Fer Véliz performs a passionate rendition of “Cinco Centavitos.”

You won’t find condom crowns, two stripteases and a pack of undead beasts in the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien. But at the Queer Fashion Show (QFS) — themed “fantasy” this year — limbs and lyrics collided in a celebration of all things provocative and bizarre. 

More variety show than runway, QFS has been a Porter College tradition for over three decades, and has seen acts ranging from mud baths to public floggings. This year’s show featured a dozen performances, and ran May 10 and 11 at Porter Dining Hall.

“A lot of artsy people at UCSC are just looking for a stage,” said Miguel Angel Mendez, talent coordinator and event emcee. “So we like to keep things very open ended. If you can sing, dance, anything, we’ll put you  on.”

A participant models a moth costume. Photos by Lluvia Moreno.

To UC Santa Cruz fourth-year Fer Véliz, “fantasy” meant the bridge between romance and spirituality. Beneath warm stage lights, Véliz glided onstage in a blue dress, and recited an untitled poem of their own writing. After, Véliz exited the stage, and reappeared with a bouquet of sunflowers tucked in their arms.

Fingerstyle guitar and drums filled the room, and Véliz’s rich voice sang the bars of “Cinco Centavitos,” written by famed Ecuadorian singer Julio Jaramillo. 

The song, Véliz said, is about unrequited love. “Cinco Centavitos” means “five little cents” in Spanish, and in it, the singer implores the apple of their eye to return “five little cents” of their affection.

The poem, on the other hand, was about what comes after. “Ache it runs / It runs in the sunflowers / It runs in my dreams / And with pain I throw them and they run, my feelings run,” go its closing  lines.* 

Véliz said they’re an ode to the cleansing rituals of Santería — a Cuban religious sect that arose when enslaved Yoruba people incorporated their gods into the Catholic canon. 

“I’m asking Oshun, the saint of the river, to help me heal and move on,” Véliz said. “Sunflowers are an offering to Oshun.”

A fade to black signaled the next act and a jean-clad leg poked out from the curtains. Taylor Garrison was dressed in brown flannel, Levis and shiny black boots, all of which she stripped off between struts, drops and girations. Underneath were a pair of striped boxers and blue socks with airplanes on them. 

An audience member shows off their outfit at the beginning of the event.

“The crowd was so close to the performers,” said UCSC fifth-year Valeria Urrutia. “The intimacy made the performances  stronger.”

The closing act was more terrifying. To the grind of death metal, a bare-skulled raven, a rabbit with stag horns, a brown-speckled toad and a moth queen stalked the dining hall. “There’s Something in the Woods” was a modeling act spookier than a lone turkey after dark. 

Rachel Martinez, one of two designers who stitched and sculpted the four costumes, said the act’s undead aesthetic came naturally to the group. 

“We’ve all been into the dark, goth-y, emo-y stuff for a couple of years now,” Martinez said. “So it felt natural that that part of our style and our vibe sort of bled into our costumes.”

The beasts of “There’s Something in the Woods” were captured from the team’s close encounters with nature. The horned rabbit, for example — known as the “jackalope” in American folklore — was inspired by a fateful trip through the Santa Cruz  redwoods. 

“It was Emiline, our other designer’s, first day up here in the woods, and she randomly found shed antlers on the ground,” Martinez said. “Which she now keeps in our house. So we were scratching our heads, asking ‘What do we do, fix these? Or respect them, or pay homage to  them?’”

Other acts included model-singer duo “Falling Stars,” an a capella mashup of ABBA’s greatest hits, another striptease, a leathery burlesque, three poetry readings and a ’90s-style dance number called “Wanna Make Me Feel Like a Little Queer  Telephone.” 

QUEERY performs “Wanna Make Me Feel Like a Little Queer Telephone?”

It was a show that brought audiences face to face with queer identity, in all its stripes. At the close of QFS, audience members were invited onstage for a surprise dance party. 

“I could really feel the relationship between the crowd and the stage,” said Valeria Urrutia. “The performers were all expressing themselves and ‘coming out’ in a way, and we were there to support  them.”

*Translated from Spanish