Daphne Sprinkle is a transfeminine nonbinary artist and media consultant who found home on the Southern Oregon Coast, in North Bend. She did not always think this place was fitting for her, having hesitantly moved to the region from Silicon Valley for a marriage that did not last. After getting divorced, she took time away from the Southern Oregon Coast to live with family, but eventually decided to give it a second try—and this time, it stuck.
I connected with Daphne through Southern Oregon Coast Pride, a support organization for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and adults, where she volunteers. In early September, we met up for lunch in North Bend to talk about all things Gender Deconstruction and then headed to Shore Acres State Park, where we took pictures and marveled at forest, ocean coves, and ancient geology. During our afternoon together, I learned about Daphne’s experience coming out as trans in her forties and the many reasons why she now happily calls the Southern Oregon Coast her home.
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Daphne described being “hit with the idea” that she might be trans about four years prior, at age 40. Before then, she had not explored the language that nonbinary people use to describe themselves or considered that her own gender might fall outside the confines of the binary. She ordered a book that would help her tackle the topic of gender-nonconformity in what she described as a “structured way,” expecting to get through it bit by bit over a long period of time. However, to her surprise, she ended up tearing through the text in just a few days. “I could not stop obsessing and going through it,” Daphne recalled.
Eventually, she came to the conclusion that she is transfeminine nonbinary, a hard won realization. “This process started making me feel like a kid again, or maybe a teenager,” she explained. “I started questioning a lot of things about life, other than just gender [. . .] about the expectations placed on me because of various physical things about my body that might not have anything to do with who I actually am.”
Even with her newfound self-expression, it took a force of conscious effort for Daphne to unlink her conception of gender with physical traits, a paradigm reinforced by real-world ramifications. “Because of my body shape, my femininity can be taken away from me by other people’s perceptions at any time, especially if I do anything that remotely resembles expressing anger or frustration. It’s like I’m supposed to be cut off from half my emotions,” she said.
Daphne also pointed out that this standard of emotional comportment—the idea that feminine folks must be ever-docile and accommodating—harms cisgendered women as well.
“We’re all being affected negatively by this insistence that there’s these two rigid standards that we all have to somehow get ourselves to.” She knows from experiences that unpacking these harms can be challenging territory because “you do have to actually question the culture.”
At the start of her transition, Daphne’s awakening love of feminine aesthetics seemed to align with the notion of womanhood. “Every time I tried something sort of more on the feminine side, I was even happier,” she said. During this period, Daphne recalled thinking, “Maybe I really am just a straight-up trans woman and should be okay with that.”
“But that did not feel right either,” she concluded. For her, like many other trans and GNC folks, these archetypal gender norms felt like a shoe that just did not quite fit. “There’s all these standards of beauty that I hold myself to and then have to be like, ‘Wait why am I doing that, though? It doesn’t matter’.”
In Daphne’s experience, the gender binary is also reinforced at the level of gender-affirming healthcare, such as in conversations with her endocrinologist. While she was ultimately happy with the effects of hormone therapy, she felt uneasy about the fact that the goal was to match the hormone levels of cisgendered women. “It was never even a question of “do we want to try anything else?” she recollected.
Between these many forces at play, at times Daphne has found herself feeling like she was “failing at transition” despite intellectually knowing transition does not have to be linear or binary-oriented. “I want to pass so badly, and I don’t and that makes me feel terrible,” she reminisced of her mental machinations. “I shouldn’t have to, you know.”
Daphne is still unsure of other changes she might make to her body and approaches these questions with a heightened awareness of societal influence, noting, “We’re all complete people. It’s just wild to me that we looked at people’s reproductive function at some point in the past and decided all these other things had to match and be attached to that.”
Sometimes, Daphne also feels concerned that, because she presents as so transfeminine, she is not pulling her weight as a nonbinary person socially or politically. But at the end of the day, “It’s just different facets of Daphne.” People may project onto her as they will, but Daphne is the keeper of her own nuanced gender experience.
Daphne got involved with Southern Oregon Coast Pride during the pandemic. One of the most exciting facets of the organization, for her, is the Gender Affirmation Closet, which she described as “the greatest thing ever,” continuing, “There’s a pool of money available for anybody gender non-conforming to get clothes, hair stuff, binders, any of the things that aren’t covered medically, but that people really need in order to transition.” The “Closet” covers requests from residents of Coos and Curry Counties, and Daphne has benefited directly from it, pointing out that her purple hair came from the program. “When I first started transitioning, all my stuff was boy stuff, and I hated it. I need hundreds of dollars to replace everything,” she added. “So that’s been huge.”
Though her degree of engagement with Southern Oregon Coast Pride varies based on how hectic her personal life is, Daphne’s passion for this organizing work remains strong. She currently acts as a volunteer elder at youth events, to help keep a safe legal ratio of adults to youth while providing an example of an older trans person living in the real world. As an avid gamer, she is currently building a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to help engage the youth, particularly some of the more shy participants.
In her view, the visibility of Pride in the region makes a big difference. “We don’t have that many people,” Daphne elaborated, explaining that the counties Southern Oregon Coast Pride serves are quite spread out. We talked a bit about how competition for attention and scarce resources can pit queer community members against one another, especially in larger cities, a mentality that does not fit Daphne’s sensibilities. It seems, her comfortability in the region has a lot to do with a sense of collaboration across different experiences, so that “everybody gets what they need.”
When I asked Daphne if she had any advice for trans and GNC folks living on the coast, she responded with anecdotes: “My girlfriend and I are both trans. We walk around town holding hands, and just being ourselves. And I have been harassed zero times in public spaces.” Admittedly, Daphne’s whiteness offers a level of protection from transphobic aggression, and she does encounter catty microaggressions now and again. She also knows that trans and GNC students in the region’s grade schools tend to face more harassment. “Frankly, I feel like schools are just not good at dealing with bullying regardless of the reasoning,” she added on this subject.
“I do feel like there’s an emphasis on fear mongering, and people get really scared. And I was really scared when I first came out,” Daphne continued, clarifying that she was specifically worried about being harassed in the women’s bathroom. But to her surprise, “Not once has anybody ever said you shouldn’t be here or anything like that.”
Daphne believes that her gender journey is not complete, and she will continue grappling with big questions about her experience for her whole life. In the meantime, she has found home and community, welcomed by queer folks and the generous landscape of the coast, where she enjoys hiking and spending time with her girlfriend. Looking back on her life leading up to transition, she said, “I feel like I was trying to conform, like most people do, and then I realized I can’t do that. Even if the culture isn’t ready for it, I have to just go out and do the best I can, because that’s where I am in my life.”