Jeopardy! Champ Amy Schneider Is a Role Model for My 'Nerdy Trans Kids'
It's been a history-making week for Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider. Last Friday, December 24, she became the highest-earning woman in the television game show's history. On Wednesday night, Schneider became the all-time winningest female contestant at 21 games. All of that, plus $806K in winnings, is noteworthy on its own.
But, in our house, Schneider's run on Jeopardy! is a big deal because she is a transgender woman and the first transgender person to qualify for the Tournament of Champions.
I'm the parent of two transgender children. In the years since my kids came out, I have become a bit of a representation hawk. I keep an eye out for stories or examples of transgender people doing cool things to bring back to my kids. I do it in part to show them that people just like them are living fulfilling lives. I also do it to show them that I care about them and support them unconditionally.
A lot of how I approach parenting my kids comes from listening to them and following their lead. Ryu, age 12 (they/them), and Lou, age 10 (xe/xyr), are my compass on issues that affect trans youth. When the topics of trans representation or trans role models come up, I'm always interested in what my kids think.
Schneider has said that she initially downplayed being transgender on the show because she didn't want it to be all she was known for. "I am a trans woman, and I'm proud of that fact, but I'm a lot of other things, too!" Schneider wrote on Twitter. Still, being transgender has become a large part of her Jeopardy! story—one she has not shied away from. I asked my kids about that quote, and then we sat down to read several of Schneider's interviews together.
The kids agree that being transgender can be part of a person's identity, but it doesn't paint the whole picture of who that person is. Ryu notes that, "It shouldn't be a huge thing that you're trans. It's cool to have trans representation. But it shouldn't be your entire persona."
Lou adds that being trans shouldn't be sensationalized or overemphasized: "It shouldn't be a big exciting thing. It's not that important. Unless you want someone to know your pronouns, you don't need to talk about it." Still, both kids recognize the value in having people in the spotlight who open up about who they are. And for many transgender people their pronouns are a very important and validating part of their identity.
According to Ryu, "It shouldn't be the main focus but it's important to know, because having representation feels really good. Seeing someone up there and being able to relate to them is important. It can make people in the community feel really good."
Originally from Ohio, Schneider, now living in Oakland, California, told ABC affiliate KGO-TV that she didn't have positive transgender role models growing up. In a tweet, she wrote that her, "primary activity in college was crippling depression." Schneider told Yahoo Entertainment that she thought she was anti-social, but it was not living as her true self that held her back socially.
My kids related to this in a major way. They spent their early childhood in an area of Maryland that was not open to gender nonconformity in children. Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area gave my kids exposure to people who helped them figure out who they really are. "Before we moved to California, I didn't know what trans people were. I just thought something was probably wrong with me." says Ryu. "Once you get exposed to it, it makes it easier because you know what's happening."
For Lou, it wasn't just the move, but meeting trans kids xyr own age that helped xyr come out. "I met another trans kid at church and that was really important because there was another person like me who knew that they weren't the gender they were assigned at birth. My first grade teacher read us a picture book called I Am Jazz, which is about a trans girl. Even though my switch wasn't binary, that was big."
The kids agree that not being able to express who you are can lead to social isolation. Not being able to talk about themself in an honest way led Ryu to withdraw and spend more time alone. For Lou, the experience was more visceral. "Whenever someone referred to me as a girl, it made me want to throw up."
Seeing a transgender adult making good on national television has also been inspiring for Ryu and Lou. In another interview, Schneider says she wants to inspire nerdy trans kids, to let them see they can also compete. "As soon as you hear that you're like, 'I'm nerdy, I'm trans, I'm a kid. That's me! She's talking about me!'" says Ryu.
When asked if Schneider is achieving her goal, both kids scream out, "YES!"
Schneider has expressed that one day society may move past the idea that it's noteworthy the first time a trans person achieves a particular milestone. Ryu and Lou agree that's a laudable goal, though one that may be a ways off. They too would like to be recognized for their accomplishments, not as novelties. For now, the family and I will be tuning in to watch Schneider every time she's on TV and providing inspiration for nerdy trans kids and their parents.