A trans woman is facing an upcoming trial in which she has been charged with five felony counts of indecent exposure for an incident that occurred at a Los Angeles spa.
A judge recently ruled that the trial of Darren Merager can move forward after multiple witnesses testified in a pre-trial hearing that in the summer of 2021 Merager made them uncomfortable while naked in the spa’s women’s locker room due to her exposed penis.
Witnesses cannot agree on whether or not Merager’s penis was erect, but the possibility that an erection took place was enough for the judge to move the case forward, according to Los Angeles Magazine (LAMag). The judge, Lana S. Kim, also said that the spa’s antidiscrimination policy protecting trans customers “was not an affirmative defense.”
At the time of the alleged incident, a video of a woman complaining to spa staff about a “man” in the women’s locker room went viral and the dispute quickly became a right-wing conspiracy. The spa in question at first denied a trans woman was using the facilities at the time and no evidence had publicly been made available showing otherwise.
But weeks later, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) charged Merager with indecent exposure and said she was already a registered sex offender due to indecent exposure incidents in 2002 and 2003.
The woman, going by the online moniker Cubana Angel, was complaining in the video that a man was allegedly posing as a woman to use women’s facilities at the spa, and that he tried to expose himself to women in the room. Customers at the family-friendly facilities are frequently undressed while bathing and soaking in the hot water.
In the video, the woman shouts, “There is no such thing as transgender. He has a dick.”
With the spa maintaining that there was no trans woman or cisgender man pretending to be a trans woman knowingly sharing the facilities with cis women at the time, several media outlets deemed the entire controversy likely to be a conspiracy or hoax based on misinformation. Yet the LAPD and right-wing media remained fixated on the incident.
QAnon believers quickly seized on the video as “evidence” for the conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians and celebrities belong to a pedophilic cannibal cult run by aliens. Adherents spread similar false rumors about a D.C. pizza parlor, claiming the restaurant’s basement was a nexus for pedophiles.
In July, the issue caused a violent riot between far-right and pro-trans protestors. Several were left suffering from severe injuries and the LAPD fired rubber bullets at protestors and bystanders.
In 2018, the LAPD printed public information posters saying Merager often “claims to be female in order to gain access to women’s locker rooms and showers.”
In an interview at the time, Merager claimed the witnesses at the spa were spewing “a bunch of garbage and lies.”
“She never saw me naked,” Merager reportedly told a right-wing journalist at the time. “I was underwater with water all the way up to my chest.”
“If you go into an area where you’re expected to be nude, there has to be an indecent exposure exemption,” Merager also said.
At the pre-trial hearing, a witness named Claudia, who was present at the spa with her two daughters, reportedly stated that Merager “was relaxed, like it was normal.”
“He was walking, like in a beauty contest, completely naked, like it was normal for a guy to walk around naked there.” (Merager has previously told LAMag that she uses both she/her and he/him pronouns. Her driver’s license has reportedly identified her as female since 2019).
According to both Claudia and her daughters, Merager was sitting on the edge of the jacuzzi with her legs opened 45 degrees. They said she did not try to get their attention but that it made them uncomfortable nonetheless.
Claudia said she was worried about her 14-year-old daughter. “I was afraid for her – here’s this guy with an erect penis.”
Another witness named Christina had previously told a detective that Merager’s penis was “partially erect.” Meanwhile, Claudia’s 14-year-old testified that the penis was “soft” but that she felt “unsafe” and “uncomfortable” anyway because she had never seen anyone’s penis before. Claudia’s other daughter claimed Merager’s penis was erect.
But in the original viral videos, there was reportedly no mention of an erect penis, and Merager is claiming the witnesses have changed their stories.
“Every single one of these witnesses that get up on the stand decided it’s an erection a month later. Where are my witnesses?” Merager told LAMag during the pre-trial hearing. “Why weren’t the two dozen women in the spa indecently exposed? Only men can be indecently exposed, but women can’t? Only the penis is indecent.”
Arraignment for the case will take place on February 21st.