There are few LGBT institutions in Washington as beloved as the Mautner Project, an arm of Whitman-Walker Clinic which focuses on lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women’s health. This Friday, the Mautner Project celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a party at Dock 5 at Union Market. While the event will quickly turn into a dance party, Mautner will take time on Friday to honor women in our community for their contributions to women’s health. Among those honorees is Army Major Jamie Lee Henry, MD, a military doctor who made history this June by becoming the first openly transgender officer in Army History. We spoke with Major Henry ahead of the Mautner Project celebration.
(Note: While we would normally refer to Major Henry by her military title within this interview, she requested that we simply refer to her by her first name Jamie to break down any barriers to those unfamiliar with military protocol. We honored that below).
Brightest Young Things: You went from being a private individual to a public person almost overnight. How has that been for you, and how have you needed to adjust to fit that new reality?
Jamie: Honestly, I didn’t really feel like much of a private individual prior to Chris Geidner’s Buzzfeed article. By joining the military as I did at age seventeen, I forfeited much of my privacy. After I became very ill as a result of a bicycle crash in 2008, I felt very vulnerable while being treated as a patient in the same hospital I worked as a physician. What made it worse was that, as a soldier, my medical records were not private, and when the question of mental illness came up, I felt stark naked.
When my then wife outed me to a military psychiatrist, I felt violated. Things kind of blew up from there. I experienced very intense gender dysphoria from 2008 until 2014, leading to the breakdown of a number of relationships, leading my entire social network with a few exceptions to shun me for being “sexually immoral”. From 2012 to 2014, I underwent depositions and public trials, because I wanted to continue having a meaningful relationship with my son. The media exposure I’ve received since then seems like nothing in comparison. So the Buzzfeed article was a long time coming, and I believe there is much more to come, because I’m willing to share a lot of the details of what went down. I try to go with the flow, speak authentically, listen well, and hope for the best. It has seemed to get me through some pretty difficult shit so far.
BYT: You’ve noted how supportive your commanding officer and soldiers you worked alongside were when you initially came out to them (before you went fully public). Has being publicly out changed that dynamic, or added any pressure or harassment from soldiers who weren’t previously familiar with you?
Jamie: You know, without the military, I would likely have been homeless, become a sex worker, or even committed suicide – what many transgender women unfortunately experience without the social and medical support I’ve received. I know it’s probably hard to believe that I actually considered such things in 2012, but it was in 2012 during a brief stint of homelessness that my commander provided me housing, got me to rehab which led to a lot of healing and self-awareness, and tipped me off to a stellar lawyer. Whatever harassment I’ve received within the military has been nothing compared to the struggle of daily life as a trans person outside the military. Then again, I have a lot of privilege within the military community as both a Major and a physician.
As I mentioned before, I have been forced along the way to be very vulnerable with a large number of people in my work environment. Being openly transgender has only been an extension of what I had already experienced the previous six years. From day to day I really haven’t felt much harassment at all within the military framework from civilian employees or other active duty staff. There is a lot of silence, but there is also sincere support undergirding many of my interactions.
BYT: We’re in the middle of the six month review that Defense Secretary Carter ordered to review possible changes that would allow openly transgender service personnel to serve. How hopeful are you that we will see a positive change?
Jamie: Very, very hopeful.
BYT: The president recently nominated Eric Fanning (an openly gay man) as Secretary of the Army, and promoted Amanda Simpson (an openly trans woman who previously worked specifically with the Army) to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy. Not that individuals themselves are a panacea for change, but as an active duty service member, how do you see this positively impacting the Army?
Jamie: LGBT people can do the same jobs everyone else can. I might even argue we can do them better – ha! Seriously though, conquering many of the complex issues of today takes a keen intuition and a cultural sensitivity that “just breaking things” wouldn’t solve. The face of the world, and America in particular, has changed, and this nomination and promotion reflect that. It tells people like me, who feel or look obviously different than the typical leadership structure, that there is a place for us to serve in positions of leadership and influence in mainstream American culture. It also tells me that if I have the skills and experience required for a job, I shouldn’t be denied the position or promotion just for being LGBT.
BYT: What are shared experiences that you see between the Mautner Project’s work with lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women’s health health, and your work with the health of service members?
Jamie: I’m really just starting to get to know the Mautner Project of Whitman-Walker Health. But, from what I’ve researched and the people I have talked to about it, there are lots of parallels. Less than 1% of the American population has served in the military and the number of lesbians and bisexual women, and certainly transwomen, are a relatively low percent of the American populace as well. That being said, we have unique needs that require sensitivity and insight into the day to day struggles of what it means to be a minority.
There is a huge education piece out there that needs to happen within the LGBT population and medical community about what health looks like and what preventative services are out there to deal with our unique issues. Training providers to be competent when they have queer women as patients is one aspect of what Mautner is about, and its work parallels what I strive for with each of my patient encounters – creating a safe place for patients to be themselves and share authentically.
BYT: The Washington metro region is home to a significant amount of service members and veterans. As a military doctor, you uniquely understand the dynamics of service member healthcare. What role can friends and family perform in supporting the health of our service members?
Jamie: I love this question! My passion is service member health, which is a big reason I have stayed on with the military despite being given a number of opportunities to separate. The biggest part in supporting the health of service members is listening to them. Trauma has to be handled on an individual’s timeline and in a way that is unique to that individual. The military seems to be learning that medications are not the only way forward to restoring our service members’ health and dignity. Supporting initiatives like the 296 Project, an art studio for vets in the DC area, and other non-profits that work hand in hand with veterans can bring a lot of healing to those who have served and humanize their rather dehumanizing experiences.
BYT: Your friend Adam Kyle performed at our BYT/Capital Pride party this June shortly after you came out. The audience seemed to love it when you made a surprise appearance during his performance of “Walk on By,” which is a song he says that you inspired. You seemed generally happy as well. I’m not sure most people would have had that courage after shortly coming out (as gay, or trans, or whatever). What was that moment like?
Jamie: Adam Kyle has been my number one supporter over the years up until my recent engagement (and marriage this Friday!) to Dr. Anna Gabrielian. I trusted his artistic expression and insistence that we would just have fun together. He was there around the circumstances of my bicycle crash in 2008 and watched my life unravel and then stabilize over the following years. When so many of my closest friends discounted my thoughts and feelings in 2012, Adam stood by me, listened well, and even went on to testify in court for me to obtain joint custody of my son, whose birth he was present at in what was then National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. For him to write “Walk on By”, I think, gave us both enormous pleasure. To share it on stage like at the BYT/Capital Pride party was a way for us to share that joy with so many others.
BYT: Tell us a little bit about why you are supporting the work of the Mautner Project this Friday.
Jamie: I like to say we are standing on the shoulders of giants as modern day LGBT rights and privileges are secured and protected. The Mautner Project has been around almost as long as I have been alive. They partnered with Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) in 2013, and through WWH, I was diagnosed, treated, and hand held through the DC court system to change my legal documents. After coming out on Buzzfeed, they invited me to their 25th Anniversary celebration, honoring me with an award named after Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a pioneer in women’s rights, a physician, and a Medal of Honor winner. How could I refuse?
The Mautner Project’s 25th Anniversary Celebration takes place this Friday evening at Dock 5 @ Union Market. The event will honor Ebone Bell, Major Jamie Lee Henry, and Schroeder Sribling. Entertainment by DJ Deedub and Gem Fatales.
Mautner Project’s 25th Anniversary Celebration
This Friday, September 25
Dock 5 @ Union Market
For more information, click here