On the evening of March 4, 1974, a nine-year-old boy, sleeping at his home in Lake Wales, Florida, was dragged to a baseball field and raped. Largely on the basis of the victim’s identification from a police line-up, and because DNA profiling had not been developed at this time, nineteen year old James Bain was convicted of the rape and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2001, the Innocence Project set out to prove Mr. Bain’s innocence. From a subsequent forensic DNA investigation of the evidence previously presented at trial, it was discovered that it was impossible for Mr. Bain to be the perpetrator of the crime he was convicted of.
On December 17, 2009, thirty five years after his conviction, James Bain was exonerated and set free.
I have sometimes wondered, and prayed for, those who have been convicted of crimes they were innocent of. Most are not so blessed as James Bain.
One of my core values is injustice. When life has been unfair to me I have experienced this pain most acutely. Sadly, injustice turns out to just be a normal part of life. A value as intrinsic as this is for me, however, is not reserved to myself alone, but extends in my compassion for others, like James Bain. I feel their pain as well.
I do not have imagine what it is like to be imprisoned for a very long time. I have experienced unjust imprisonment and was locked inside for fifty years. I was not locked inside a prison of walls and bars: I was locked inside myself. I still carry that pain today.
On January the fourth, two thousand and fifteen, I too was set free: I was set free by, Jane, the person I had married twenty three years before. Bravely, courageously, she gave me the greatest gift of all: the acceptance to live the remainder of my life, and our marriage together, in a different gender from the one I was born with. I was set free, as well, by all of my family and most of my friends. Together we have struggled to form new relationships from the old. At times it has been uncomfortable and confronting but struggled on we have with the reward of shared richness together.
Two years on, as the crisis of that paradigmatic change ebbs away and normality returns to our ordinary lives, I am left to reflect upon what to do and who to be.
As I see it I have two choices. I can look backwards, be consumed with despair and cry with regret about the life I did not live and will never live through all those many, many years. Alternatively, I can look forward and make best, with purpose, meaning and gratitude, the life I do have today (and one I never expected would be possible to live) and in the years ahead I hope to enjoy.
On this second day of two thousand and seventeen I have no New Year’s resolution except this: I choose not to try and go back and make a brand new beginning. What is done is done, what is simply is. Time, given in a multitude of moments, can only be live once and then they are gone forever. Life cannot be reinvented. My New Year’s is hope is this one resolution: to live my life in such a way as to create a richer and fuller ending.
As I write though, I am sorrowfully aware of so many gender-diverse people who do not have the freedom and privilege I have come to experience. Across this Christmas and New Year’s period many of my gender-diverse friends have shared with me their frustrations and sorrows. For many of us, is not most of us, there is a painful gulf between the life we live now and the life we had hoped, or continue to hope, to live. Some are still trapped on the inside and alone with their fears, while others are secretly living some their lives alta ego amongst friends and in places they know to be safe enough so that their everyday identities will not be disclosed.