The term queer is somewhat of an aporetic expression, because instead of describing something, it describes an infinite somethings and the space in between. It’s a word enriched by its refusal to subscribe to one meaning and its commitment to embrace many.
The annual Queer Fashion Show (QFS) takes place this Friday and Saturday in the Porter dining hall, showcasing 13 eclectic student-directed pieces. The different segments were produced autonomously over the past several months, and now they are coalescing into a fittingly pastiche envisioning of queer art.
“I didn’t censor anyone’s pieces, even the ones that are pretty risqué, or the ones that use some language that could make people pretty uncomfortable,” said QFS director and second-year Jamie Epstein, who also goes by Wonder Pig. “Sometimes it’s good to inhabit an uncomfortable space because it helps you realize new things about yourself, like, why is this making me uncomfortable hearing people talk about sex on stage?”
The proceeds of the event go to the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, a long time partner of QFS, and the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, which is saving up for its 40th anniversary of the Pride Festival in Santa Cruz. This year the theme of QFS is “video games,” and the types of performances vary.
“You’d be surprised,” Epstein said. “It’s called a fashion show but half of it isn’t even clothes lines. A lot of it is dance, skit poetry and live music. You get a range of multimedia coming through with a lot of different messages.”
The word queer is an umbrella term used to describe anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the traditional heterosexual gender binary, and because of the term’s refusal to confine sexuality, the QFS is a sanctuary for diversified sexual expression.
When it began in the 1986, it was called the Alternative Fashion Show. True to its name, the early days of QFS were fairly modest. Students more or less modeled the outfits in their closets in front of a 200 person audience. In 1997, it took on the more confident and expressive name, Queer Fashion Show, marking a focal shift from clothing to exploring the space just past hetero-normative sexual boundaries.
“A lot of the directors in the show interpret queer in their own way, using their own interpretation of queer for their piece,” Epstein said.
Epstein stumbled into the director’s chair by chance. Originally, she was offered the position of assistant director and an opportunity to shadow two more experienced directors. But she ended up taking over after both of them had to drop out of the production.
“I had no idea how to raise money, no idea how to put on a show, no idea how to do any of this,” Epstein said. “I just had to hustle and put in hours of time and effort to recruit people around me.”
Adam Odsess-Rubin, fourth-year community studies major and theater minor, met Epstein while he was directing “The Normal Heart,” a play about the AIDS epidemic, and said they had a mutual respect for one another. When she invited him to work on QFS he was thrilled, and shortly thereafter he began organizing the piece “Analogue Love.” Like many of the other directors, Odsess-Rubin internalized the “video game” theme into a broader theme of technology and digital media.
“The goal is to send a message to the community that it’s important to think critically about how we’re relating to one another,” Odsess-Rubin said in an email. “Apps like OkCupid and Grindr can help connect people, but they can paradoxically isolate us too. Love doesn’t live in our phones, but in our hearts.”
He said the piece is “documentary theater” produced through seven weeks of brainstorming, conversing and writing with the actors to produce a humanized account of 21st century queer culture.
“People shared their success and failures with online dating, experiences dating HIV positive people, finding love and facing exclusion because of their race or appearance,” Odsess-Rubin said. “I’m really proud of the group for what we’ve created.”
Gabriel Dominic Carlos, third-year film production major and one of the 13 directors of the QFS, took his piece in an opposite direction. His contribution to QFS is a fashion line titled “————-” (13 dashes). It explores the ways in which technology can mimic and supplement emotion, creating a depiction of feeling without physical human interaction.
“The technology enabling digital media created a way in which our humanity, emotions and experiences can be translated through electric currents and waves. We’ve literally disembodied our essence into a digital space,” Dominic Carlos said.
Just two of the 13 directors, Odsess-Rubin and Dominic Carlos, produced very different iterations of what it means for queer culture and technology to interact. It is contrasting perspectives like these that make queer culture the amorphous and artistically fertile space that it is.
“[Queerness is] the theory that you can’t really label and put boundaries on things because everything is constantly changing and also embodying the polar parts of itself,” Epstein said. “For example, a lot of the time, we like to say ‘this is right and this is wrong.’ But from someone else’s perspective, it’s flip-flopped. Because we all have different perspectives, whatever we’re talking about ends up being right and wrong and everything in between.”