Apparently, when he used both “he” and “she” pronouns to describe himself in an interview, he was talking about the Jungian concept of “animus” and “anima” and the idea that all people had male and female aspects to themselves. I do know that, when I decided to do a month of nonbinary, genderqueer, etc., people, he was one of the automatic choices because what a lot of us had read was “Billy Dee Williams comes out as genderqueer.” People had suggested that I should shift my schedule so that every third week would be for nonbinary and genderfluid people, and the search for someone who fits the criteria for this column with whom to replace Williams and the fact that I am writing about him anyway will tell you why I am not going to be doing that. Instead, if there is a prominent genderqueer person to write about, I will take the week away from men, who can spare being talked about for a week.
Perhaps one of the reasons the story spread so much was that Billy Dee Williams was, in the ’80s, one of the sexiest men in existence. Even today, at 84, he is not an unattractive man. When he walked out and introduced himself to Princess Leia, there was more than a hint that he would happily get to know her in the most intimate sense possible. No few people, regardless of gender identity and sexuality, would have been perfectly willing to take him up on that. I was three when that movie came out, so obviously I wasn’t one of them, but the fact that he’s forty years older than I am doesn’t exactly prevent me from finding him attractive now.
And, of course, he’s not an untalented actor. While it’s true that quite a lot of people mostly just know him as Lando, there’s much more to him than that. He’s been acting on the stage since 1945, which is doubly impressive since he was born in 1937, though The Firebrand of Florence closed after about a month. Still, he’s done a lot of stage, a lot of film, a lot of TV. He has done action, drama, comedy, and pretty much everything else you can think of.
He went to the La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and I’m sure you’re imagining him as a burgeoning actor at the time. But you are wrong, as I was when I had that image. He had, as it happens, found the role of “Page” boring. His mom volunteered him for it. No, he was a painter. He is still a painter. He acts now and loves acting, but whether he wants to die onstage reciting a soliloquy or before an easel with a brush in his hand, he cannot say. And just for variety, he sings, too.
He’d never heard the term “genderqueer” before people used it to describe him. He denies that it applies to him and suggests instead that we read more Jung. The fact is, the main reason I think people seized on the idea that he was not purely male-identifying is that there are so few famous people who don’t identify as solely male or solely female. Having the talented, sexy, accomplished Billy Dee Williams as genderqueer would be a nice thing to point to, someone wonderful to identify with. After all, there are not a lot of famous people with that identification that we know of.