman

    just a hope

    of being

    a handsome

    old lady

    I have been

    resigned to this

    for decades

    But quality lies

    in the heart

    and the mind

    not on the skin

    Your proclamation

    of love and support

    for transfolk

    rings as hollow

    as hollow can be

    Ugly lives down deep

    –Robyn Elaine Serven

    –January 16, 2009

    From my own writings:

    Life in the Passing Lane, written for Triangle Rising Newsmagazine, Little Rock, AR, June, 1997.

    Being transsexual is a paramount example of a catch-22.  If we pass for our target gender, then we are perceived as trying to “fool” people about who we are, while if we don’t pass we are subjected to the abuse of a society desperately clinging to a bipolar model of gender.  People who have never met me in other than my current mode of life, upon learning that I was born male, will often begin referring to me with male pronouns (even gay and lesbian folks do this, while seemingly having no problem at all with referring to drag queens with female pronouns…a situation which I can’t for the life of me figure out).

    Transsexual people who pass (or strive to) run the constant risk of being “discovered.”  What happens next can be loss of friendships, the end of an intimate relationship, the loss of a job, or even physical or emotional assault.  They are accused of having lied about who they are. But transsexual people who don’t opt for life in the passing lane, who are open about who they are, run the risks of being ostracized from their community, of never finding someone to love them, of never getting hired in the first place, of being denied housing or service in restaurants and stores, and of being the subject of all sorts of slanderous rumors, and are also targets for physical, verbal, and emotional assault.

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