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Amy Schneider Is a Champion Beyond Jeopardy!

Amy Schneider Is a Champion Beyond Jeopardy!

Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.

The Jeopardy! champ talks to Out about her history-making game show run, her impact on viewers, and more.

Night after night after night, Jeopardy! viewers watched Amy Schneider become the winningest woman the series has ever seen.

Her stint on the long-running game show was seemingly inevitable, less of a matter of 'if' but 'when.' Schneider, being voted "most likely" to appear on the trivia show back in middle school, "always kinda figured" it was in the cards for her.

"I've got a brain that's well designed for it," she tells Out, explaining that it often takes reading things only once for her to remember it. "Things just tend to stick with me."

But as the first out transgender Jeopardy! contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, Schneider brought more to the show than just an endless knowledge of interesting facts. Standing behind the podium with a soft smile and tiger glare, buzzer in hand, the 42-year-old engineering manager showed millions of viewers that they, too, can stand in their authenticity -- and succeed.

The irony, perhaps, is that the Jeopardy! champ wasn't exactly offered that permission that she grants so freely.

"I grew up in Ohio and was raised in a relatively conservative Catholic family," Schneider shares. "I didn't know that trans people existed. I had never considered myself trans because I didn't know that was a thing I could be."

It wasn't until 2009, after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, that Schneider actually met trans women, dismantling her previous ideas that they were all "the same as drag queens." But still, she didn't consider herself trans, mostly out of fear of invading a space that she might not be welcome.

"[I thought] They're really trans, and I just wish that I was, and I can't be invading their space. It took me a while to realize that wishing you're trans essentially means that you're trans."

Sparking that revelation was her role as Francis Flute in a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the show, Francis is forced to play the female role of Thisbe (a-play-within-the-play), which meant Schneider was required to dress as a woman in every performance.

"I was putting on a dress every night, and one day, I was driving home from practice and thought, 'well what if I introduced myself with a female name?' It just sounded really great in a way that really shocked me."

Like many coming to terms with their identity, Schneider "suppressed it" for a few years. Being in a relationship with a cisgender woman at the time kept her from "really examining" herself, she says. But as her marriage came to an end "for a whole variety of reasons," she was left with a daunting realization.

"I suddenly had the thought that if I were to die right then, I would be buried in a suit and tie, and I found that so upsetting," she says. "I was like, well, the only way to avoid that is to be 'out.'"

Naturally, coming out had its array of complexities. For one thing, "there's that fear of being seen as a man in a dress and judged that way," she says. For another, there's the fear that the people you love most won't accept you. And in Schneider's case, there's the fear that coming out would mean she could no longer compete on Jeopardy!.

"I thought that there were things that I was going to lose when I transitioned, but when it happened, I found that I hardly lost anything."

Her family and friends came around quickly. (A cousin came out as trans before her which helped "prepare the ground a little bit.") And everyone else in her life was like, "yeah, sure. It's the Bay Area. Do your thing." And as far as the whole Jeopardy! thing goes, you probably already know how that one ended: in a 40-consecutive-game run and a $1.38 million prize total.

But the losses, though minimal, still brought on painful adjustments. Two of Schneider's friendships came to an end, with one friend "pushing back" following her coming out, implying that her trans-ness was somehow a reaction to her recent divorce.

"That's the most difficult thing to hear when you're coming out-, people telling you that they know you better than you know yourself," she says.

It seems that the struggle for inclusion often falls on the misunderstood rather than those tasked with the privilege of understanding. So what can others do to ease the burden and carry some of that weight?

The answer is simple: believe them.

"Take people at their word," Schneider says. "If somebody tells you something about their sexuality or their gender, just believe them."

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have notably expressed their love for the Jeopardy! champion, but it seems that those outside of the community are equally as impacted. The ones who maybe never really got to know a trans person and suddenly found themselves welcoming Schneider into their living room every night.

One viewer tweeted that seeing Schneider on Jeopardy! helped her 83-year-old father become more accepting of trans people. They shared that she's the first trans person he's "used correct pronouns with." And that's just one story amidst a sea of them.

When asked how she feels, knowing that she's creating tangible change in a time when it's needed most, she pauses, smiles, and acknowledges that "it's hard to find words."

"I know how much it means for a trans person to have their parents or their loved ones use the right pronouns," she says. "To know that I've given that experience to some people is just really, really gratifying."

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