June 23, 2024
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Janna Barkin champions transgender rights

Janna Barkin ’88 wasn’t surprised when 14-year-old Amaya told her he was a boy. For years, Amaya refused to wear girls clothing, wanted to shop in the boys section, wore a short haircut and had chosen the nickname “Spike.”

“A lot of parents are shocked when a child comes out, but I wasn’t,” Barkin says. “I was knocking and saying, ‘Please let me in.’ I knew Amaya was going to show me something, but I didn’t know when.”

“At 11, his breasts got big very fast. His outer body was changing in a way that didn’t match his inner understanding of himself. He wasn’t able to describe how he felt, but got to a point where he had to do something.”

In her book He’s Always Been My Son (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), Barkin recounts the journey of raising a transgender son. The yoga instructor from Northern California is a champion for transgender rights and identity. She speaks at events and on radio shows across the country.

“Trans men come to me and are sometimes crying because they don’t have support,” she says. “Before they talk about what’s in my book, they say how much the title alone means to them.”

Though Barkin has courageously shared her family’s story, she admits it was easier because she lives in a progressive community. She fears for those who live in more conservative environments.

“My family has privileges: racial, educational, economic. I’m white and I’m cisgender. Amaya is binary male. Because I’m not a reflection of the most marginalized parts of society, I can speak humbly and give a voice to those who can’t speak up.”

Amaya has fully transitioned and is a college junior living on his own. Last fall, Barkin shared her story at Binghamton University’s LGBTQ Center. She appreciated the opportunity to raise awareness at a place that raised her consciousness.

“I was politically active at the Women’s Center,” she says. “I thank Binghamton for providing a space for so many student groups to interact. The conversation about gender is extremely potent. How do we respect each other when many of us have different ideas? Hopefully, universities like Binghamton are where we can have this discourse.”​

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