“Beyond the binary” 


Tuong Nguyen overcame multiple language and cultural barriers to excel in middle and high school after immigrating to the United States from Vietnam with their family ten years ago.

The day they got into UNC-Chapel Hill was a turning point in their life; a first generation college student, full-ride tuition, endless opportunities. Four years later, Tuong finds themself at the precipice of graduating with a double major in biology and fine art.



Tuong prepares for a night out as Miss Coco in their Chapel Hill apartment on April 18. Scattered all over their room is an assortment of wigs, half-finished art pieces and small mountains of clothes.As Tuong adjusts their wig cap, they explain that identifying as nonbinary means existing above the gender spectrum of male to female. "It's the best place for me to be," they said.

Miss Coco puts the finishing touches on her "look" for the night. Layers of carefully applied foundation, well-loved lipstick in the shade Cherry Lush, a bubblegum pink wig with playful curls.As Tuong elegantly puts it, "Miss Coco is Tuong and Tuong is Miss Coco."


On April 13, Tuong is busy shooting their final photography assignment of a pig's heart covered in gold paint. Their artwork frequently explores the themes of gender ambiguity and sexuality through nudity and gore. Previous works include a penis-covered shrine to masculinity, video of a bloody metamorphosis and looping footage of them saying the word "man" over and over and over and over again until the word loses its meaning.

Their final photo series served as a cathartic process for Tuong; they wanted to express their feelings of anxiety and depression with glimmers of hope.
"It's like I'm gripping my heart trying to get better by forcing the gold out," they said.



Having long come to terms with their gender, Tuong has set their sights on normalizing gender nonconformity by increasing visibility in any way they can. It's difficult though, applying for jobs as a gender-nonconforming individual can raise eyebrows in North Carolina, especially in the medical field.

Despite this, Tuong remains steadfast in their belief that life will get better for nonbinary folk. "I love myself, and I send love to every kid and person who is starting to question who they are," they said. "It's okay. You will be okay."