Ripe Podcast: Episode 1 with Andy Simmonds (@heyrooney)

Andy Simmonds (PHOTO: Luke Austin)

Andy Simmonds (PHOTO: Luke Austin)

WUSSY is proud to introduce the first full-length episode of the Ripe Podcast, hosted and created by Barry Lee. To keep these podcasts as accessible as possible, we will provide you with a transcript of the conversation each week.

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The purpose of “Ripe” is to share mental health experiences of the LGBTQIA community which is extremely vast. I’m sharing stories that represent a single individual’s path to getting to where they are now. Some might be quit different from your path and other’s may reflect the pay that you’re currently walking on. Please venture into this podcast with an open heart and curious mind. My name is Barry Lee and this is “Ripe Podcast.”

“How my work now expresses Queerness, it goes so far back in a way. As a kid, I would draw these beautiful, busty, gorgeous women kind of drag queens in a way and these muscly gorgeous men. As I got into adolescence I got poked fun at a little bit for that being a very gay thing to do and so very quickly, I was like, no, we don't do that anymore,” says Andy.

Andy Simmonds is an illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. Their clients have ranged from Google to Grindr and you’ve probably used one of his stickers on your Instagram story. Andy’s work is loudly Queer but there was a time that he couldn’t express his Queerness as loudly as he wished. He shares his story with me via Skype discussing his Mormon upbringing, creating work that is boldly Queer as well as his battles with anxiety and depression. You can also find a translated article of this podcast over at www.wussymag.com.

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“I come from, like many people, very conservative background specifically Mormon was raised in the Mormon stronghold of Davis County, Utah. Which in many ways was kind of idealist, because there is kind of this Stepford mentality, everyone's happy, everyone's striving for perfection. It's very suburban and aside from just the doctrine of the religion, there is a whole culture and society around it, some of which has very little to do with a doctrine, it’s just kind of born out of this community. Point being that growing up in that environment my entire life was completely enveloped by the Mormon Church in many good ways.

In many ways, that would certainly damage me as I went along. I think as far as growing up, I think I was fairly ignorant. We were so insulated as far as … y’know there's a saying in Mormonism I suspect more broadly that, that we were meant to be a people who were in the world but not of the world. So kind of all that I really knew of the world was a very narrow walk of life and set of dos and don'ts. There were very, very specific things expected of me from birth.

They on to individuality but I was expected to be like wear this straight holy as you go through adolescence, you promise certain things to God and like gain responsibility from the church as you go until, as at least for men, you are required to serve a two year Mormon mission in which you are sent out to a place for two years to preach the word of God and baptize people into the church.

It is something you have no say at first where you go. What I was told is God chooses through to this committee of people. So I had grown up being this very good, good Mormon boy. I certainly knew I was Queer deep down. I had this, walk past the men's underwear aisle experience that we all kind of talk about growing up.

I had suppressed it so deeply because I refused to believe that really was me and so for the most part, it was just like really deep, deep denial that I thought I was pretty happy in even until I was called by God himself (or so I thought) to serve this mission which I did to completion. I feel like I made this deal in the back of my head that if I had gone to this enormous lengths to dedicate two years of my life, let alone everything before to God and to Christ and to what the church and my family and everyone expected of me that maybe he would cure me or that maybe I would come back from this mission having been fully and developed in this wonderful spirituality, and that I would somehow, maybe not be cured of it, but at least gain the strength to not have to think about it anymore. That, of course, did not happen.

http://www.heyrooney.com

http://www.heyrooney.com

I returned home and did more of what I thought I was supposed to do, which was go to Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon owned college and attend there and date girls and try to find someone to get married to and to start family which is the natural next step in the Mormon process. If you can do all the things in the church but if you don't start your own eternal family, because they believe that these families will be together after this lifeforever and ever and ever for generations to come, after this life they believe you don't get to attain like highest degree of glory. I hadn't been cured, so I thought you know what? The next step, if I just had to get married, then maybe that's going to work. I had dated this wonderful, wonderful girl and we wanted to get married. We have been talking mostly about when I was planning to propose to her. And the closer and close to that got, I don't know how to describe except that I became physically ill. My body literally telling me like, you can't do this. Like you can't do this to yourself to her, and for the first time in my life, I truly, truly admitted to myself that I was gay,” says Simmonds.

I found it really fascinating that Andy described being physically ill when he realized he wasn’t living his truth. I think this is a really important reminder to recognize that our bodies carry messages and it’s crucial to check in with our bodies to see how we are feeling and also to see if we’re doing the right thing in our lives . I asked Andy about the repercussions after recognizing he didn’t want to play a part in the Mormon religion or to get married to the woman he was dating.

“I think she was also devastated for like my spiritual well being, and what that would mean for me because I had also told her and knew that I also didn't want to be in the church anymore. Leaving the church is obviously easier said than done. Anyone wanting to remove themselves from a very rigid religious structure I'm sure can relate because everything I had ever done, everything I was doing everything I plan to do was wrapped around my religion. And so for me to embrace who I was, I really had to just rethink my entire life. I guess to put it simply, and as far reaching as the implications were, I was hasty as hell.

I think I certainly don't ... I don't regret how I did so, but I wanted to make up for lost time. I wanted to just be myself and hold nothing back and that did not allow for much adjustment time on my family vendor. Anyone was involved with my life. I made this huge, enormous decision very quickly. Essentially, it was a lifelong coming. So again, I don't regret it, but I think we had like a really difficult adjustment period or they did because I was so sure what I wanted. It wasn't up for discussion. It was done. I was out I wanted to be myself I was leading BYU, that was that. Which is especially hard in this belief of the Mormon eternal family,” Simmonds recalls.

When you view Andy’s work you can find his unapologetic spirit twinkling throughout his quirky illustrations boldly challenging Queer norms. He regularly shares his stories about being in the Mormon religion on Instagram and he is also extremely open about his mental health.

“I don't think I really began to investigate my mental health until probably a couple years after it even came out. So at the time I don't think I was very conscious of the anxiety and the depression and a lot of I guess what was going on there looking back I see it much more clearly.

http://www.heyrooney.com

http://www.heyrooney.com

Anxiety is something I've always dealt with, had never been diagnosed with until a couple years ago and I remember avoiding my family as long as I could. We're very very close so not talking for a week was major. So maybe not avoiding them in the sense a lot of other people might take for months or years but I know ... I guess I was so anxious about having to have these conversations with them and I didn't want to deal with the confrontation and I was so nervous about what they would say to force their acceptance a little bit. It was like take it or leave it, that was one of the ways that manifests that the anxiety at least is that I just ... I wasn't able to have honest conversations with my family about that process especially and here they're very honest.

In this spiral of anxiety, I confused their honesty for their rejection. I don't think they ever wanted to reject me but I think they deserved to be honest with me about where they were in that process, if that makes sense because I viewed as rejection. I wasn't willing to give them the opportunity to do that and to express that for a while.

I think, at some point the hastiness with which I came out caught up to me and it really hit me what I had given up and what if I was wrong? At that point, I had already had a boyfriend and premarital sex and started drinking and that sent me into such, such a dark place for a moment that I couldn't ignore it anymore. I don't think anxiety should have to come to breaking point. But sadly, for many people, like that is what it takes for us to snap out of it, or I just  recognize it. I thought I was dealing with the consequences of my actions against God, when in reality, it was anxiety and resulting depression. It was mental illness. It was making me feel the way I was, not wanting to leave my bed for days at a time and ignoring people's calls. Yeah, I definitely was a sort of breaking point where I finally had like gone to therapy for the first time in my life and was able to have a professional sit down with me and talk about what was going on and, I guess assure me that I wasn't alone, that it was just an effect of mental illness and that it wasn't because I was sinning and that I could move forward in my life. Not only with learning what tools I could use to deal with anxiety and manage it, but also to live more freely as an out queer person.

Luckily, this therapist at least that I had seen first was a wonderful match. She was a very kind of brash woman and as sensitive and loving as she wasn’t afraid to kind of tell as it is and that was something I responded to very well for someone to be like, ‘yeah cry your fucking eyes out, okay? Do it, and then get out of bed and live your goddamn life.’  I'll say therapy equipped me with a lot of tools that helped me recognize, I think the deeper source of my anxiety which was how everything internalized from this religion affects me now. Why I have anxiety still about doing things like drinking or going out or having sex and she really taught me to question my negative thoughts. Not the way that is meant to invalidate of course - ‘Am I projecting? Is this out of anxiousness? Is this some honest thought?’ Sometimes it's kind of a mix of all those things,” states Andy.

As a freelance illustrator, sometimes Andy is unable to have therapy depending on his income so I asked him what was a tool that helped him manage his own anxiety and depression.

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“Sadly, therapy is a luxury …. It shouldn't be but it's so inaccessible for so many people, and certainly has been for me. I feel like my rock through some many things is journaling, which sounds so simple, but I've really, really tried to do it regularly and not just when I'm spiraling or when I'm experiencing some breaking point. In fact, I think for me, journaling keeps me from the snowball of anxiety and depression that leads me to that breaking point which doesn't need to happen. We are human and it does and I get that, but it's also very honest, journaling. I think even when recording our thoughts, we want to self edit and make it sound like maybe it's not, you know, I don't want to sound so dramatic or whatever but be dramatic. What you may realize later is super unreasonable, write it down in anyway. That's what helps me reflect. That's how I tried to share in therapy, when I do get to go to just be very honest and without a filter, because I want to be able to hear it for myself, or to have the therapist understand that this is exactly what my mind is saying to me right now and if they're not there, if I don't have access to a therapist to be able to look at that and say, ‘Okay, well, let's unpack this a bit and let's dispel some of this illusion.’ If I can express for myself what journaling does for me, that is a practice that when I do regularly it makes an enormous difference. I can't even begin to say what a benefit that is. Self employment has really been a difficult time for me to actively participate in therapy. Since moving to New York, my experiences with therapy have been very kind of one off when I'm able to get a free appointment somewhere. I just got fairly comprehensive health insurance so luckily will be hopefully pursuing that but it has really required me to rely on those tools that I know and to really rely on my support network as well. Not that I trust my friends to give me professional therapist advice, but they're there for me and to listen to me and to ... I don't know, hold me or just like ‘yeah, that sucks.’ It's helped me alleviate some of the pressure that builds up in my more anxious phases or at the times I'm most anxious,” Simmonds says.

We are fortunate to live in an age of social media where artist’s can widely share their Queer experiences through their gifts. Andy is a prime example of such an artist. I talked a little bit about what it means to him to be openly queer through his work.

“I've always been a visual learner and a visual communicator. So as I came out, my desire to live loudly, to be very proudly out, I think just naturally went along with my work. I had been really trying to sell the hand lettering presence online up until coming out and then very quickly, the quotes I would letter or the portraits became very indicative of gay culture. Or they had gay culture I was exploring at the time which was like, Kesha, Lady Gaga. Lots of Kesha lyrics. In the same way, I just never wanted to look back. I think that I wanted to reclaim all that time. I wanted to do so with my artwork as well. I also recognize that it offered an opportunity for other people to see work that was overtly queer, which is something I didn't have access to and even when I happened upon it on just because I lived in the world on accident, I felt deep shame or looking at and so it's kind of like it's a response to that. It's a reaction to that. I think a lot of ways has helped me hold my queerness even more because I'm able to, or at least I tried to synthesize into something visual.

It's funny because I feel such a responsibility to share my experiences as I think Queer people should. It's also very difficult to talk about trauma and anxiety. In environments like this, where we're comfortable, and it's much easier but to kind of just put it out there, it's painful to relive, it's painful to talk about and so I think I've been trying to learn a balance. I've found a lot of power in sharing my story or parts of it when it feels right and how people respond is so wonderful and amazing but on the other side of it I'm also learning when to say ‘you know what? This is maybe something I can like work through on my own and doesn't need to be put out into the world, it's more of a me thing. But I have to take some time, let me journal, let me work through. Then if I do have something I feel I need to say or share that I could be beneficial afterwards, I'll do it,” says Andy.

Living authentically through the work you produce is tough, but Andy manages to pull through the barriers to create work that impacts others. His presence online by sharing his authenticity was one of the catalysts for me personally to become more open about my Queer identity through the work that I make and ultimately played a part in this podcast. You can follow Andy’s work on Instagram @heyrooney. Whether you have a social following or not, if you wish to share your story much like Andy did, please email me at ripepodcast@gmail.com.

“Ripe” hosted and produced by Barry Lee, you can find me over at @barryleeart on Instagram and this show is a part of the Wussy Mag podcast network. I appreciate you taking the time today to listen to my show and I encourage you to continue the conversation outside of the internet with your community about mental health. Please subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Thanks for tuning in.