Are you masc? Fem? A wolf? A jock? Today, these Grindr-inspired gay subcategories matter, especially when it comes to who's coming home with you. Both fascinated and frustrated by this sex-hungry culture of labels, 25-year-old illustrator Andy Simmonds has found a way to subvert it, merging the masculine ideals so many gay men crave with the feminine pop that's likely tickled them since they played with their sisters' Barbies.
"It's hard for me to say where the Bubblegum Fem idea came from," says Simmonds, "or even how my aesthetic developed--it's still developing and always will be. But the concept hits home. It speaks to me. I suppose it's a combination of my obsession with pink, a sort of jock fetish, and a fascination with challenging notions of masculinity."
The result of these supposedly clashing interests is a sprightly brand of bubble letters and highly distinct illustrations, which turn common phrases like "Masc-4-Masc" into something that looks like it was peeled off a My Little Pony poster. And the typography and vibrant characters aren't the only things Simmonds is sharing with his nearly 13,000 Instagram followers, who keep up with him at @heyrooney. Simmonds also posts ample photos of his bubbly self, a Mormon-raised, Salt Lake City native whose vibrant appearance melds perfectly with his work.
"[Mormonism is] a very rigid belief system," Simmonds says, "and an even stricter culture. I think having been in denial for so long caused me, once I came out, to be unashamedly--even loudly--GAY. [The religion] is also very centered on gender roles, which I hope to shatter in my work."
Thus, Simmonds--who "started coloring on walls, studied illustration and graphic design in college, and ultimately dropped out"--is seemingly hard-wired to break away from limiting institutions, be they a stiff religion or a subculture of terms and roles that put limits on sexual tastes. ("I just find it bizarre that there's this space where people compartmentalize their dating preferences," Simmonds adds. "I have joked about it for a long time, and then it crept into my work.")
Now, @heyrooney fans can buy "Masc-4-Masc" T-shirts and other fun Simmonds-designed products, and if you're lucky, you might just get illustrated by the artist yourself, rendered with pink cheeks and a swooped coif of Jem-and-the-Holograms hair. And it's not just the fems who want all this bubblegum, honey.
"I think there's quite a mix [in my audience]," Simmonds says, "but I think it does serve as a fem outlet for otherwise cisgender gay men. It's fun to see these burly men comment, 'YAAAAS MAMA!!' I live for that."