We are dancing with joy for the newest guest in our Portland Featured series! Vic Liu is the artist behind the new book BANG!: Masturbation for People of All Genders and Abilities. BANG! is a "straightforward, unapologetic illustrated guide to self-pleasure" packed full of essential and inclusive information ranging from basic anatomy and techniques to trouble-shooting and debunking myths!
Vic Liu designs things that should exist. She believes that people would be happier and safer if they weren't embarrassed about their genitals. She also believes in the magic of graphic design to break down complex information and emotions and make the world a more empathetic place. (source: Microcosm Publishing)
Hi, Vic! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Where are you currently calling home?
Hello! Thanks for having me! I'm currently in Boulder, Colorado, quarantining with my partner and our cat.
How have you been practicing self-care during this challenging past year? Are there any new habits you've adopted to help nurture your mental health?
Oof! Self-care this year has been very hard. I have always had a very hard time separating myself from what's happening in the larger world, and there were many moments this year where I felt like my body and brain were splitting under the weight of how bad the world is and how normal my own life looks.
I've been working on unlearning for a very long time is the idea that I need to prove the value or validity of my existance. For me, self care is a lot about putting in the effort to step outside of my identity as a producer--to appreciate myself for just existing. One trick that helps me is thinking of myself as a small animal doing its best in a tough world. My self-care is a lot about practicing self compassion.
This year, I've had to let go of measuring the success of my self-care. Self-care this year isn't about arriving at peace or contentedness anymore; that often isn't possible. It was more about maintenance, like taking care of a car, so that I can keep going down this very long road in front of me.
I've started running this year, which is something I never thought I would do. I've found a lot of catharsis in the ability to fully use my body and fill my brain with the bodily experience of pounding against the pavement to leave this house that I spend my entire day in…and also in the experience of turning back to return.
We love your new book BANG!: Masturbation for People of All Genders and Abilities?; what inspired you to create a book about this topic?
I'm so glad! Bang! started out as a zine back when I had just graduated from college. So many of my friends, myself included, had experienced violations of our sexual content, in that murky gray area between ignorance and intention. It is very clear to me that the taboo of talking explicitly about sexuality or genitalia makes negotiation of sexual consent extremely difficult. Most people don't experience positive sex education before college, and never get to practice talking about their genitalia or sexual desires before their first hook-up.
Bang! was created to help fill that void. It's designed to be a warm, welcoming space for people to learn about sexual bodies and experiences, in order to establish a shared language of sexual empathy and honesty. No matter who you are or what genitals you have, you're invited to the same conversation.
How have you found that your use of breaking down information into visual aids has helped readers grasp your book's concepts?
To be honest, a lot of people are put off by reading. A fully text-based book asks a lot of the reader, whereas visual design lowers the barrier of entry or understanding. I believe that graphic design can often communicate ideas and feelings in a way that is much more approachable and intuitive than text.
It was also really important that illustration allows the book to openly normalize representation of different skin tones and bodies. It is really powerful to visualize and center non-white, non-cis, non-able bodied perspectives and experiences, especially because these identities have so often been excluded from the world of sex-ed books or articles.
I'm sure your research process lead to forming many meaningful relationships along the way! Are there any that specifically stand out to you?
One of the most surprising and deeply meaningful impacts of Bang! on my life has actually been the conversations I've been able to have with people I already knew. When I first began creating a book on masturbation, I didn't realize this meant I was also signing up to explain this book to my parents. For reference, my parents never actually gave me "The Talk" (they assumed my school did), and once covered my eyes during a movie sex scene when I was 17. But after a lot of initial hesitation and concern about how this book would affect my career possibilities, they've really surprised me. My dad, a 56-year-old Chinese finance professor with graying hair, bought ten copies and wrote emails advocating for the book to his university's student health center where he noted the importance of masturbation sex education. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
Did studying and writing about masturbation have any effect on your own self-acceptance and pleasure?
I threw away all of my Amazon sex toys!! I didn't know this until I started researching the sex toy piece of Bang!, but there are basically no regulations on what sex toys are made of in the U.S. As long as they're labeled novelty, they can be made of non body-safe material, or flat-out lie about what they're made of. This means that it is super important that you buy your sex toys from a trustworthy source that can stand by how the toy was made and what the toy was made of (like Clone-a-Willy!). Tons of the sex toys on Amazon, even the ones with fabulous ratings, are made of sub-par, non-body-safe materials. And because of how Amazon fulfillment warehouses work, some counterfeit sex toys can get mixed in with the real things, and you would never be able to tell the difference!! My mind was absolutely blown when I found this out. Capitalism is always finding new ways to disappoint.
As a brand, we aim to help create a space for dialogue around pleasure and how it affects everyone's health and well-being. This is also a big theme in your book! What is one benefit of masturbation that might surprise people?
Ooohh okay, I'm going to get a bit nerdy here. I recently read Audre Lorde's essay on the The Erotic as Power, and it DEEPLY resonated with me. One of her fundamental ideas is that the power of the erotic reveals our innate capacity for joy, that our bodies are built to experience and create this deep and wonderful joy. And once we become aware of our capacity for joy, "we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of."
Our genitals, so aptly called "our private parts", can be one of the biggest sources of body shame and body negativity. There is such power in learning to actively accept, love, and nurture even these most private parts of ourselves in their reality, no matter how they don't conform to society's platonic ideal. Your relationship to your genitalia can truly affect the way that you view your place in the world. Finding joy and love for even this most private part of yourself, this part of yourself that society considers taboo, is one of the best ways to begin to believe the radical idea that you are truly wonderful just as you are.
We especially enjoyed your section Finding You-Phoria: Masturbating while trans. Based on your research and conversations with trans folks, what's one way can we all help promote open dialogue and support of pleasure in the trans community?
I'm going to hand this great question over to my incredible friend Rebecca Bedell, a non-binary trans poet who was one of the co-authors of the section.
She says: "I think supporting trans pleasure has to be a multi-part approach. It's critical to normalize trans bodies, fight transphobia EVERYWHERE, and de-fetishize transness— this all helps with the mental aspects of pleasure. That's the struggle for me: silencing the dysphoria-inducing voices going "but that's a MAN's body part," that define trans folks as sexual objects, curios, or predators. I'd love to see non-op AND post-op trans people of all genders casually included in erotic content where we're NOT the fetish. Trans folks need to be free to exist in the full range of human experience, sexual and nonsexual, that cis folks do."
"Show trans bodies in art, erotica, sex ed, etc., and have it be part of the norm—anywhere you're showing bodies! Use trans-inclusive language: avoid "feminine" = vagina, or "man" = penis, any language where sex, gender, anatomy, and hormones are conflated needlessly. Use language specific to each situation like "people with vaginas" or "testosterone-rich bodies." Lastly, the techniques trans folks use for pleasure, and the language we use for our bodies vary widely. That can be tricky to navigate but just try to be as inclusive and assumption-free as possible in designing and marketing for trans folks!"
In your section Setting Up For Solo Sex: Tips for touching with a physical disability, Andrew Gurza states, "we would never dare consider the disabled person a sexual being". How can we work to be more inclusive of people of all abilities in the sex-positive space?
I want to pass this question to Carrie Sarah Kaufman, an amazing disabled pleasure activist who can definitely answer this question better than I can.
She says, "I appreciate this question because I believe that giving disabled people the knowledge and resources that we need is the first step. Being left out of sex education spaces means that disabled people don't learn about our bodies, which leaves us to figure out both sex and masturbation on our own. It also has dangerous consequences because it makes disabled people more vulnerable to violations of our bodies and boundaries when we aren't empowered to be in control of these things."
"I think the solutions are simple: get comfortable with the words/phrases: disabled, disabled sexuality, access needs and care. Include disabled people in the building and creating of sex positive spaces. Don't just tokenize us, but work in partnership with us. Commit to creating accessible learning spaces, online & in person, as a practice and not as an after thought or last minute accommodation. Be aware of and non-judgmental about the fact that many disabled people may have never received sex education before. Follow and uplift queer, disabled sex educators, especially educators who are people of color. Understand that disability touches all of us, disabled or not, and that greater accessibility improves the situation for everyone, not just individual disabled people."
If people took one thing away from BANG!, what would you hope that it be?
I hope people walk away feeling supported in their inner selves, sexual or otherwise. I want people to internalize the fact that they aren't alone and or strange, even in the most secret parts of who they are. That's one of my favorite parts of Bang!--the idea that underneath all of our physical differences, we're all made of the same emotional capacities, including a shared capacity for pleasure.
What does the future hold for you? What is next in your creative journey?
I'm not sure yet! I'm trying to trust in my gut and follow what feels right, but there's definitely a lot of uncertainty with regards to what my future holds for me. I am super excited about a potential upcoming project that makes learning about mass incarceration more approachable, but nothing is quite set in stone yet. Check back in a few years!
Our brand is all about self-exploration and admiring how unique each and every one of us is! What is your favorite thing about yourself? You can pick more than one ;)
I try really hard to take care of the people around me, emotionally and physically. And I'm also a pretty intuitive cook!