Ānanda

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Ānanda, whose name means ‘bliss’ in Sanskrit, was the cousin and permanent attendant of the Buddha in Buddhist mythology. He was tireless in his efforts and compassionate in his spiritual services; as the story goes, it was at his urging that the Buddha permitted women to become bhikkhunis (monastics). For his exceptional memory and wisdom to process the Buddha’s words, he was known as the Guardian of the Dharma, and his enlightenment came just in time for a conference of monks after the Buddha’s passing.

Accounts of Ānanda’s past lives indicate that he had at one point been a paṇḍaka, a term that encompasses everything from intersex individuals to men who perform fellatio. One story tells of his romance with a cobra king (Nāga): Although their relationship was a happy one, Ānanda was forced to end it because their sexual entanglements were interfering with his spiritual development.

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James Baldwin

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Essayist, novelist, poet, teacher, and all-around artist James Baldwin was among the 20th century’s most memorable commentators on American race relations. Although he was originally motivated by his preacher step-father to go into the ministry, he abandoned the improvisation of speechcraft for the deliberation of writing, and studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City. After years of traumatic treatment due to his skin color and homosexuality, Baldwin accepted a fellowship to continue his writing in France, making part of a trend of expatriates who fled American racism for the safer haven of Paris; there, he completed his first and most famous (semi-autobiographical) story, Go Tell It on the Mountain. He later returned to the US to cover the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, but remained drawn to – and ultimately died in – his adopted country of France.

Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, was unusual at the time of its publication for its gay-centered plot and complex portrayal of queer characters; however, he was vocal about rejecting labels on his sexuality, dismissing them as “20th century terms which, for me, have very little meaning.” For this reason he is listed as both gay and unlabeled.

Historiography Saturday: Mick Jagger

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Singer, songwriter, and one-time economics student Mick Jagger is best known for heading English rock group the Rolling Stones. Over a career spanning more than half a century Jagger became a household name, spurred in part by a performance style so highly sexualized that it is sometimes used as a case study in ethnomusicological studies of gender and image, along with numerous pop culture references. He was knighted for his services to music in 2003, making his full name Sir Michael Jagger. His homepage, which includes biographical information as well as videos and links to his other social media, can be found here.

Jagger’s sexual orientation is a challenge to label for two reasons: the lack of definitive testimony and the question of scale. His inclusion here is based on secondhand witness statements from former lovers who allege that he had a love affair with fellow rock musician David Bowie. The allegations, while compelling, are not devoid of the possibility of exaggeration, or even outright fabrication; to whit, Bebe Buell, a lover of both men, has described the characterization of their relationship in a recent biography as misleading. While Jagger is also on record as having said that “everyone knows that everyone is basically bisexual,” that cannot be considered to be a definitive self-description.

Even with the rumors surrounding Jagger and Bowie taken at face value, the question of what constitutes bisexuality remains unanswered. Jagger’s is famous in part for his numerous affairs with women; while that does nothing to diminish the possibility of an attraction to men, his behavior suggests that he is primarily or exclusively heterosexual, and an argument can be made that it is wrong recategorize his sexual orientation based on a single exception. His lack of stated identification with a bisexual label despite the opportunity to do so raises further questions about when it is appropriate to categorize someone who does not apply the category to themselves.