Pleasure to Meet You, Reverend Pleasure!
Introducing the O.school Pleasure Professionals.
Opportunities for safe, nonjudgmental sex and pleasure education are few and far between, even in 2017. O.school wants to fix that. We have a team of 30+ experienced Pleasure Professionals for whom we seek to be an amplification platform. Our Pleasure to Meet You column introduces the brilliant folks you can engage with and learn from at O.school.
By day, Latishia James is the Chief Operating Officer at O.school, a role to which she applies her background in trauma-informed pastoral care as she creates and supports O.school’s growing community of Pleasure Professionals and students. By livestream, students know Latishia as Reverend Pleasure, an O.school Pleasure Professional. Latishia has devoted her life to helping others heal from trauma. Using the frameworks of Womanist Theology and Reproductive Justice*, she focuses on the intersection of religion, sexuality and reproductive justice. Latishia received her Masters of Divinity in 2016 from the Pacific School of Religion.
While Latishia deals daily with questions of trauma and oppression, she is guided by principles of transformation: “It is said that, ‘trauma that isn’t transformed will be transmitted.’ And I firmly believe that.” Reverend Pleasure seems to be herself an embodiment of that transformative power, as she ushers positive vibrations, deep, bubbling laughter and the distinct presence of Spirit into every room, and every conversation that she enters.
*Links provided by Latishia on her website.
Maya: Where are you from?
Rev. Pleasure: I’m a Brooklyn girl at heart. I grew up in a part of Brooklyn that was a populated by a lot of Caribbean immigrants; both of my parents immigrated from the Caribbean at different stages of their life.
Both my dad and my adopted mom worked for the United Nations and when my mom got a promotion, we ended up in Geneva, where I went to an International High School.
Maya: What is the significance of your Pleasure Professional persona, “Reverend Pleasure”?
Rev. Pleasure: I chose the name Reverend Pleasure for two reasons. The first reason was to push back against the idea that sexuality and spirituality must be separated. I firmly believe they are two sides of the same coin. When we are able to integrate our sexual and spiritual selves we can move through the world as more whole human beings.
The second reason is to subvert the notion that clergy or faith leaders are inherently non-sexual beings. While there are religions and faith traditions that require clergy or faith leaders to be celibate, many do not. I wanted to take clergy off of the proverbial pedestal and help to restore their humanity a bit by having a persona who fully embraces both her sexuality and spiritually and also sees them as inextricably linked.
Maya: I know that your work is trauma-informed, both from your own personal experiences of trauma and healing, and also from your professional and academic career. How does that manifest in your work?
Rev. Pleasure: I am a trauma survivor in multiple ways. The first way is that my biological mother died when I was four. I didn’t find out until I was about ten that my mom had died of AIDS-related illness. The trauma there was realizing that there was so much shame around why my mom died, and not really understanding it for so many years.
I am also a survivor of sexual trauma. When I was seven or eight I was molested by a distant cousin. And then I was raped at 14 and again at 15. That is strand two.
Strand three is that when I was 14 I began to really realize that I was attracted to women. I grew up in a very strict, religious Evangelical culture, and had been told from a young age that homosexuality was sinful and that you would go to hell and all these awful things.
So my evolution as a person was very much informed by those traumas and also informed by my healing journey and by how those traumas would be those transformed. I became fascinated by trauma-informed care and by all things trauma-related: How trauma moves, how trauma shows up in your body, how trauma becomes transmitted in your family.
Maya: I’ve heard you describe your relationship to your trauma and healing as akin to the “chicken and egg” situation.
Rev. Pleasure: Yeah, what’s interesting is that I apparently always knew that I was supposed to be a healer in some way, even when I was a little girl. When I approached school-age, I apparently went around telling people that I was going to help, “little girls like me and mommies like mine.” The adults in my life took that to mean that I was going to be a doctor. So someone bought me a doctor’s kit when I was five or six. I would go around pretending to take people’s blood pressure and give people shots.
While the actual, physical job transformed over the years, the focus did not. The focus was always on “little girls like me and mommies like mine.” That has translated to women and girls of color — especially those who have had sexual trauma and who have faced reproductive oppression, which unfortunately, most women and girls of color have faced.
Was it because I was a trauma-survivor myself that I became a trauma-worker? Or was it something that was innate in me? For whatever reason, that is where I am pulled over and over again.
Maya: What classes will you teach as Reverend Pleasure at O.school?
Rev. Pleasure: I am doing a series called #SexAfter in which I interview different people about a topic: sex after an STI-diagnosis, sex after abortion, sex after rape. As a rape survivor, I know other rape survivors who reacted totally differently than I did. I think it’s important to get a diverse cross-section of voices about these issues so we don’t fall into the trap of treating these issues as if they have single narratives.
I also teach about unlearning religious shame and trauma as it relates to sexuality and reproduction.
Maya: What does the work of “unlearning” shame look like?
Rev. Pleasure: I think the first step is acknowledging the pain that that causes: To try to live a split life is painful, because you’re not whole. You are constantly having to make a choice about what parts of you you’re going to bring into which spaces. From there, it then becomes a journey of trying to figure out how do I start to integrate myself again? You have to start the process of learning new beliefs to replace the old one.
In class, I journey and create space with students to explore the processes involved in unlearning shame and brainstorming new beliefs.
Maya: We started this interview by talking about the name you chose for your Pleasure Professional persona, and how that name intertwines sexuality and religion. Can you tell me more about the intersection of religion and sexuality/reproductive justice?
Rev. Pleasure: That intersection is well illustrated by a workshop that I did a couple of years ago at a convening in Cleveland for the Movement for Black Lives. It was called, “Healing from Black Church Trauma in the Quest for Black Liberation.” The black church has been a touchstone for liberation movements for many, many years. But some people, especially LGBT people, have experienced a lot of trauma in the church. So this question kept coming up of in this new era of movement-building and justice work: Is there a place for the church? And if so, what does it look like and how do those who have been traumatized by the church heal?
When I was submitting the workshop proposal I remember being uncertain of how popular it would be. But all these people showed up! People were very honest about the trauma they had experienced at the hands of the black church. There was a lot of pain but also a lot of love for the black church and people wanting the church to show up differently and wanting them to be involved and to step into leadership — and really yearning for reconciliation. That was really powerful, and I think it affirmed for me why we can’t do this work without healing first. There’s so much trauma standing in the way of true liberation.
Today, in addition to her work with O.school, Reverend Pleasure offers consulting and coaching services under the title and company name, “Chaplain Unbound”.
O.school is a shame-free platform for pleasure education. Our mission is to help billions of people unlearn shame, heal from sexual trauma, develop skill sets to communicate what they want and don’t want, discover new sexual desires in a LGBTQ-friendly and judgment-free space, and most of all — own their desires.
Interested in bringing O.school to your college or university? We do workshops and speaking events on topics from pleasure to consent. Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are a sex educator, activist, performer, or coach, please email us at email@example.com or apply to be an instructor here.
Maya Peers Nitzberg is a content writer at O.school.