Amy Schneider was hesitant to come out as trans on 'Jeopardy' at first: 'I don’t want it to be something that I’m hiding or seem ashamed of'

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 02: Amy Schneider attends The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton on April 02, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for GLAAD)
Amy Schneider is reflecting on her decision to come out as trans while competing on Jeopardy! (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for GLAAD) (Alberto E. Rodriguez via Getty Images)

Jeopardy! champ Amy Schneider, whose historic 40-day run earned her nearly $1.4 million and a growing community of fans — and who is currently in the Tournament of Champions finals — is opening up about the mindset that led her to come out as trans while competing on the gameshow last year.

Schneider, 43, explained on the latest episode of Alec Baldwin's podcast Here's The Thing that while she was hesitant to wear a trans flag pin on the show at first — thus outing herself as a trans woman — she eventually realized it was an opportunity to represent the LGBTQ community on a grand scale.

"Nobody on Jeopardy! referenced the fact that I was trans at all or mentioned it until I brought it up, until I wanted to wear that pin," she noted of the producers' respect for privacy. "It was clear that it was entirely up to me, that they would never have mentioned it if I didn’t."

Schneider decided not to come out at first, citing fears of being pigeonholed.

"I’m trans, but that can be a thing that overshadows everything else," she said. "That can become, like, the thing that you are, and it’s like, when I think about myself that’s not the first thing that I think about. I think about that I’m smart, that I live in Oakland, all these other things … and so I didn’t want to make it about being the ‘trans person.'"

Citing inspiration from Kate Freeman, the show's first trans woman to win a game, who also wore a trans pin on-air, Schneider decided to wear the pin while filming Jeopardy!'s Thanksgiving episode.

"After a few games, I was like, OK, I don’t want to leave this unacknowledged," she said. "I also don’t want it to be a secret. I don’t want it to be something that I’m hiding or seem ashamed of or anything else like that, because I am trans and I’m proud of it and I like it. I feel sorry for cis people. I think your lives are more boring than mine and all that sort of thing."

Schneider has spoken in the past about her choice to come out, specifically noting the significance of doing it around the holidays.

"There's a specific reason I thought Thanksgiving would be the right time to wear that pin," she tweeted at the time. "Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about family. And that can be hard for anybody who has been ostracized or otherwise cut off from their family."

“I didn't want to make too much about being trans, at least in the context of the show. I am a trans woman, and I'm proud of that fact, but I'm a lot of other things, too!” she added. “The fact is, I don't actually think about being trans all that often, and so when appearing on national television, I wanted to represent that part of my identity accurately: as important, but also relatively minor.”

As she explained on the podcast, Schneider credits her transition for landing Jeopardy! in the first place.

"I don’t know the secrets of the Jeopardy! casting process but I definitely think a big factor was that it was the first time I had reached this sort of in-person — although it was over Zoom — audition since I transitioned," she said.

"Looking back on it, even if I just look at old pictures of myself and the occasional videos of myself [pre-transition], like, I’m just so closed off and so not wanting to reveal anything about myself and not wanting to give anything away," she added. "That is not the case anymore and that’s not how I am now that I’ve transitioned. So I think I was just more lively and engaging to be on camera than I had been in the past."

That level of confidence was an "unexpected lesson" she took away from her transition.

"I just thought it was something I had to do and it was going to make my life harder in a lot of ways," she said. "But then, it’s made my life easier in a ton of ways that I just didn’t think about, and didn’t expect. When you’re being yourself in whatever you’re doing, you’re just more successful at it and things come easier. And that’s not something I expected to happen."

In a February interview with Teen Vogue, Schneider opened up about the public response she experienced after the episode aired.

"It felt amazing," she reflected. "I was expecting a lot worse, a lot more negativity … but far, far more support and affirmation. That really taught me that we have come a lot farther than I had even thought."

Schneider added that during her Jeopardy! run, she "felt a certain responsibility to be my best self and represent the trans community well."

"I was also worried about that in the sense that I don't want to present a 'too perfect' image of myself because I want everyone to be able to see that whether or not you are good at trivia, whether or not you have a lot of followers on social media, any of those things, you still deserve and can find the same acceptance, the same affirmation and freedom to express who you are," she explained.

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.