IF YOU’RE A FAN of the TV game show Jeopardy!, then you’re probably familiar with the incredible Amy Schneider. As one of the first openly transgender contestants on the show, she won an amazing forty consecutive games, second only to Ken Jennings’ 74-game streak, and she earned over $1.3 million dollars in regular play, plus another $250k when she won the 2022 Tournament of Champions.
Her success on Jeopardy! has made Schneider something of a national celebrity and allowed her to become a trailblazer for the LGBT community. She’s consistently asked how she “got so smart”—a question she has gotten since childhood. In her new memoir, In the Form of a Question, Schneider tackles that question along with many others that people have raised. In a set of well-formulated essays, she responds to questions like: “When did you know you were trans?”; “What teachers made a difference to you?”; and “What’s it like to have ADD?” Also featured in the book’s 22 chapters are questions on tarot readings, sex, drug use, and fame, and together they give the reader a good sense of the woman she has become.
In dealing with these subjects, Schneider is open and honest about what she refers to as the “messiness” of her life. As a role model for some people, she feels it’s important to reveal that messiness to make the point that her fans and admirers, regardless of their limitations, can accomplish something of importance, as she has done. She’s blunt about her sexual history, her complex relationships, her ADD—which she credits with her addiction to learning—along with her opinions about polyamory, alternative lifestyles, and her transition.
Schneider covers a lot of territory, starting with her Catholic upbringing in the heart of the conservative Midwest and her move to the more liberal West Coast. Her reflections on drug use, the War on Drugs campaign, and the unusual 1990 TV anti-drug special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue are perceptive and entertaining. When asked how she learned so much in so many fields, she explains that she was born with an unusually good memory for facts, acknowledging that she “simply got a lucky roll of the genetic dice on that front.” On top of this genetic gift, she was nurtured in a home with “knowledgeable parents who believed in the value of knowledge as its own reward.”
Schneider does not go into the ins-and-outs of the game play on Jeopardy!, but she does give her view on what it takes to be a winner. The show attempts to measure natural talent for recall in a very unnatural setting. What’s needed to win is breadth of knowledge rather than depth. And it’s not only a matter of how much you know but how quickly you can remember it and ring in. Schneider allows that some of her competitors may have been just as smart, but their timing with the buzzer just wasn’t fast enough. Finally, a winning contestant has to be able to understand the syntax of a question that’s being posed and quickly decide what they’re looking for. For that, you often have to “cut through imprecise and convoluted language to recognize the real question.” She believes that this Jeopardy! skill is uniquely useful in real life.
In discussing her gender identity, she writes that throughout her first thirty years of life she really didn’t know that she was a trans woman. But she states that upon reflecting on her life, the evidence was in front of her all along. In hindsight, she writes of many moments when an awareness of her identity was evident and she should have known, such as her desire to read the “American Girl” books in the third grade, or her envy of girls for having so many choices about how they looked, from clothes to hair. She writes of the trauma of hitting puberty, when your body begins to change and hair starts growing where it is neither functional nor æsthetically pleasing. She writes of her experiences in the theater, where she got to wear girls’ clothing, and how comfortable that made her feel.
Schneider has written In the Form of a Question as an honest account of her life and experiences. She has held nothing back, telling an inspirational and informative story about a remarkable life.
William Burton is a regular G&LR reviewer based in Jensen Beach, FL.