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Michelangelo Signorile Papers

Call Number



ca. 1985-2000, inclusive


Signorile, Michelangelo, 1960-


16 Linear Feet in 13 boxes

Language of Materials

Materials are in English


This collection follows the development of Michelangelo Signorile's writing career from its early stages through the publishing of his most recent book, Life Outside, and his magazine articles of the late 1990s. From his days at Outweek magazine forward, the archive documents the life cycle of each of his books and columnist jobs, from initial reporting and research to publicity and fan letters in response to the published work. As an extensive account of Signorile's career in the late 1980s through the end of the 1990s, the collection serves as an informative chronicle of the gay movement and its increasing recognition and visibility in the United States.

Biographical Note

In 1988, at the age of 27, Michelangelo Signorile was a gossip columnist covering the wild nightclub scene of the 1980s, searching out the scene of the moment-whether it was Area, the Limelight, or the Palladium-in hopes of the hottest celebrity tidbit. Political activism may have been the farthest thing from his mind as he jotted down every juicy detail, but one night-as he describes in his first book, Queer in America-he was enticed into conversation by a pair of attractive, muscled members of ACT UP. Weeks later, he joined a group of activists at St. Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan for a protest of a speech by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Although he had joined them somewhat apprehensively, the harsh words of the vocally anti-gay leader soon drove him to wave his fists and shout to the shocked cathedral that Ratzinger was "no man of God." The afternoon ended with the Signorile and five others in handcuffs.

As Signorile explains, the experience at St. Peter's proved to be a pivotal one. "My nightclub life almost completely stopped… It seemed pointless to go to these plastic affairs and have dull, irrelevant conversations after spending all day on ACT UP… I was feeling powerful about being gay." His new focus on gay activism sent his writing career on a political, and often controversial direction. By the summer of 1989, Signorile had become one of the founding editors of Outweek, a weekly gay magazine, where his all-cap diatribes against the right-wing and the gay closet would soon help fuel a national controversy on the ethics of "outing." In the process, it would also firmly establish his career.

A New York resident for the majority of his life thus far, Signorile was born to an Italian-American family in 1960, spending his youth in Brooklyn and Staten Island. He was educated at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in Staten Island. His work as a publicist for an entertainment PR firm eventually led to his nightclub-circuit gossip column in Nightlife magazine. At Outweek, Signorile penned a weekly column called GossipWatch, wherein, amidst other topics, he would demand that gay and lesbian celebrities stand up for their community by publicly declaring their homosexuality.

The outing debate hit the national media via Outweek's pages with the posthumous outing of Malcolm Forbes, the renowned publishing tycoon. Signorile felt that the media's praise of Forbes as an American success story was consciously leaving out an important aspect of his life-that he was gay. The Outweek exposé sparked a debate on the ethics of outing and raised the question of whether there was a double standard in the way the media approached individual privacy. After the abrupt closure of Outweek in 1991, Signorile joined The Advocate as a columnist, where he gained further notoriety by outing Pete Williams, lead spokesman for the Pentagon during the Gulf War. He pointed out an apparent hypocrisy in Dick Cheney and the Pentagon's tacitly accepting Williams' homosexuality while they simultaneously led a military that banned all gays and lesbians.

Signorile's politically-charged writing at Outweek and The Advocate eventually drove the creation of his first book, Queer in America, a part-autobiography, part-reporting work published in 1993. In the book, he confronted institutionalized closets in the media, Hollywood, and the United States government-"the Trinity of the closet"-and examined how damaging closets could be for individuals in power and for the American society they affected.

Two years later, the press suggested that Signorile had softened his image after he published his second book, Outing Yourself, which described 14 steps towards coming out of the closet. Throughout the remainder of the 1990s, he worked as a columnist for Out magazine, and later returned to The Advocate as an editor-at-large. At Out, columns on topics such as pro-life gays, animal rights, gay marriage, and bareback sex continued his knack for controversy. In a 1994 column, "Unsafe Like Me," he sparked an important debate on unsafe sex amongst gay men by admitting that he himself had recently had unprotected sex. His third book, Life Outside, published in 1997, continued his analysis of gay behavior in the 90s with an investigation of the gay circuit-party scene, its emphasis on body image and drugs, and the search for life outside of it.

As of 2003, at 42 years old, Signorile was writing "The Gist" published weekly in New York Press and on , where he tackled a spectrum of national issues, often returning to the unfinished battles of gay activism. He planned to publish a book on Italian-Americans on Staten Island in 2003.


Queer in America, New York, NY: Random House, 1993.Outing Yourself, New York, NY: Random House, 1995.Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles and the Passages of Life, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1997.


The archive has been split into series based primarily on the types or uses of the materials, such as Correspondence or Manuscripts. Within the seven series, the folders have been ordered chronologically by date (approximate dates when necessary), with the exception of Colleague Correspondence (Series IA) and Research (Series II A & B), which have been ordered alphabetically by individual name or subject. Folders are marked with the name of the relevant publication—be it book or periodical—or by high-level subject heading, to facilitate usage of the material. Much of the original archive (particularly in Series II—Research) was split into folders by the author under broad headings such as AIDS, Hollywood, Miscellaneous, etc. These subject headings have been maintained, and other material has been grouped under additional general subject headings whenever conducive and appropriate. Original folders with notations by the author have been kept within the corresponding archive folder.

The files are grouped into 7 series:

  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Series II: Research
  3. Series III: Manuscripts
  4. Series IV: Published Work
  5. Series V: Publicity & Marketing
  6. Series VI: Legal
  7. Series VII: Media

Scope and Content Note

The Michelangelo Signorile Papers follow the development of Signorile's writing career from its early stages through the publishing of his most recent book, Life Outside, and his magazine articles of the late 1990s. From his days at Outweek forward, the collection documents the life cycle of each of his books and columnist jobs, from initial reporting and research to fan letters in response to the published articles.

An extensive account of Signorile's career in the late 1980s through the end of the 1990s, the archive serves as an informative chronicle of the gay movement towards further recognition and visibility in America. It also offers evidence on how the American media operates today-the ethical debate on outing, of which Signorile was a prominent figure, was a battle fought, in many ways, through the media.

Significant moments of Signorile's writing work highlighted here include the Malcolm Forbes outing at Outweek, the fall of Outweek, the outing of Pete Williams at The Advocate and the issue of gays in the military, the activist fight against homophobia in Hollywood and elsewhere, the publishing of Queer in America, his often-controversial columns written at Out magazine, and the publishing of Outing Yourself in 1995 and Life Outside in 1997.

Over a third of the collection is made up of research materials gathered during Signorile's reporting for articles and books, made up of clippings, interviews, activist literature, etc., which are found in Series II. Some original manuscripts are included in Series III, particularly two complete drafts of Queer in America. Also a thorough collection of publicity-profiles, interviews, reviews, and quotes, as well as many folders of reader letters-records the impact his writing had on Americans, both gay and straight, and the American media itself.

Original format for most materials.



Subseries A: Colleagues consists of incoming and outgoing letters organized alphabetically by colleague or publication name. These include letters to and from fellow writers and activists, as well as to various publications. Some incoming letters were addressed to Signorile's editors.

Subseries B: Readers includes primarily fan and appreciation letters from readers arranged by publication date of the Signorile magazine or book to which the correspondent is responding. (The letters are generally grouped by the Signorile publication (magazine or book) to which readers respond, and are sometimes grouped by a particular magazine column).


Series II is the broadest series in the collection, made up of various materials compiled as research and content for books and articles. The series covers subject matter that Signorile wrote about, subjects that he may also have been personally involved in, such as ACT UP, Queer Nation and Outweek magazine.

Subseries A: Personalities includes collected research on various individuals, organized alphabetically by last name. Materials consist of magazine and newspaper clippings, interview notes, flyers, and books. Access to this subseries is currently restricted.

Subseries B: General is made up of similar types of materials, organized alphabetically by general subject. Materials here also consist of complete issues of gay publications, activist press releases and flyers, and reporter notebooks. Prominent subjects include AIDS, Hollywood, gays in the military, and research specific to his books, Queer in America and Life Outside.


Series III is made up of drafts of books and articles, often marked with editor or author edits. Two copy-editing drafts of each chapter of Queer in America are included, as well as original proposals for QIA and Outing Yourself.


Subseries A: Articles is comprised of magazine and newspaper writing from the mid-to-late 1980s through the end of the 1990s. Published work includes a portfolio of Signorile's nightclub-scene gossip columns, letters printed in various newspapers, and many complete issues of Outweek, The Advocate, and Out magazines that featured Signorile columns or articles.

Subseries B: Books is made up of six books-five paperback editions (including British and Japanese editions) of Queer in America, in addition to David Drake's play, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, for which Signorile wrote the foreword.


All media coverage outside of the published work itself has been arranged under the category of Publicity & Marketing. These materials are organized by approximate date and range from marketing materials prepared by the publisher, such as press releases and book catalogs, to newspaper articles reporting on public appearances by Signorile and reviews of his books and magazine columns. Profiles, interviews, book award nominations, ads, and various articles in which Signorile is quoted are also found here.

In some cases this series' material will relate closely to related topics in Series II. For instance, media coverage on the subject of outing which quotes or cites Signorile is included here while additional information on outing (that Signorile may not have been personally involved in) is found in Series II.


This series consists of legal materials which include, primarily, paperwork from the editorial review of Queer in America and The Advocate article outing Pete Williams, which were meticulously carried out in concern for legal repercussions of the publishing of private information. Access to this series is currently restricted.


The final series is comprised of all media materials in the collection. Media materials here come in three formats-video tapes, audio tapes, and computer disks. The six video tapes feature Signorile interviews, TV coverage, and a documentary on gay activism. The audio tapes include mostly reporter interviews ranging from Outweek to Out. Video and audio materials are organized in the series by approximate date. Computer disks include research articles compiled from electronic research services.

Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers. Series II, suberies A, which contains confidential information about individuals, and Series IV: Legal, are restricted. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Use Restrictions

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); The Michelangelo Signorile Paper; MSS 131; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.


The Michelangelo Signorile Papers were purchased from Bolerium Books in 2002.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Audiovisual and born-digital materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers.

Separated Material

Three hard-bound volumes of Out magazine, spanning publishing years 1992 through 1995 have been separated from the archive and can be found in the Downtown Periodicals Collection.

Related Material at the Fales Library and Special Collections

Alan Klein Papers (MSS.118)

David Wojnarowicz Papers (MSS.092)

Jay Blotcher Papers (MSS.137)

Collection processed by

James Pritchard. Media processed by Brent Phillips in 2014.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:12:17 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Signorile_Finding Aid 05.20.doc


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012