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Who is Amy Schneider?
The first woman to win more than $1 million on "Jeopardy!", the show’s most successful transgender player ever and, maybe, the one person who can bring us all together.
On Monday, the category for Final Jeopardy was U.S. museums. Schneider, who had racked up 38 consecutive wins by last week when she became tied for second to all-time champion Ken Jennings, looked comfortable as she jotted down her answer (in the form of a question, of course). Suddenly, the camera zoomed in on her. Did she have it? Nope, but it didn't matter because she had played another run-away game. And just like that, Schneider took over second place in all-time wins. Not only that, she’s the first woman to win more than $1 million on the program, and the most successful transgender player ever. That’s a really big deal – for Schneider, transgender people and the rest of us.
'It still feels unreal': 'Jeopardy!' champ Amy Schneider becomes No. 2 all-time winner with 39 games
Nearly 10 million of us have tuned in each night to welcome Schneider into our homes. Schneider’s an easy guest to like, with her trademark pearl necklace, warm personality and humor. A friend who has been watching tells me, “Amy looks like someone’s smart, funny aunt.” I only wish I had an aunt that smart.
Growth of #teamAmy helps all
The past several years have increased the visibility of trans people in the public eye – from Laverne Cox to Chaz Bono to Caitlyn Jenner. Along with the visibility has come backlash, notably new discriminatory laws and increased violence. But somehow Schneider seems to have not only avoided that backlash but also risen above it.
Everyone seems to be rooting for Schneider, who heading into Monday had answered an astounding 95% of questions correctly. Folks from red states and blue ones, rural and urban areas (and places in between), men and women, and especially trans people. One mom tweeted, “Thank you for being an excellent role model for trans youth and well, for all of us!” She then added #teamAmy.
The explosive growth of team Amy is likely messing with the results of a 2021 Gallup poll, in which a third of Americans said they know someone transgender. Millions more now know this whip-smart woman in pearls, originally from Dayton, Ohio, who has a cat named Meeks and a girlfriend named Genevieve. And just as gay and lesbian visibility made it impossible for straight people to ignore us, Schneider’s weeknight visits to our homes is making it hard to say, “I don’t know any trans people.”
At the same time, as with most newcomers, her presence raises questions, in this case about trans life. But not all those questions are ready for prime time, meaning they may be disrespectful, ill informed or privacy bashing. If we were playing "Jeopardy!" the question would be, “What personal questions may I ask a trans person?” Here they are, with answers: (We're not playing "Jeopardy!" so there's no prize money. But knowing that you've respected the dignity of someone should be reward enough.)
Real-life, not 'Jeopardy!', questions
Q: Is it OK to ask someone if they’re trans or transitioning?
A: Nope. We don’t ask a woman who’s put on a few pounds if she’s pregnant, nor do we ask those with rapidly thinning hair whether they’re being treated for cancer. We wait to be told. The decision about whether to come out as trans belongs to the person alone, when they are ready and feel safe. Nick Adams, director of transgender representation at GLAAD, also advises, “If someone volunteers this information it’s fine to engage with it politely, always allowing the trans person to lead the conversation.”
Q: May I ask about medical procedures or hormone treatments?
A: Still no. It’s private! Many years ago, when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, some of my friends had questions about what went on “down there.” Please, don’t! If it’s a young person who’s transitioning, don’t ask their parents, either – they don’t have any right to share that private information with you. Before I ask anyone what might be considered an intrusive question I ask myself, Why do I want to know? In most instances I have to admit it’s pure curiosity, and I stop myself before I become a nosy parker.
Q: How can I be supportive if someone tells me they’re trans?
A: Start by thanking them for sharing and for trusting you – remember that it can be very risky for anyone to come out as transgender. (Far too many trans people face violence and rejection, driving up rates of suicide and depression.) You might even say, “You have my complete support.” Even do some homework by visiting the websites of The Trevor Project, the TransFamilies Project or TransLash (“We tell trans stories to save trans lives”).
Q: If I don’t believe in “gender identity,” can’t I just ignore someone’s transition?
A: Once again, no – and you don’t have to “believe in” anything here. I saw a ridiculous online article about “exposing" Amy Schneider's birth name. Everything is wrong there. She was misgendered at birth and that has been corrected. (It’s nobody’s business how.) I love how Schneider has handled all this, which is to say with her usual aplomb and humor. Over the holidays she tweeted, “I’d like to thank all the people who have taken the time … to reach out and explain to me that, actually, I’m a man. Every single one of you is the first person ever to make that very clever point, which had never once crossed my mind.” Brava, Amy!
Q: Speaking of names, why is it not OK to use someone’s “before” name?
A: Names are key to our identities, and using the right one is a sign of respect. Refusing to call someone by their chosen name, or continuing to use an old name and pronouns, is hurtful. Imara Jones, founder and CEO of TransLash, also reminded me that often, “our birth names do not match our gender so the pain of a name which mismatches our identity is even greater.” If you make a mistake, apologize and correct yourself – and remember not to do it again.
Q: What’s the best thing to do or say if I hear an anti-trans joke or comment?
A: People interpret silence as assent, even when it’s not, so the worst thing to do is to do nothing. Many people think it’s rude – even uncivil – to challenge someone who makes an anti-trans remark (or any biased comment) but remember the incivility is the comment, not your response. Our goal is not always to be nice, but to make sure everyone is respected. Speak up, even if you’re uncomfortable (but consider your own safety first). We all need to stand with each other.
Now, the “Final Jeopardy” category is “Champions.” Whether the question is “first woman to win more than $1 million on the show,” “most successful trans player ever” or “the one person who can help us bridge divides,” the answer is, without doubt: “Who is Amy Schneider?”
Steven Petrow, a writer on civility and manners and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is the author of five etiquette books, including "Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old." Follow him on Twitter: @stevenpetrow
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jeopardy: Who is Amy Schneider? A champ not only for transgender folks