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By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Teacher, teacher, I declare--I see Monica Lewinsky's underwear!
Actually, the panties in question don't belong to Lewinsky; they're owned by drag queen Celia Putty, a performer at Wink's, a Valley gay bar. But that doesn't stop 30 Glendale Community College students and their instructor from roaring as the "semen"-caked intern impersonator waddles across the stage on kneepads, extracting stogies from her skivvies while lip-synching to an old Edie Adams cigar commercial.
Your typical classroom outing, it ain't.
"Does your Mommy know how you're spending your lunch money?" scolds bewigged faux fatale Barbra Seville as she accepts a one-dollar tip offered by a student. Then, after sliding the bill into her artificially enhanced cleavage, "This isn't part of your scholarship fund, is it?"
If it is, the young psychology student will probably admit it's money well spent. After all, how often do underage junior-college students get to see a raucous drag show staged especially for them, all under the mantle of higher education?
The revue, a no-alcohol matinee performed at Wink's one weekend last month, is an attendance-optional event offered to students enrolled in three human-sexuality courses at Glendale Community College. Although it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to the drag queens either (gasps one incredulous doll: "You're not gettin' extra credit for this?!"), students are neither rewarded nor penalized scholastically for their decision to attend the show.
So why does anyone bother?
Apparently for the same reason that, over the past few years, dozens of GCC students have joined teachers on similar voluntary treks to an adult bookstore, a nudist camp and even a private swingers' club.
Call it "progressive education." Call it "liberal teaching." Call it "a classroom without walls."
But whatever you do, don't call it a "field trip"--a term GCC instructors avoid like an STD for fear that it indicates these eyebrow-raising excursions are officially sanctioned by the college. They're not.
Although a "Psychology of Human Sexuality" course is part of the curriculum at several of the Maricopa Community College District's 10 schools, GCC is the only one whose instructors currently offer students the opportunity to accompany them on off-campus forays to Valley flesh pits and other outposts of alternative sexuality. (All students who take the class, whether they attend the side trips or not, must be at least 18 and sign a waiver acknowledging they know they will be exposed to sexually explicit material.) While no secret in local psychology-class circles, the West Valley college outings still come as news to many, and elicit a broad range of reactions from community-college professionals, students and national sex-education experts. (Asked to comment on the student/teacher outings, an instructor at another college offers a succinct "scary.") And even the outings' most vehement supporters couch their comments carefully.
"This is something completely separate from the school," explains Audrey Mouser, a GCC sociology teacher who arranged the visit to the gay cabaret on Seventh Street. "Nobody was forced to attend. This is just a way for those students who are interested to experience something that they might not otherwise see, and do so in a nonthreatening way. If they see something they like, they're free to explore it. If not, we're providing a safe way for them to experience it, then safely retreat."
No harm, no foul, no Brownie points.
That said, what exactly is to be learned about human sexuality from drag performers whose campy theatrics and raunchy topical jokes (Q: "Why did President Clinton name his dog Buddy?" A: "Because he didn't want to run around the White House hollering, 'Come, Spot!'") would appear to hold more educational value for students of drama or poli-sci? Is it really worth anyone's time to discover, for instance, that--as one performer points out--"the first thing you're going to learn is that drag shows never start on time"?
Psychology professor Oscar "Oz" Hardin, a GCC human-sexuality teacher since 1985, frankly admits, "We don't know what's going to be learned there until we go out and do it." Unable to attend the drag outing because of an illness in his family, Hardin can't say precisely what lessons were learned at Wink's. But he does point out that, because students were given a chance to question performers at the end of the show, they had to come away with something they didn't know when they entered.
So now, 30 junior-college students know where to buy size 11 high heels--Payless ShoeSource.
Like most other Maricopa County Community College instructors who teach the sophomore-level class, Hardin supplements a traditional human-sexuality text with guest speakers whose experiences are as varied as the scope of the subject being taught. Depending on teacher and speaker availability (Hardin himself is currently beating the bushes for a convicted sex offender who's willing to talk), junior-college human-sexuality classes around the Valley typically play host to a guest list that might include gays, clergymen, health-department employees, law officers, AIDS patients, postoperative transsexuals and various sex-industry workers.
"The philosophy behind this is that people learn a lot better when they're actually exposed to something," says Hardin, one of three teachers conducting the class at GCC. "When it comes to transgender issues, you can talk until the cows come home. But if you can find one transgendered person who's brave enough to come in and speak, the students learn so much more."