I often could not help but become a bit emotional as watching South Korean documentary film “Coming to You”. Mainly focusing on two different mothers willingly standing by their respective sexual minority kids, the documentary lets the audiences have more empathy and understanding on their sincere efforts for making a better world for their kids and many other sexual minority people out there, and, as a gay man who has had his own hard moments, I was touched a lot by a series of genuine personal moments observed from these two mothers and their kids.
These two mothers are ‘Nari’ and ‘Vivian’, and the early part of the documentary shows us a bit about how active these middle-aged women have been in each own life. While Nari is a veteran firefighter, Vivian is a flight attendant, and both of them clearly love their respective jobs with considerable professional dedication. We see Nari deftly handling a number of usual routines at her workplace, and then we also watch Vivian confidently going for her another flight at the Inchon international airport.
Both of these two cool ladies love their respective kids a lot just like any good mothers, but they were all certainly shocked when their respective kids revealed their sexual identity several years ago. After many years of conflict and agony, Nari’s kid Hankyeol confessed to her that he had been quite willing to go through female-to-male transition, and it took some time for Nari to process and accept Hankyeol’s rather complex sexual identity as an asexual transgender. When Vivian’s son Ye-joon was about to leave for Canada for his study, he gave a letter to tell her everything, and Vivian also needed to some time for coming to realize that there was another side in her son she did not know that much before.
Of course, it was not so easy for both Vivian and Nari as things were accordingly changed a lot between them and their kids. As both of them frankly admit in front of the camera, they became quite concerned and agonized over this undeniable truth about their respective kids, and they even inadvertently hurt their kids’ feelings. Although she came to understand more of why her kid had been so inclined to wear male clothes during all those years, Nari still struggled a lot to understand Hankyeol’s wish to change gender, and she still feels regrettable about her rather insensitive words to her kid before finally giving Hankyeol her unconditional support.
As trying to understand their kids more, Vivian and Nari came across the association of the parents of sexual minority people, and that is where they came to realize that they are not alone at all. As meeting many other members and their various sexual minority children, they gradually opened their eyes more to sexual minority people, and they also were reminded again of why their kids needed support and love from them more than ever. Worrying more about the considerable social prejudice against sexual minority people, they came to see that their society must be changed for the equal human rights for their kids and many other sexual minority people, so they courageously step forward along with many other new colleagues of theirs.
The documentary also pays some attention to Hankeyol and Ye-joon, and their daily life shows us how much the South Korean society has been changed – and how much it still needs to advance more for numerous sexual minority people like them. Although he initially considered staying in Canada more because he feels more comfortable about his sexuality there compared to South Korea, Ye-joon eventually decided to return to South Korea because of his South Korean boyfriend, and we get a warm and heartfelt moment when he introduces his boyfriend to his parents. When he and his boyfriend later go to Busan for meeting the mother of his boyfriend, Ye-joon is naturally a bit nervous, but, what do you know, his boyfriend’s mother turns out to be more open-minded than expected – and she also comes to join the association.
In case of Hankyeol, he and his mother had to stick together more when he tried to get his new sexual identity recognized and certified by the South Korean government. Just for getting his case reviewed by the high court in Seoul, he and his mother had to prepare more than 15 different kinds of documents, and the following court decision by an apparently prejudiced judge reminds us again of how difficult it really is for many transgender people to live in the South Korean society. Nevertheless, Nari and her son were not daunted at all, and it is a little comforting to see that there was a small but significant change in the South Korean legal system not long after they finally got what they wanted.
While simply maintaining its earnest attitude, the documentary steadily engages and enlightens the audiences more, and its narrative eventually culminates to a plain but powerful moment. As already reflected by one scene showing those deplorable people openly brandishing their hate and prejudice in public, Nari, Vivian, and many colleagues of theirs still have many social obstacles in front of them, but they are determined to overcome via their love and acceptance, and their passionate public activities are quite moving to say the least.
Overall, “Coming to You” is a plain but undeniably powerful documentary, and director Byun Gyu-ri did a commendable job of presenting its relevant social issues with enough sincerity and respect. In my humble opinion, this excellent documentary should be watched by many South Korean parents trying to deal with their sexual minority kids, and I really hope that my parents, who have incidentally been still in denial for last several years since I came out of my closet in 2016, will see it someday and then reflect more on our current strained relationship. I have no problem with who I am, but can they ever recognize my sexuality? Time will tell, folks.