Meet the Ex-Mormon Designer Who Wants to “Make America Femme Again”
If you poke around certain circles of Instagram long enough these days, you're bound to encounter a cheery design that's quickly become a cult favorite: T-shirt and sweatshirts emblazoned with the phrase "MASC 4 MASC," winking loudly at you in a looping, electric pink font that Lisa Frank herself might call "a little much."
The design is one of many from illustrator and designer Andy Simmonds, better known to his considerable Instagram following as @heyrooney. His signature day-glo pink, pithy wearables have earned him a loyal fan base of over 43,000 followers on the platform. His origin story is little more humble, but no less colorful.
Simmonds has been marching to own beat, and developing his creative side, since before he can remember.
"I grew up in a very conservative Mormon suburb of Salt Lake City. Obviously I don't remember this, but my mom would like, catch me drawing on walls and stuff as a toddler," Simmonds said in a phone interview. As a kid, one of his siblings gave Simmonds the nickname "Rooney," and it stuck with him.
Also around this time he started covering his walls with another facet of his personality that was taking shape. "From ages 10-13, [the] obvious tween age, I had a poster of Destiny's Child on my wall, I had Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. That was my holy trinity. They were everything."
Over the years, his love of drawing and his fixation on feminine pop elements blossomed into a distinct illustration style. Until January of 2015, his "Rooney Tunes" as he called them, had only lived within the boundaries of an art print. Then, as Simmonds describes, "someone approached me from the company I print through now and was like 'You should put this on a shirt, I think people would buy it.'" People would, and people do.
Simmonds says it's a happily mixed bag of people buying and wearing his wares. "I like to check who's posting [pics in my shirts] because that makes me really, really grateful. I obviously wouldn't be doing what I'm doing without people supporting me. I see a lot of really young boys that are just femme and wonderful, I see there's like really beefy, hairy dudes wearing them. It seems to me to be all over the place. ... If nothing else they seem to be on the same sense of humor level, I don't know same niche."
Simmonds' Instagram is filled with these portraits of his loyal followers in his designs, many of them paying homage to his own poses and styling that pepper the rest of his feed. You rarely see him photographed without his signature color, baby pink. It's clear his design style is birthed out of his personal aesthetic.
Why pink? Simmonds says simply, "Aside from like, it's role in playing with gender and those kinds of things, I just like the color aesthetically, period. ... A lot of what of what I draw, it's not incredibly busy, like three or four colors, tops. And I've noticed things, even in my apartment or what I wear are that way as well."
It's not just his aesthetic that makes Simmonds' work so compelling, but the explicit and implicit messages that emblazon his pieces.
There's a heavy dose of irony blended with an irrepressible joy in his designs, especially in the face of adversity. In 2015, Simmonds responded to a news item about a homophobic pastor selling "NO GAYS ALLOWED" hats in his hardware store by creating his own hot pink beanie, with "No Gays Allowed" embroidered in a Disney-lite font.
More recently, Simmonds took on an accessory that's been emblematic of a particularly tense election year. He riffed on none other than Donald J. Trump's "Make America Great Again" hat.
Why take on Trump? Part of that may stem from his upbringing. "I'm really bothered by anyone who wants to make society fit really narrow, oppressive parameters," he said. "That really, really bothers me. A lot of that, I know comes from like, my upbringing because I had to fit in similar parameters, and so for me to see someone like, his idea of like what what 'great' is, or a 'great country,' or a 'great society' is, so oppressive and restrictive and backwards."
Simmonds little pink hat stands in protest to a monolithic vision for society, injecting some much-needed levity and rebellion. It's color-correcting the world to the version Simmonds wishes he could see. With his designs, Simmonds wants to push back on narrow-mindedness wherever he finds it, even if it's within his own community.
Simmonds sees a real need for visibility in gay media for femme-presenting people, and a problem with aiming for respectability. "Some people may disagree," he said, "but in [mainstream gay media], what we're told is a 'successful gay man,' aside from being openly gay, looks very much what a successful straight man looks like: [We're being told] that you're not going to be taken seriously if you fit a femme stereotype, or if you don't dress in a 'serious' style."
His hope is that with all of the attention his shirts and hats have been receiving, someone who finds his work might be encouraged. "I'm short, I don't want [to be 6'4"], I don't need to be this like, pinnacle of Adonis perfection," he said. "It's really unfair to so many people to have that shoved in their face all the time. I mean, I want to be successful if for nothing else to show that you can be successful and be taken seriously without fitting a very specific image or set of expectations."
This week, Simmonds launched a charity t-shirt with current RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Kim Chi that shines a light on sizeism, femmephobia and racism many queer people encounter in their online dating experiences. Proceeds from the "Yas Fats! Yas Fems! Yas Azns!" shirt will benefit three organizations tackling issues including LGBTQ youth homelessness. Is Simmonds this vocal about his politics in his everyday life?
"I wish I had like, the gift of speaking well or writing well, but I don't," he joked. "I'm not super outspoken. I prefer to let something a little more nuanced like my artwork or my hat or shirt do the talking." It's clear that his clothes still have lots more to say.