Fran Fried, a well-known member of the Connecticut transgender and journalism communities, will compete as a contestant on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" on Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Fried announced the news on her Facebook page and it was quickly shared by dozens of her friends and supporters, including Cafe Nine in New Haven, which is having a viewing party that night. Dutch Tavern in New London also is holding a viewing party.
Fried, 56, of Prospect, says she has been a fan of "Jeopardy!" her whole life and has watched it since it first came on the air in 1964, when she was 3 years old.
"I was just a toddler. I gravitated to 'Jeopardy!' I was a precocious little brat," she says. "Then it went off the air. When the syndicated Alex Trebek version came back on in 1984, I was too busy working to watch the show regularly, but then I started again. As the '90s turned in to the 2000s I said to myself, you know what, I might be as good as some of these contestants."
She took the written test to become a contestant several times. Three times — in 2004, 2007 and 2010 — she got as far as the audition level. This year, she made it all the way.
When chatting with a show official, Fried asked if "any other members of my tribe" had ever competed on the show. The official asked what she meant, and Fried mentioned that she was transgender. It turns out she isn't the first, but probably the third.
She says her gender identity was taken in stride.
"It was an afterthought. It wasn't a factor," she says. "It wasn't part of our thinking."
Fried formerly worked as a reporter and editor at the Waterbury Republican and New Haven Register, before moving to California to work at the Fresno Bee. In January 2008, while living in California, Fried experienced what she called "my gender epiphany."
"Everybody in my tribe at one point or another early on knows that something is a little different about them. I suppressed it until I was 46," Fried says. "It was as simple as coming home that day. I was really tired and I got home from work about 7 and I didn't even have the energy to go down the hall and turn on 'Jeopardy!'
"I plopped down on the bed and looked at my closet. A really weird voice of reason comes at me at certain times of my life. This time, all it asked me is, 'Can you do this? ... You're 46, more than half of your life expectancy. Are you going to find out for real or are you going to be in the closet for the rest of your life?'"
She chose to come out. She shortened her name from Francis to Fran and began presenting as a woman full-time starting in 2009. That year, due to downsizing, she was laid off from the Bee. She later moved back to Connecticut and returned to the New Haven Register, where she was again hit by layoffs in 2015.
That layoff, however, had an upside.
"There was sort of a cosmic reason for that because I was around for my father's last five months," she says. "We lost him last year to prostate cancer."
She currently lives with her mother in Prospect. "My life is pretty much normal except for that one thing," she says.
Fried has gone to colleges, talking to nursing classes about dealing with transgender patients. She advised a Long Island school district that was developing a trans-inclusive school policy. Last month, Fried's life story was featured on "The Heroines of My Life," a blog by trans woman Monika Kowalska.
On her Facebook page, Fried describes herself as an "accidental civil rights activist."
Fried also is host of a biweekly show, "Franorama," on Cygnus Radio.
Fried isn't allowed to talk about how she did on the show. She just wants her friends to watch it and have fun. "I just hope win or lose everyone will still respect me in the morning," she says.
"JEOPARDY!" is shown at 7 p.m. on WTNH-TV in the Hartford and New Haven areas. Cafe Nine, 250 State St., in New Haven, will have a viewing party starting at 6 p.m. Dutch Tavern, 23 Green St. in New London, will have a party starting at 7 p.m. facebook.fran.fried.