Andy Simmonds has spent nearly 90% of his life in the closet. The 25-year-old Salt Lake City native did not come out until he was 22, a decision he made after ceasing all activities within the church.
“I didn’t even go through the process of coming out to church leadership,” he says. “I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I’m lucky to have an amazing – and yes, Mormon – family who have loved me without filters.”
These days, out and damn proud, the bubbly illustrator/designer splits his time between working for a salon-supply company and his growing freelance and commission work.
Below, we chat with Andy Simmonds/@heyrooney.
Where did the handle @heyrooney come from?
Rooney is a nickname my sister gave me as a kid, and it just stuck! As far as @heyrooney? Last year I did an Instagram contest (as @rooneydesign). I had each entry hashtag #heyrooney. At the time, I was brainstorming brand names and I knew that was it.
When did art become a passion; a pursuit?
From kindergarten on, art was always my favorite subject. I was always the kid who did art. In middle school and high school I took as many art classes as I could take. For a time in my teens, I was studying under an artist to get better at figure drawings with charcoals.
When did your queerness begin to intersect with the art you were making?
I didn’t come out until I was 22, and so as much as I loved artwork, I wasn’t allowed to let queerness be a part of that for fear of it outing me. I didn’t even imagine making something that looked… queer. I feel like coming out let me embrace queerness in every aspect of my life and it naturally made its way into my artwork. I wanted my art to be queer, and so I made it as expressive as I could.
Can you explain why you were in the closet for the first 22 years of your life?
Growing up Mormon, that’s the simplest way I can put it. You fear for your relationships with your family, your friends and your entire support system. At the time I came out, or was about to, I was going to a Mormon-owned private school. Your entire life is built around this religion, and every relationship you have, your religion is the glue.
Growing up in Utah I knew people who weren’t Mormon, but they were the minority. I went to South Africa at 19 to serve my two year mission there to preach. Coming to a different place and an entirely different continent, I began to see people whose spirituality and life in general departed from the Mormon way, and were still really good people. They were doing really great things, and were kind and giving.
When did you admit to yourself for the first time that you were gay?
It was November 2012. Mormon or otherwise, I think some people drag out their coming out process. And that wasn’t going to work for me. Once I came out to myself, I came out to everyone. Loudly and proudly. I refused to hold back. I was so over monitoring every thought and action.
Did you ever endure any conversion therapies?
I did not. I have a few friends that have, but luckily that’s not something I had to deal with. I think actual “conversion therapy” is a rare experience, at least at this point. But a person who has come out to a Church leader gets placed under very careful monitoring. You’re encouraged to meet with a church leader frequently to keep you in check. They might mean well, but to me it’s a very subtle form of conversion therapy! It is so damaging. They want to retain control of “the situation.”
When did you start explore queer culture, like meeting other queer people or even going to queer bars?
I finally wanted to go to a gay bar a few months after coming out. Utah doesn’t have a whole lot of clubs, but this particular one, Metro, is home to my club kid angels, The Bad Kids. I was so fascinated and terrified, but latched onto these really experimental queens.
How did you become a person of interest, if you will, on Instagram?
Originally, I just posted typography and hand lettering, folksy stuff. After coming out, I started networking with other gay artists and began drawing them with pastels. I used it as a way to reach to people who inspired me. Early on Luke Austin was someone I really loved and connected with, and still do. I drew a portrait of him as a way of reaching out. I was paying tribute to these people who I aspired to be like.
Were you aspiring to be like them as people or as artists?
A little bit of both. I was just inspired by the success people have been able to create for themselves, and that they’re able to do what they love and send some kind of a message. They had something to say and people were listening and responded to it, and that’s something that I really wanted to do.
What kind of art are you interested in?
I’ve always loved figure work. I don’t think I’m the strongest figure artist, but I’ve always loved portraits or figure drawings. It’s something I’ve always done. I used to draw a lot of superheroes when I was a kid; I was really into comics. I still kind of draw from that in my recent work, that kind of graphic, toonish imagery.
But I’ve always loved typography, and have wanted to blend those worlds. I no longer do Johnny Cash quotes in folksy fonts. I like doing it from time to time, but I’m much more interested in pop art.
20K CONTEST! Thanks for such amazing support from you sweet, dear darlings. Y'all make me blush! SO. Contest rules: Snap a pic with your best pink Rooney cheeks. Add glitter, anything pink, get into the #bubblegumfem fantasy. Post that sucker, hashtag #HeyRooney and tag me. I'll randomly select a winner next Sunday. Winner receives a custom #Rooneytoon and a love note because, like, I love you! Ok sweeties, have at it! #duh
Where does the interest in typography stem from, and does it connect at all to your queerness?
Growing up and drawing different fonts, I was more interested in the less practical side of it. In my experience, there isn’t a lot of queer type work. It’s out there if you search for it, but to bring it into a queer space and pair it with queer imagery and make it bubblegum, feminine and playful is something I’ve always been drawn to.
How does posting shirtless pictures on your Instagram come up against your former religion?
I do it because I can, and I celebrate it.
Were you ever made bitter by the way your religion “sheltered” you from so many realities?
I was so bitter because I felt like I had been lied to and suppressed for so long. It created a lot of distance between my family members and other close friends who were actively Mormon. But I think on both ends, my family as well as myself, we realized that our relationships were based on love we had for each other, and who we are. I think at that point, in regards to relationships I had with people and my artwork as well, it was easier to move forward.
What is it like being queer in 2016 in Salt Lake City?
I feel like there’s a very strong counter-culture here. I think people that visit are very surprised by what they see. The city itself is pretty vibrant in terms of the queer and club scene. I think we all feel very close, and I feel a strong sense of unity. People support and love each other, and celebrate that we can be here in this city and have the freedom to pursue all of these queer, creative things.
What do you feel like is the most pressing issue for the LGBT community right now?
I feel in general, trans people are excluded and there’s such an incredible amount of violence towards them. Sometimes even within the community, and it’s still not resolved. That’s pressing, because a lot of people are still blind to it, myself included. I think people want to act like the trans war is won, that there is full acceptance and freedom for all trans people. There is more awareness, sure, but the level at which trans individuals experience violence and discrimination is still alarming.
What do you want people to say about you when you leave the room?
I would hope people think I’m joyful. Brightened, but in a cheeky and playful way.