Before we get into the details, it’s important to go over just why that woman’s accusation was so damaging, whether a trans person was actually in the spa or not. First of all, her statement is full of misgendering: Describing a trans woman as “he,” for example, and outright saying she is “not a female” is not only incorrect but deeply dehumanizing.
Of course, trans women are women, regardless of genitalia. Genitalia does not define gender identity. While obviously issues of harassment, sexual harassment, violence, and so on must be taken extremely seriously in any situation—especially one in which there is a level of particular vulnerability, like a spa—someone simply existing as transgender is not a form of violence. In fact, given that trans folks are so much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, my instinct would be to make sure spaces are safe, inclusive, and affirming for trans folks to show up as their authentic selves without risk of harm.
For additional context, Wi Spa is a 24-hour upscale spa that is decidedly LGBTQ+ inclusive. As others have pointed out, given that the Instagram user has many Christian memes on her account, it’s puzzling why she might have chosen this particular spot—or a spa that allowed nudity, period—only to have this reaction. If you don’t want to see people’s genitals, the best solution all around is likely to simply go to a spa that requires certain layers of clothing or towel coverage. After all, at least in California, businesses can’t (and shouldn’t be able to, anyway) discriminate against people based on their gender identity.
Even still, in a second video posted to the same Instagram account, two women question a spa staff member.
“It’s not discrimination,” one customer said. “It’s an impostor. You cannot identify an impostor? Someone faking to be a woman just because they feel like they want to call themselves a woman?”
The ideas that trans folks are “pretending” to be a certain gender, or are being somehow sneaky or manipulative, are dangerous, unfair, and harmful stereotypes. Trans people are not trying to trick or deceive anyone, nor are they trying to access spaces for the sake of causing harm. They are simply people trying to enjoy the same things as everybody else—in this case, what should have been a relaxing moment at a popular spa.
But, again, according to the Los Angeles Blade, it’s possible the incident was staged. What gives this possibility credence? A source at Wi Spa told the outlet they don’t have any of their usual trans clients on record for an appointment that day. All guests are by appointment only, and according to the Blade, most of their trans clients are familiar to the staff. Human error is always a possibility, even still. In addition to sources at the spa, the Blade reports that anonymous sources at the Los Angeles Police Department told the outlet they haven’t found any corroborating evidence a trans person was at the spa that day, either. That said, a lack of evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that it was staged. A lack of corroboration is simply that: a lack of corroboration.
Now, to the protests and some context around those. On Saturday, July 3, a protest outside of the spa, including both trans allies and people protesting the spa, turned violent. Members of the LAPD in riot gear responded to the scene and called for protesters to disperse, though no arrests were made. Five people were injured, including two being assaulted by a deadly weapon, according to local outlet KTLA.
Here are some videos from the protest.
In an Instagram video, the original customer shared she would not attend the protest herself as she was concerned about her safety after hearing that antifa would be present. Antifa, as you might remember, stands for “antifascist.”
In a statement, Wi Spa confirmed it is following California law by not discriminating against trans folks. “California law prohibits discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people in business establishments,” the spa shared in a statement. “Like many other metropolitan areas, Los Angeles contains a transgender population, some of whom enjoy visiting a spa. Wi Spa strives to meet the needs and safety of all of its customers, and does not tolerate harassment or lewd conduct by any customer, regardless of their sex, gender, or other characteristic.”
Here is a short feature from CBS Los Angeles including video from the protest and brief interviews with attendants.