The Powerful Reason This Bathroom Selfie Is Going Viral

by Eliza Castile

Bathroom selfies may be a time-honored tradition dating all the way back to the invention of the smart phone (which isn't all that time-honored, now that I think about it), but it's not often that they go viral. This week, however, a selfie taken in a gender-neutral bathroom is grabbing everyone's attention for all the best reasons: Fashion-with-a-capital-F, queer pride, and showing just how ridiculous it is to be afraid of gender-neutral bathrooms.

On April 12, Wheelock College student Julissa Emile was at a collegiate poetry slam competition when she decided to take a selfie with a friend in the facility's gender-neutral bathroom. "Every chance we get we take mirror selfies together," Emile tells Bustle, explaining that she and her friend are in a closed mirror selfie group on Facebook. Some more friends joined in, and she posted the series of photos on Twitter, starting with her solo pic and adding someone with every successive photo.

The format is a clever reference to a meme, but that's not the only reason it received thousands of likes and retweets. I'll let Emile explain the catch herself: "A gender neutral bathroom but every time I take a picture more queer people get in the photo," she tweeted.

Emile attributes some of the tweet's popularity to her friends' fabulous style, but she adds that it may have spoken to many people for showing that gender-neutral bathrooms are nothing to worry about. "The idea of people of different genders together in a public bathroom makes people a little uneasy. ... To see us being happy and content kinda strikes a chord in people," she writes to Bustle.

In case you've been under a rock for the past two years, the ongoing "bathroom wars" are centered around the question of whether transgender people have a right to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. Much of the criticism comes from the idea that sexual predators will supposedly use the opposite-gender restroom to harass or assault its occupants.

However, the basis of this criticism has been shown to be a myth: Not only is there no evidence that anyone has ever been attacked by a trans person in a bathroom, but in reality, transgender individuals actually face greater risks when using the restroom than cisgender people do. As Emile's tweet demonstrates, gender-neutral bathrooms are simply bathrooms, even when they're the location for an impromptu photo shoot.

"I think gender neutral/inclusive bathrooms benefit anyone," Emile tells Bustle. "Trans people don't have to worry about getting beat up if they go into the bathroom ... non-binary people don't have to fit back into a binary to go to the bathroom, and families can take their children to the bathroom." For every gendered bathroom, she adds, she would like to see a gender-neutral restroom as well.

Queer presences in bathrooms remain a contentious subject. Last year, North Carolina famously implemented House Bill 2, which required transgender individuals to use public bathrooms corresponding with the identity they were assigned at birth. The good news is that it was partially repealed last month (although the replacement is still problematic). The less-than-good news is that Donald Trump has revoked Obama-era guidelines allowing public schools to let transgender students use their desired bathroom.

Given the unpredictability of the current political climate, it's still difficult to tell where the law will eventually stand on gender-neutral and inclusive bathrooms, but in the meantime, at least there are fashionable queer students showing us what LGBTQ equality can look like — and how awesome it is.