An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : News : Article View
NEWS | June 1, 2024

A Nonbinary Engineer’s Journey to Self-Discovery

By Brianna Alexander (CTR), Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Corporate Communications NSWC Corona Division

Originally from Fountain Valley, California, Scientist Ori Duong graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Immediately after graduating in 2020, they joined the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division workforce as an engineer in the command’s Acquisition and Readiness Assessment Department.

“As a little kid who found military stuff cool, I wanted to help the military in some way without enlisting,” Duong said. “I was always good at math and enjoyed learning new things, so I thought I could help by doing engineering work for the military instead.”

While Duong was able to establish their career early, one of the things they said they are still navigating is coming out as nonbinary. According to Merriam-Webster, nonbinary is an adjective used to describe a person who does not identify exclusively or entirely as a man or a woman.

“I’m still in the process of coming out,” Duong said. “A lot of people are not aware of what being nonbinary means, so it makes it difficult to bring it up without getting more questions or confusing people.”

Duong was assigned female at birth. Their physical transition started in 2023, but growing up, Duong said they knew at a young age that something was different.

“In elementary school I remember not really relating with being male or female,” they said. “Once I got to middle school I began trying to force myself to be more feminine like other girls around me, but if you have to force yourself to be something, there’s already a problem.”

Duong said they continued trying to conform to traditional gender roles until they had an epiphany during the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Having more time to self-reflect, Duong said they realized they did not want to be seen as a particular gender.

“Being seen as female had an impact on my confidence levels,” they said. “I just wanted to hide and not talk to people as much. I would get upset at my family for calling me by my birth name, even though I had not come out to them yet. I was scared that if I did, they wouldn’t understand.”

After joining LGBTQ+ groups and speaking openly to their friends about their gender, Duong mustered the confidence in late 2023 to come out to their co-workers as nonbinary transmasculine, as they have more of a connection with masculinity, but do not identify as a male or female. 

“Joining the NSWC Corona LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) has helped me with coming out, because it has allowed me to be around others going through the same thing. The ERG has provided me with people to talk to, not just about gender identity, but other day-to-day topics as well,” they said.

While still navigating their journey, Duong said taking the first steps of coming out has allowed them to focus on being their authentic self.

“It has been difficult translating and explaining to my Vietnamese family and others of our culture the meaning of nonbinary,” Duong said. “Eventually, I will come out to them fully, but as of right now, I'm still learning how to communicate it.”

Duong added their personal experiences help them to understand and offer advice to others going through similar situations of self-discovery.

“It wasn’t easy for me to come out, but since I have, it has had a positive impact on my mental health and relationships with my loved ones,” Duong said. “If there’s someone out there having a hard time coming out or feeling accepted, I suggest surrounding yourself with likeminded communities or groups who can support and uplift you along your journey.”

NSWC Corona Division has provided analysis and assessment for the Navy since 1964. With experience in gauging the Navy’s warfighting capability, NSWC Corona is a leader in NAVSEA data analytics. Corona utilizes networked data environments, data and visualization, and measurement technology to bridge the Navy’s data silos, enabling informed decision-making for the warfighter. Anchor to the Inland Empire Tech Bridge, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, California, with detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and personnel in 14 additional locations.