Long-time D.C. resident Michael Sainte-Andress has had almost as varied a life and career as you could imagine.
The 61-year-old Houston native, known as “Micci” (pronounced “Mickey”) to his friends, had a penchant for performing early on. He started singing in his family’s Pentecostal church at age 7. His mom was the choir director and got him spots in all the holiday pageants. He was always “a sissy” but his 10 siblings still loved him and never let him off the hook in helping with chores.
He studied dance and acting in high school in college, taught school for a year, then went into the Navy, which he says is one of the best decisions he ever made. Surprisingly he was able to continue his casually out m.o. during his four-year military stint.
“All my commanding officers knew I was gay but they also recognized that I was smart and had leadership potential,” he says. “It helped that I was a little older too. I didn’t enlist fresh out of high school so I wasn’t ‘just off the farm,’ so to speak. So I had a little edge on the other guys. I was about 22. They recognized that distinction so they were pretty good about giving me the spotlight and some opportunities to grow.”
By the mid-’70s, the gig was up, at least somewhat. Working for a phone company, Sainte-Andress got reprimanded for having his then-boyfriend’s photo on his desk and being unabashed about who it was. When he was fired shortly thereafter, although ostensibly for some other perceived infraction, he knew the likely true reason. But he didn’t let it sideline him for long.
“I was always kind of flaming and refused to tone it down,” he says. “Of course we weren’t quite that enlightened back in those days either.”
He enjoyed several years in what he says was then a thriving D.C. black theater scene and worked “fairly constantly.” Because he wasn’t afraid of getting typecast like many of his more career-minded peers — he was happy to play the comic relief gay characters — he stayed busy. But a crack epidemic took a major toll on that scene, he says. He bounced around for several years in retail, catering and “any number of things.” He says he was a popular party guest, became known as “a colorful character in D.C.” and was known for his impersonation of Bette Davis singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
By the ’80s, he was working as a claims adjuster for national phone companies. He tested positive for HIV in the summer of ’86 and after a long period of denial, depression and alcohol abuse, it ended up being a motivator of sorts. His friend Phil Pannell persuaded him to get involved with AIDS activism and thus began a lengthy period of work with the Inner City AIDS Network, the Max Robinson Center, Whitman-Walker, the Ryan White Council, the D.C. Health Consortium and many others. By early 1993, his T cell count was low enough to qualify him as having AIDS and he was on disability by 1994. He credits his overall health and luck with allowing him to live so long in the pre-anti-retroviral therapy years.
“Believe it or not, AIDS has come to be the least of my health worries,” he says. “I’ve been dealing with this for 25 years, I know how to handle it. Diabetes has been a much more serious thing for me in the last several years.”
Despite what he calls a “lackadaisical” approach to acting, he had a bit of a career resurgence in recent years, especially in an August Wilson play and doing some understudy work for the Folger Theater.
He admits he’s been tempted, at times, to turn back to alcohol, but says the many obstacles in his life have yielded an inner resolve within him.
“I still face challenges,” he says. “Why should I have any less of a challenge than anybody else? You either accept that challenge or you let it destroy you. That’s my decision and I tell you, I’ll be the last bitch standing honey.” (Blade photo by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have never been concealed and actually never had to tell anyone. Ever since I can remember it was just sort of understood that I was “that way.”
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I don’ t believe in heroes, but there are LGBT people that I admire and who have inspired me like my mentor, the late Joseph Meachem, my friends Philip Pannell, Alan Sharpe, Ernest Hopkins and the late D.C. HIV/AIDS champion Hank Carde.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Tracks on the S.W. waterfront and Raymond Carter’s Club Encore in the N.E. warehouse district.
Describe your dream wedding.
I’m not personally interested in being married, but if I took the plunge, my ideal partner and I would tie the knot outside at sunset during late spring or early summer on a lush lanai or beautifully decorated veranda.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
The abuse and mistreatment of children (having been such a child).
What historical outcome would you change?
Probably Prohibition because I think it may have minimized the ensuing crime and public subjugation.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The American resurrection of Eartha Kitt’s career in the Broadway musical “Timbuktu!” in l977.
On what do you insist?
Honesty, loyalty and respect from family and friends.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
An update of my comings and goings over the last several months.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“An Unchartered but Purposeful Journey”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Reject it! I am quite happy and grateful to be blessed with all the gifts God has given me.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Spiritual redemption through God’s grace and mercy.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
To stay focused on the mission and the work and not to buy into the idea of themselves as “cultural icons.”
What would you walk across hot coals for?
To save the life of someone I loved.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That being effeminate or a “bottom” is without influence or power.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
The so-called “institution” of marriage. Hmmph!
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I’d gladly accept my performance Oscar or Tony.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I’d live to be happily middle-aged.
I like the socially progressive atmosphere that mixes with some of the traditional Southern values that I cherish and its non-ending array of beautiful black men.