When Nathaniel Paul began performing drag four years ago, technology wasn’t a big part of nightlife. Paul previously performed at the SoCo Night Club in downtown Columbia, Missouri, where drag performances were frequented mostly by those in the LGBTQ community who discovered the club by word of mouth.
Currently, Paul works as a co-host on Thursday nights at Yin Yang Night Club, which features drag performances every week. A typical performance consists of a comedic routine by the host, who then introduces drag queens who lip sync and dance to popular songs. The club’s attendees are diverse, but Paul worries that technology might be having a negative impact on young people’s presence in the LGBTQ club scene.
“People in our community used to have to go to an alternative bar or a gay bar to be able to find people to of your same culture, or same kind of gay upbringing,” Paul said. “You don’t see a lot of people in the clubs nowaday as back in my day in 2005, when I came up to the gay bars, so it’s kind of sad.”
Without physically going to a club, young people won’t be exposed to the craft of drag that Paul thrives in. He began performing drag, with the character name Sheerah Pleazure under the apprenticeship of more experienced drag queens. After Columbia’s SoCo nightclub closed, Paul’s persona moved up the ranks to become a host at Yin Yang Night Club where she currently works. Pleazure started as a comedy queen, which requires providing comedic entertainment for the audience and narrating drag shows. Recently, Pleazure began pageant drag in addition to her current job as host. Overall, preparation time for a show can span from two days to several months.
“You have to prepare a lot, because it’s very expensive to be able to buy everything you need,” Paul said. For a run of the mill show I will just take just take two days to prepare, sorting through the chaos in my closet where my drag is located.”
Through the years of performing as Pleazure, Paul has learned to sew his own clothing to better suit Pleazure’s style, and created an original makeup look. Paul used his high school theater background and his experience working at a haunted house to create what he describes as a mix of horror and fantasy makeup. The makeup portion of Paul’s preparation usually takes around three hours, as he adds layers of color to eliminate masculine features and mimic a woman’s complexion.
When performing, Paul’s attention to detail and skill at hosting are recognized by other queens. Dan Dujakovich, who performs as Molly Alice Minx, says Pleazure is successful because of her bubbly personality and wit.
“I’d say she [Pleazure] is very big and exuberant,” Dujakovich said. “She’s larger than life which is why I like her. I feel like as an entertainer you need to be kind of eccentric and kind of big, which molds her into an entire new person and I love her for it.”
On Thursday nights, when Paul hosts as Pleazure, a special following of club-goers come to watch her humorous performances and fresh approach. The crowd at Yin Yang Night Club ranges from early 20s and up, with a noticeable gap in college aged club goers. Manager Brett Piper says this could because Columbia has become more inclusive in recent years, after SoCo’s arrival downtown and pride parades throughout the city. Rather than having to stick to a “gay” bar, the LGBTQ community is more free to visit whatever bar they choose.
Paul thinks the lack of younger attendees could instead be due to popular social apps like Grindr, an app that calls itself the “the world’s largest gay social network app.” In an effort to keep drag alive Paul mentors newer queens like Shawn James, who performs as Veronika Versache. James says that he and other new queens look up to Paul’s work.
“We call just about everyone sisters, but sometimes you have special relationships where you have drag family member,” James said. “We all learned from the same person Sheerah learned from, so we are connected to her in a sisterly way, looking up to her like a big sister.”
The passion for drag and the feeling of family that queens have amongst themselves is something that Paul wants to continue, regardless of technology’s influence. Paul believes clubs like Yin Yang Night Club still have a place in the community because they are an environment of inclusion.
“Yin Yang Night Club has been a place where we can be ourselves, where you don’t have to adorn a mask upon your face to be somebody else,” Paul said. “A place where I am free to be myself. It’s a family, we are a family. Anything for family. Sometimes at the end of the day, when the world is hateful and bitter, it is nice to have a place to let our hair down and be ourselves.”
Currently, Paul works with the younger drag queens, and uses social media as a force of good to spread the word about Yin Yang Night Club. Columbia residents can see him on Thursdays as he co-hosts the club’s amateur night.