Sophia Margeaux was born Jon Winegarner in Hettinger, North Dakota in 1953. (Editor’s note: Sophia continues to use both names in different contexts. Sophia also uses he/she/they pronouns, which we will vary between in this bio.) He grew up in a large family of eight children and had a relatively uneventful childhood, often feeling socially withdrawn and bullied by his older brother for being a “soft boy”. In 1955, the family moved to Moline, Illinois, where Sophia has their earliest memories.
Sophia’s family were actively involved in the Protestant Christian community, her father a United Church of Christ congregational minister and her mother a nurse. After completing high school in 1971, Jon attended the College of the Ozarks, a move he credits with developing his social skills.
After exploring other schools in other states, Sophia moved to San Francisco to study counseling psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, driving cross country from Ohio in her parents’ Volkswagen camper van and settling in a small apartment. Although San Francisco had been a sanctuary of free thought and expression for many LGBTQ+ young adults, Jon found the experience to be overwhelming.
Financial constraints led Sophia to live in their camper van near the beach, until they eventually secured a position with the Forest Service and moved back to Idaho in 1987. She saved enough money to purchase a home in the woods in Challis, a rural town in the Salmon River valley. Their home became her refuge from a difficult world. In the wilderness, Jon finally felt safe to dress in women’s clothes, where the only risks involved face-to-face encounters with mountain lions, wolves, and bears.
In 1993, Sophia was working as a librarian at the Challis Public Library, where she faced adversity due to her advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. Here they sparked controversy with their letters to the Editor challenging religious fundamentalist views on Prop 1, a ballot initiative denying LGBTQ+ civil rights. Despite facing years-long harassment and threats, Sophia continued to express his beliefs.
In 1995, after attending a private New Year’s Eve party presenting as Sophia Margeaux, Jon was called before the library board. He acknowledged dressing as a woman at a private event, prompting accusations from colleagues about the safety of children in the library. Library officials started documenting her every move, and eventually Sophia was put on probation, and then fired. She pursued a career as a carpenter and became a watermaster overseeing the delivery of irrigation waters. He was promoted to the chair of the water district until similar external forces brought an end to his tenure.
Sophia’s journey has also included health challenges, such as coping with epileptic seizures. Her first seizure occurred on January 11, 2019, and subsequent episodes led to a self-diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy with ecstatic affect, also known as Geschwind syndrome. Despite the challenges, Sophia remains resilient and continues to navigate life with a positive attitude.
Throughout their life, Sophia has been committed to activism, political involvement, and artistic endeavors, always striving for a more inclusive and accepting society. She was formally recognized for her contributions in 2017 with a 35-year artist retrospective show at the local arts council gallery.