“Trivia has been very good for me, but that’s something that fit in with what people already knew me for,” says Schneider, 44. “The reason I was so excited to write this book was because I didn’t have to limit myself to what I was already known for — the ‘Jeopardy!’ of it all. I could talk about other things that are important in my life.”
Throughout the thought-provoking memoir released Oct. 3, Schneider, the first trans contestant to qualify for the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions, examines a plethora of topics: sex and relationships; drugs and alcohol; Tarot and astrology; the transgender bathroom controversy; pop culture tidbits including her admiration of MTV’s animated classic “Daria” and films such as “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; her enjoyment of the Pinewood Derby while in Cub Scouts; her “intense dislike” of the Boy Scouts; and acknowledgements of the special teachers in her life.
Three teachers in particular were influential in her love of the arts and creative expression: Jean Howat Berry of Dayton Playhouse, Lisa Howard-Welch of W. Shakespeare & Co, and Fran Pesch of Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, Schneider’s alma mater. Children’s theater was a pivotal point of discovery, especially when Amy, born Thomas, was cast as Young Patrick Dennis in a Dayton Playhouse summer youth theater camp production of “Mame.”
“Dayton Playhouse was one of the first places I felt able to explore myself and different ways of being,” she says. “As somebody who always felt so limited and trapped in how I could be — how I could portray myself in the world feeling like I was playing a character all the time that I didn’t have much control over — the chance to play other characters was just wonderful. Dayton Playhouse was just so much fun. Everybody that was there loved to be there. Nobody was there out of obligation and it was a great environment.”
For the most part, Schneider says she didn’t question delving into certain aspects of her life, especially for the sake of transparency. However, the decision to highlight her mother’s struggles with mental health proved challenging and delicate.
“On one hand, I felt like I had to talk about it because it’s an important part of my story and something a lot of people go through similarly,” she says. “On the other hand, I was hoping that it would come across as situations that happened in the past, and as an adult with perspective looking back, I can see what a great job she did under the limitations she was dealing with and how much I do love and respect her.”
Along with providing an insightful, witty array of footnotes, Schneider boldly delves into her Dayton roots, especially her complicated existence as Tom. In the book, she says, “I’m not Tom, and never was, that was just a character I played for 30 years or so.” In order to be her authentic self, she moved from Dayton to Oakland, California in 2009. In Oakland she began her career as a software engineer and married Genevieve Davis in May 2022.
“I have a lot of love for Dayton and I have a lot of pride in Dayton as my hometown, but at the same time I know moving away was something, in retrospect, I needed to do with my life,” Schneider explains. “I couldn’t have found myself and thrived in Dayton for reasons that are not necessarily the fault of Dayton itself but just the circumstances of my life. My feelings about Dayton are multifaceted.”
In addition to her book signing slated at the Barnes & Noble in Beavercreek on Nov. 21, Schneider is excited to give the keynote address at the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Sinclair Community College on Nov. 20.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance on Nov. 20 honoring the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.
“I am so grateful to have been invited back to Dayton for this specific event and be able to talk about the importance of trans life and trans people,” she says. “I know a fair number of trans people in Dayton and it’s not as easy for them as it is for me in the Bay Area. I do worry sometimes about being in my liberal bubble in (Oakland) because the way things are here is not as normal elsewhere. There are trans people across the country dealing with some really scary stuff, and I want to be able to do what I can with the good fortune I’ve been provided to help them. And in particular doing so in Dayton is really wonderful and meaningful because it’s people I know. It really means a lot.”
Schneider also hopes to dispel the myth that Ohio is insensitive about trans issues.
“There’s an idea that anywhere that isn’t on the (East Coast or West Coast) is a nightmare of intolerance and that’s not true,” she says. “There are many wonderful people across the country who are fighting against hate. This issue is not black or white. Every state in this country has a lot of red and a lot of blue. There are a lot of things I sort of sympathize with regarding why people feel the way they do about trans issues because I was raised with prejudices that everybody was kind of raised with as well for a long time.”
Schneider’s book tour, which kicked off Sept. 28 in San Francisco, included New York City, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles. She appreciated having the chance to feel the up close and personal impact of her “Jeopardy!” superstardom.
“It was exhausting but so much fun,” she says. “There were big, enthusiastic crowds and I know I’m reaching people. The book is out there and it’s going to sell however many copies it sells, but whatever the ultimate number is, I can know there were people who were thrilled by it and it made them happy.”
Having grown accustomed to the fame associated with her remarkable 40-game “Jeopardy!” winning streak from November 2021 to January 2022 totaling $1.3 million, Schneider looks forward to hopefully writing a second book (to include musings on such topics as software, sports and music) and continuing to strengthen her trans advocacy. In March 2022 she notably visited the White House in support of International Transgender Day of Visibility and currently serves on the board of Equality California.
“Ever since I came out as trans, I realized I hated keeping secrets and I hated being inauthentic,” Schneider says. “I don’t ever want to be inauthentic anymore.”
HOW TO GO
What: Transgender Day of Remembrance featuring keynote speaker Amy Schneider
Where: Building 12 of Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third St., Dayton
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20
More info: To register, visit https://www.sinclair.edu/student-life/diversity-on-campus/
FYI: Guest speakers include Lana Moore, Sean Miller and Nico. The event will have security, light refreshments and ASL interpreters.
What: Author Signing Amy Schneider: “In the Form of a Question”
Where: Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 2720 Towne Dr. #220, Beavercreek
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21
More info: https://stores.barnesandnoble.com/event/9780062160961-0
FYI: “In the Form of a Question: The Joys and Rewards of a Curious Life” is published by Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster and is priced at $28.