Best friend remembers Michael "Shante" Youens

  • by Sister Roma
  • Monday December 4, 2023
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Michael Youens, left, sat with Sister Roma, his best friend of 30 years. Photo: Courtesy Sister Roma<br>
Michael Youens, left, sat with Sister Roma, his best friend of 30 years. Photo: Courtesy Sister Roma

They say people may not remember your name or something you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. Michael Shawn Youens, aka "Shante," made people feel good. That's why his family, friends, and the community are reeling from his sudden departure November 15. A bright light has been extinguished in so many lives that Michael touched.

Friendship was his superpower. Fiercely loyal, thoughtful, funny as hell, and always up for adventure, he genuinely loved his friends and making people laugh. His irrepressible sense of humor and unique worldview often led to hot-takes and antics that were never mean-spirited and always hilarious. Michael, a gay man, approached everything with an unmatched glee. A warm cookie, a dog on the street, a good movie, a delicious meal, or bumping into a friend were all guaranteed to elicit a joyfulness that was both endearing and contagious. He could turn a road trip into a sing-a-long, baking cookies into a dance party, or a late-night visit to a friend's designer showroom into a photo shoot. He was famous for sneaking his companion Rocky (a stuffed squirrel that traveled the world in his pocket) into photos, sending silly private video messages, and creating holiday JibJabs starring his family and circle of friends.

Michael was born to parents Russell and Mary Youens on April 30, 1968, in Dallas. After his beautiful mom passed away when Michael was only 5 years old, the family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he grew up with his dad and sister, Michelle. Young Michael had the face of an angel and an uninhibited spirit that often led to him devising outlandish schemes and pranks, much to the delight of his sister and cousins. He graduated from Saguaro High School in 1987. He was the mascot for the football team, a giant black Sabercat. Naturally, he was quite the crowd-pleaser! After graduation, Michael joined the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Blueback submarine, stationed in the Pacific Northwest.

In the mid-1990s, at the recommendation of his longtime friend Chi Chi LaRue, Michael relocated from Scottsdale to San Francisco to work in Falcon Studios' customer service department, where he worked his way up to director of production. In 2003, he stepped into the role of director on the Jocks Studios' production "GETTING IT STRAIGHT," which won the 2005 GayVN Award for "best sex comedy" — a highlight of his storied career. After a brief hiatus, he returned to Falcon/NakedSword to work in the art department, coming full circle to cap off his 30-year career in an industry he loved.

Alter ego Shante

Michael's alter-ego, Shante Bouvier, made her San Francisco debut the very weekend she arrived in the city and quickly became a regular at every club and after-hours in town. It was in this underground world of house music and flashing lights that Shante's over-the-top personality, catchphrases, and flawless dance moves made her an instant nightlife icon. In this version of "gay church" Shante was one of the high priestesses. She was welcoming and kind to everyone who crossed her path and developed countless friendships that endure to this day. Very few people can say they have friendships that last for decades and Michael/Shante had many, a true testament to his character.

To say that Michael was "good people" simply isn't enough. He was an alumnus of the Academy of Art College where he organized the incorporation of a local chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. He was a pillar in the sober community who inspired and mentored those on the path to recovery. He visited, wrote letters, and put money on the books of several incarcerated friends, often providing the only glimmer of hope to those who felt alone and forgotten. Alongside yours truly, his best friend of 30-plus years, Michael devoted years of his life to serving nonprofits and other important causes including Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners, the AIDS Emergency Fund Christmas Eve Dinner, Mama G's Holiday Dinners, the SPCA, the Castro Country Club, and many more. His decades of service were rewarded with Sainthood in 2012 by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Order's highest civilian honor.

In retrospect, it feels very fitting that Michael was his high school mascot. If he was on your team you could count on him to be your biggest cheerleader. There wasn't anything that Michael wouldn't do for his friends, his family, or his community. His joy, enthusiasm, and love for life was palpable.

Michael passed away on November 15, 2023, at 11:46 a.m. in San Francisco from multiple heart attacks. He is predeceased by his mom, Mary; grandmothers Etta Mae and Olivia; grandfathers Russell and John; uncles Junior and Bobby; and aunt Etta Lou. Michael is survived by his father, Russell; sister Michelle; brother-in-law Jay; nieces Jacqline, Josette, Bella, and Tessa; nephew Michael; "OG cousins" Chris, Jackie, Laura, Angela, Charity; and a big Mexican family (the list goes on and on and on).

Per his final wishes, Michael will be composted with a portion of his healthy soil being shipped to his sister Michelle's ranch in Virginia. The rest of his soil will be spread in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, where one day my soil will join him. Plans are currently underway for a larger-than-life memorial event in January. In the spirit of Michael/Shante, you're all invited. Stay tuned.

Sister Roma is a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

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