Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s crush is Kristy Lin Billuni.
Kristy is a fearless community cheerleader, educator, and rabble rouser. In the years I’ve known her, she is often the first to offer a kind word, support a just cause, and do the good, solid day to day work to uplift her people. Her values shine through the praxis of her writing and pedagogy, and her interview with her father (also a writer) is incredible, and showcases what passions are near and dear to her heart. I’m honored to feature her works and words here.
Where can we find your work?
Thanks for asking! Even though I have been editing and teaching writing for almost fifteen years, I have only just launched a writer site for myself where you can click around and read or buy all my published stories or essays. You’ll find two stories about pigeons, one about trees, and a naughty, gay historical piece involving Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. You’ll also find a flock of essays about sexual health. I’m most interested in sex and creativity, so those themes dominate my work.
What part, if any, do you think art plays in times of political duress?
Is it cliché to call art a lifeline? That’s how I feel about it. I think about queer kids growing up in religious families—talk about living under political duress! Then they experience a little bit of art: two men kissing on TV, a lesbian romance novel, a trans person’s music, and they recognize themselves.
And suddenly, the isolation, the sense of being an alien in their own world, that sense of being the other blows up. Art is how we find each other and recognize ourselves in each other. That’s what I mean by a lifeline. Art rescues us in times of duress.
I just listened to RuPaul interviewing Tracee Ellis Ross, and Ru wanted to express to Tracee exactly how her mother, Diana Ross, had shaped his life. They discussed how artists have an opportunity to create hope when young people see them and recognize themselves, recognize their own greatness. Diana Ross did that for RuPaul, and he’s done it for so many others in turn.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
The first time I remember art just totally wowing me, I was a little kid attending a junior high’s production of West Side Story. I wanted to live in that world where people expressed themselves in song and dance, so seeing a musical live onstage absolutely floored me. It was probably not a technically strong performance. West Side Story is an ambitious undertaking for a suburban junior high theater program, but I will never forget seeing kids just a little bit older than me onstage creating story with music and lights and choreography—all that artistic collaboration! I recognized myself—or the possibility of myself—in that.
I think I am still figuring out how my stories and essays connect to community, but as a teacher, I have hosted writing groups, classes, and salons in my home over the years, and those have felt like a really nurturing writer’s community. As a writer, I have to work pretty hard not to isolate. I’ve been part of the same writing group for six years, and I absolutely depend on those folks, not just to provide perspective on my writing but to witness my experience and cheer for me. I love going on writing dates with friends, where we write quietly together and take little chat breaks.
Tell us a story.
Here’s the story of how I met the poet July Westhale. When I was just a wee sex worker/ activist, I landed a gig with a badass gang of feminist sex educators teaching medical students how to perform comfortable pelvic exams, a meaningful mashup of my two previous fields of work. Over the years, this cutting-edge program and I both grew up a lot. The program got organized and got a name: Project Prepare. I realized that teaching flowed in my veins and learned about curriculum development. Eventually, those skills helped me grow my business, Sexy Grammar, where I teach and collaborate with writers. A few years ago, I retired from sex ed to put all my energy into writing and teaching writing, but before I departed, I had the honor of training some of the next generation of sex educators at Project Prepare, including July. I’ve learned so much from July about being a writer, so it means a lot that I got to begin our friendship as her teacher.
I’m Kristy Lin Billuni, a teacher and writer also known as The Sexy Grammarian. My stories and essays have appeared in journals, anthologies, and online publications, and I’ve been blogging weekly since 2003. I spend my time stalking pigeons for plot ideas, scribbling in San Francisco’s cafes, and trying to impress my social worker wife. I believe gay sex can save the world.