In the course of three hours, as often as four times every week, Paco becomes Erica Martinez, one of the most coronated drag queens in Ohio. Since 1987, he's won 32 female-impersonator pageants -- including the Miss Big & Beautiful Nationals in 1996. That was the turning point for a guy who got his start by trying on women's clothing as a kid. "I used to put my grandma's nightgown and shoes on and dance around," Martinez says. "But I've never gotten too confused about the difference between being a man and a woman."
By day, he holds down a full-time job at the XXX-rated Adult Mart bookstore on Berea Road. He's the father of a nine-year-old daughter, whose mother is a longtime lesbian friend. He swears by the Atkins diet, and spends long hours at the gym to maintain his 180-pound frame. "I'm not any less of a man because I'm a character in a show," he argues. "And I'm a lot more masculine than a lot of gay guys. I love being a man. I love being a father. But I am also an illusionist."
His skill with illusion has made Martinez an "ungodful" sum of very real cash over the years. He performs throughout Ohio and beyond, raking in as much as $200 per gig, plus tips. He even had a bit part as -- what else? -- a drag queen named Nida Mann in the 1998 film Edge of Seventeen, a locally made stinker about a closeted gay in high school.
This weekend, Martinez begins a new assignment at Cocktails, where he's the reigning Miss Ohio Gay Pride. His act is studded with lip-synched renditions of Eartha Kitt, Patti LaBelle, and Jennifer Holliday tunes. "I'm hated, and I'm loved," he laments. "A lot of queens think I'm grand. I don't party in the bars. I go home after shows. I have a regular job."
An advocate of same-sex marriage, Martinez plans to vote in his first presidential election this year, and he's campaigning for other gays and lesbians to go to the polls. "We need to stick together and vote," he declares. "If I want to marry another man, I'm gonna marry another man. Who has the right to tell me I can't marry another man?"
Likely not anyone in the crowd at Cocktails. "The time is coming soon [to quit]," Martinez concedes. "But right now, I'm not ready."