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Michael has a mother he is very close with, Debbie, played by Sharon Gless, and her gay brother Vic (Jack Wetherall). An episode's plot was dedicated to Michael discovering his roots, and how his mother changed her name to have him believe that his father was a soldier and hero who died in the Vietnam war. His actual father was Danny Devore, who became a drag queen entertainer named Divina Devore.
Michael is best friends with Brian Kinney (Gale Harold) whom he has been friends with since they were 14 years old. Since the show's debut, their lives have gone in extremely different directions. Michael settles down with his partner, Ben Bruckner, a university professor, and the two eventually adopt teenage son Hunter. Michael is also (as of the end of season 4) the father of baby daughter, JR (short for Jenny Rebecca), whose primary parents are lesbian couple Melanie Marcus and Lindsay Peterson (Michael donated the sperm for Melanie's pregnancy, but nevertheless remains an active father figure to the baby girl). Brian on the other hand has led a very promiscuous life, filled with drugs and sex.
At the start of the series, Michael works at a Wal Mart-like store, called the Big Q. He dates David, a chiropractor (played by Chris Potter). He moves to Portland, Oregon at the end of the first season with David, only to return after they break up. He quits his job at the Big Q and buys a comic book store, his passion. He meets Ben, struggles to come to terms with Ben's HIV but they eventually work out their issues.
In the second season, Michael and Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison), Brian's boyfriend, created a comic book character named Rage, a gay superhero comic whose title character is based on Brian. The comic was a success but a movie version in season four was canceled due to a fickle Hollywood.
He is often very defensive of his best friend, Brian, and admits to having some feelings for him. For example, when Justin and Brian split up, Michael tells Justin to get out of their lives. After Lindsay and Melanie break up at the beginning of the fifth season, Michael becomes upset that his and Melanie's daughter is being raised in a broken home and an ugly custody battle ensues. Eventually, the three parents resolve their issues.
Brian has accused Michael of being a conformist homosexual and bases this on Michael having a partner, a house, and an adopted son. While Michael feels that this was always what he wanted, Brian accuses him of being a traitor. This issue is an ongoing one in the gay community: some gay-rights activists complain that other gays are conforming to a heterosexual lifestyle (Such as adopting children and moving away from the gay friendly cities and into the more banal and conservative suburbs), thereby ignoring and rendering useless their plight against Conservativism.
In one of the final episodes, Michael is badly injured in a bomb explosion at the local gay nightclub, Babylon. He recovers and the series ends with him and Brian dancing in the burned out infrastructure of the building, while he narrates: So the "thumpa thumpa" continues. It always will. No matter what happens. No matter who's president. As our lady of Disco, the divine Miss Gloria Gaynor has always sung to us: We will survive.