Rooney Makes Like Xtina & Gets 'Stripped'


The ex-Mormon twunk known as simply Rooney is slowly shedding his bubblegum image in favor of the harder, darker, and scruffier. Text and photos by Sean Santiago.


Talk to me about Bubblegum Femme. What does it mean to you and why did you start it? Is that something you're still working on—or where is your work headed?

My "Bubblegum Femme" work was both a response to "Masc4Masc" culture as well as my own internalized femmephobia. I confronted that insecurity by consciously and visually celebrating the femme parts of myself. I no longer focus my work around the "Bubblegum Femme" aesthetic, but the idea of being bubbly and quirky and femme is very much part of me and always will be.

What's after pink? Blue?

After pink is red, and I don't see myself moving from that. Red has always been my favorite color! I think it better represents my personality, too.

Red is very confrontational. Would you say you're confrontational?

I don't seek out or revel in confrontation, but I'm certainly not afraid of it. In a way, owning my love for red has helped me embrace my assertive, fiery side.

I didn’t realize how ‘femme’ certain traits of mine were till I came out and started dating.

Talk to me a little more about confronting your internalized femmephobia and how your creative work has helped with that. I think that's a super common thing in the queer community amongst gay men and a lot of it seems to be tied up in desirability politics. I think a lot of people carry that shame in the background—what have been some of the best responses to your Bubblegum Femme work?

The gag is I didn't realize how "femme" certain traits of mine were till I came out and started dating. I quickly learned that flamboyance and femininity were of value as an accessory, or in caricature. They did not make me desirable [and] I felt shame for that, and in small ways still do! I think that's something a lot of us gay men will have to deal with—either in large ways or in passing moments—for the rest of our lives. But the time between when I feel that shame and when I snap myself out of it continues to diminish, and that's important.

Bubblegum Femme really helped me jumpstart that battle to accept myself entirely. And because so many of us are dealing with the same shit, I've received some very heartfelt responses, the best of which was the overall reaction to my "Masc4Masc" design. It was just a quick graphic that I posted to poke fun at the concept, but seemed to strike a nerve, particularly once I put it on tees. It garnered a response that still seems to have momentum! I'm really grateful I got to play a part in this conversation around the undermining of toxic masculinity.


You're also really active with Voices 4—how did that come about and what do you do with them?

Last year, after the news about queer persecution in Chechnya broke, my best friend Adam set out to organize a march. We gathered whomever we could and the group collectively named the march "Voices 4 Chechnya." From that, it became clear that everyone involved was invested beyond that one action; we kept meeting and the growth has been impressive. Aside from showing up for actions and meetings, I head up graphics and merch! To be able to use my skill set for something like Voices 4 means so damn much to me.


What's something that would surprise people most about you? Especially if they've been following you on Instagram for awhile?

I have a very difficult time opening up to people! You know, beyond the digestible, surface-level stuff. I only do so when I really trust someone and have known them for some time. For that reason I have very few close friends. I like it that way.

Do you have a type? I feel like being a sk8er boi-esque ex-Mormon might bag you some interesting D.

I can assure you it does not. At least not often. I don't know that I have a type! I mean...if he can quote Carly Rae I'm pretty well sold. I guess that's a "type?"

If he can quote Carly Rae I’m pretty well sold. I guess that’s a ‘type?’