Update, Sept. 2, 2021: The New York Post reports that on Aug. 30, “charges of indecent exposure were discreetly filed against a serial sex offender for the Wi Spa incident, following an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.” The accused, Darren Agee Merager, denied the allegations in an interview with the Post, but indicated that she plans to turn herself in to authorities.
On July 3, an anti-transgender protest outside a Los Angeles spa resulted in two stabbings—all over a social media post that police are now treating as a hoax. Back on June 24, a user called cubanangel posted a video on Instagram showing her and at least two other women confronting a staff member at Wi Spa on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown about having seen “a man with a penis” in the women’s changing area. “I’m recording this because I’m gonna make a big deal. I’m gonna take this very worldwide,” she explains, kicking off four minutes berating the staff member over the queer-friendly spa’s nondiscrimination policy.
Soon after the video began to go viral in transphobic corners of the internet, members of the trans community began to raise questions about it—chief among them why the video cuts out as the woman marches downstairs to confront this person she’s allegedly seen, conveniently ending before the trans woman she’s so angry about is shown. The woman also repeatedly mentions children being exposed to a penis, while no children appear on the video and the group don’t appear to have any children with them. These early doubts have been bolstered by reporting from the Los Angeles Blade that police suspect a hoax after failing to find witnesses who saw a trans woman at the spa, and that Wi Spa claims none of their trans clients had scheduled appointments that day.
To understand why this incident is so disturbing, it’s worth being clear about what the hoax is even claiming: that a trans woman used a changing room that she was fully allowed to use … on a day when no trans women actually happened to be using it. There was no specific claim of wrongdoing or inappropriate conduct on the part of this alleged person, although the colorful language used in the video certainly sparks the imagination, likely leading those with a transphobic cast of mind to fill the vacuum of facts with horrific acts of lewdness or indecency. Perhaps this is why outrage over the possibility that a trans woman may have changed her clothes in the appropriate facilities grew and grew, culminating in the protest outside Wi Spa, which included a contingent of violent extremists from the far right. The two stabbing victims were attacked by an anti-trans protester: One was a counterprotester; the other apparently a “friendly stab” incident where a fellow protester was hit by mistake.
Anti-trans activism is often thought of as a sideshow or a distraction, but these events show the real dangers of an increasingly extremist anti-trans backlash. In this case, an uncorroborated suggestion that a trans woman was using a women’s space ignited a protest that resulted in violence and led to a woman being hospitalized. That there was likely no trans woman there to begin with only underscores how thin a pretext is needed to prompt these sorts of outbursts from the far right. Trans people and our allies should not ignore the growing anti-trans sentiment in this country.
Update, Aug. 2, 2021: On July 30, Los Angeles Magazine reported that five women, including the one who initially posted the Wi Spa video, have filed police reports alleging to have witnessed “male genitals” exposed in the women’s section of the spa on June 23. This does not contradict previous reporting by the Los Angeles Blade that LAPD sources suspected the incident to have been a hoax. This post will be updated if that assessment changes.