Stephen Michael Emily was born in Missouri on June 25, 1960; the son of Donald, a Lutheran missionary, and Jean Emily. In the early 1960s, the family moved to Japan, where Stephen was raised until the age of 14. The family returned to the United States and lived in San Francisco, where Stephen eventually attended San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art College. By the 1980s, Stephen's relationship with his family was strained, and he legally changed his name to Stephan Michael in 1981. He continued to live in San Francisco where he worked in various retail jobs.
By the 1990s, Stephan Michael contracted the HIV virus. Having never earned a college degree, he moved to Seattle, Washington, where he attended the University of Washington and lived with his partner, Eric Phillips. Throughout the rest of his life--with the support of Phillips and a woman named Jane May (whom he refers to as "Aunt")--he attended college classes while living with the circumstances of his HIV-positive status. In December 1993, he received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington. Less than a year later, Stephan Michael died of AIDS on November 2, 1994 in Seattle.