EXCLUSIVE: Transgender Fugitive Who Spurred Wi Spa Riots Bares All

Darren Merager, the just-arrested Angeleno who launched a firestorm from a women’s locker room, spoke with LAMag while on the lam
489

Darren Merager, the transgender Angeleno at the center of an indecent exposure row that began in the summer of 2021 at a Koreatown spa and then exploded into a national scandal, has been arrested in Los Angeles after 15 months on the lam. 

It was on June 23, 2021, at Wi Spa on Wilshire and South Rampart when 52-year-old Merager caused a near-riot by exposing his—or was it her?—penis to a locker room full of women. In September 2021, the L.A. county DA filed five felony counts of indecent exposure against Merager, and since, the Arcadia native has been the red-hot center of a huge blowup over trans rights. The controversy caught the eye of media, from local outlets to Tucker Carlson, as it triggered pitched protests around Wi Spa’s K-Town-adjacent neighborhood that grew violent and led to brawls among activist militants, scores of arrests and lawsuits over excessive force by police.

Following Merager’s December 13 arrest, the lightning rod for controversy is being kept in a male inmate facility in L.A. Bail has been set at $350,000 and a court date has been scheduled for Dec. 30, according to L.A. County Sheriff’s Office records. 

So, is Merager a trans martyr simply exercising the legal right to disrobe in a women’s locker room? Or a pervert using California’s progressive trans rights ordinances as a loophole to flash his private parts? Nearly a year-and-a-half later, nobody has an answer to that question, but LAMag did speak repeatedly with Merager—who tells us he/him and she/her pronouns are just fine but loathes they/them—about what happened that summer night at Wi Spa and in the weeks afterward. 

The following exclusive Q&A, edited for clarity by LAMag, comes from several conversations Jeremy Lee Quinn recorded with Merager in September.

You must have seen the protests at Wi Spa that you sparked. What was your reaction to them?

That was the craziest thing. I was completely caught off guard by that. I live my own personal private life. I try to stay aware of the community, but I’m very much a person that doesn’t belong to any type of organization. Even put me under a transgender umbrella, and I’m very uncomfortable. [But] when they had that second protest, on July 17th, I wanted to really understand why [people were] protesting. I actually went down there just to witness it. 

Where were you at the protest? With which side did you stand?

I was very close to the epicenter. I stayed in my car. 

Did you talk to anyone there?

I was first contacted by a Black female who then went and summoned a large group to confront me. It appeared to be a mixture of Antifa types as well as this Black and pink group. 

Why did they confront you?

Because maybe one of them saw me on my binoculars. They made a point to come up to my vehicle and really threaten me. They had no idea who I am. 

Did you tell them you were the trans person at the heart of the whole controversy?

I said, “I’m the whole purpose you’re here.” They denied it. They said, “No, you’re a Proud Boy. People like us don’t drive Escalades.” 

On July 17, 2021, SoCal Antifa-aligned activists were beaten back with batons in clashes. They then threw fireworks and smoke bombs at the police. (Photo: Jeremy Lee Quinn)

When the incident at Wi Spa first started making noise on social media, there were some outlets — like The Guardian, Slate and Insider — who speculated that it was a hoax, that you didn’t exist. How’d that make you feel?

They said it was a hoax because no one had my name. Wi Spa doesn’t retain names of people that use the spa. They have credit card receipts, but I paid in cash; no one ever knew who I was. What people don’t realize is that I came forward and gave my name to the LAPD. 

Why did you do that?

I guess I realized that maybe I am very important to the world—because look how important this really is. This is an injustice. I’m the victim here. 

How did the LAPD respond to your tip?

They thought it was a hoax too because they didn’t have a name. So I said, “No, it’s not a hoax; I can prove I was there because I parked on Wilshire that night and got two parking tickets. They almost towed my car!” 

But then you decide to run. How come?

With the Wi Spa warrant, I couldn’t bail out. They [were going to] put my bail to the point where it’s just through the roof. I mean, it could be close to a million dollars. There’s no way I’d ever be able to get out. That’s not turning yourself in. I said, “I’m not going to just be kidnapped. Enough is enough.” 

Demonstrators outside Wi Spa in July 2021.

Let’s back up a second. Should we be using male or female pronouns with you? How do you identify?

I’m very neutral, like non-binary, although I don’t like that word. I’m legally female. But I have facial hair. I have a penis. I have no breasts. I don’t have a feminine voice. I don’t wear makeup or dress up like a female. So imagine you’re a grocery store [clerk] and you’re bagging my groceries and you say, “Excuse me, sir . . . ” I mean, am I supposed to be offended? That’d be ridiculous. How would this person know? But technically, for legal terms, I am she/her. I put “female” on my driver’s license. But I’ve had to struggle my whole life fitting into traditional society. 

And you sleep with women? You’re a female who has heterosexual sex with females?

I have heterosexual sex because my penis fits in a vagina. I don’t tell women I’m with that I’m transgender because that’s not my sex. So I’m not faking anything. Gender is internal, sex is external. 

When was the first time you remember hearing about being transgender…when was that presented and by who?

That was a discussion I had right after [a car] accident in April of 2017. Technically, I hadn’t used any facilities for like a year and a half—I hadn’t used bathrooms, pools, or anything. Technically I was considered transgender for a whole year and a half before I used any facilities. And I didn’t even know it was a law. I was ignorant of all of this.

When did you get your driver’s license changed?

The license came in January 2019 [the month that the California Gender Recognition Act took effect]. But there’s a discrepancy in California, you can go through your doctor. But it’s very easy to get it. You can go in and sign a piece of paper. So I just waited until January to do it. And that was the first month that it was available. Basically, anybody could walk in and get one.

Was that something that was discussed with your therapist? How did you come to the decision to make the appointment to go in to get the driver’s license changed?

Our discussion basically started around April 2017. Between April 2017 and 2019, I had figured that … evaluating how I fit and how I had problems in prison….you come to the conclusion that makes more sense, where you’re gonna fit better in life.

And it makes sense, looking back throughout all years of your life. It’s not like we’re born and people try to indoctrinate you. Once you evaluate your life, it makes a lot of sense. Especially when you’re autistic and things are non-traditional anyway.

But you are a convicted sex offender, aren’t you? Weren’t you once caught without pants and masturbating while peering into the window of an 85-year-old Arcadia woman?

So what happened was this elderly man got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and his bathroom overlooks another yard [and he saw me masturbating]. But even if it was masturbation, I don’t have a problem with that because that’s not illegal. It’s only illegal if you’re masturbating in someone’s face, like George Michael. 

What did you think of the story Los Angeles magazine published about the skirmishes around Wi Spa?

It was on the cover of the Christmas issue of the magazine. So I had to read it. The story was as accurate as it could be, with information they were getting. But I have a big problem with the very end when a supposed transgender person called Bamby Salcedo talks about me. 

You mean Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the [email protected] Coalition, the largest trans-led organization in L.A.? She said in the story, “You’d think after getting arrested a bunch of times, she’d just change clothes in a stall.”

Right. So, in the article, she says she goes to Wi Spa three times a year and she gets naked in there and she never has a problem. So I spoke to Bamby Salcedo on the phone before the story came out. She admitted to me that she has boobs and she takes off her top but that she does not take off her bottoms because she has a penis. Nobody knows she’s transgender. 

Nobody knows you’re transgender and you have a penis. What’s the difference? And why do you call Bamby a “supposed” transgender person?

We can go into that, but if she’s surgically [altered] parts of her body, that’s transsexual. I know that’s a controversy in and of itself, but I can explain that. 

Are you saying that transitioning either hormonally or physically somehow disqualifies someone from being authentically transgender?

You have to understand gender identity. Everybody’s confusing your internal with your external. All these external people are doing what is being called transitioning. There’s no transition. That’s called deviation. I’m tired of that word, “transitioning.” It’s a fake word that people like Bamby use. The whole point is this is how you are born. 

That’s a view unlikely to win you many friends within the activist community. What do you have against plastic surgery or hormones as opposed to natural body presentation?

I won’t be able to speak for other people, but I’d like to get inside their minds. I’d like to sit down with Caitlyn Jenner. I saw her the other day in Malibu. She’s very around. She almost hit my car. I realized it was her. I said, “Hey Caitlyn!”  I didn’t get a moment because everybody else was talking to her. 

What do you want to ask Caitlyn Jenner?

What made you want to dress up? Why is Bruce Jenner now dressing up as a woman when he knows he’s going to be attracting straight men and lesbians when that’s not what he’s been attracted to his whole life? 

Darren Merager

Let’s get back to Wi Spa—what brought you there that night?

I reinjured my back in an unprovoked attack in Malibu, and I went to Wi Spa because it’s the only place in town you can get hot and cold treatment, which is one of the best therapies you can get for anti-inflammation. 

Were you living near Koreatown?

No. I was in the neighborhood. My local pool in the marina was closed for maintenance. 

Did you go to Wi Spa often?

No, I’ve only been there twice. I had to do physical therapy every couple of days, and I roam a lot. Wherever I happened to be, I just googled the nearest community pool and called ahead to get their transgender policy. 

How soon after you arrived that night did the trouble begin?

I arrived, like, right at 10 p.m. And Cubana Angel [one of the spa customers] started complaining within the first hour. 

What did you do when you were confronted by her?

I froze. I didn’t do anything. I looked behind my shoulder because she was behind me and she’s a large woman. 

How did you escape?

I didn’t. She left. The other women forced her to leave. They said she was causing a disturbance. I stayed there for another 11 hours. 

You stayed overnight? How is that even possible?

Late at night, it calms down. It’s very calm, [and] the people are understanding. You can stay overnight. 

Cubana said she saw you exit a Jacuzzi fully nude penis was semi-erect. Is that how you remember it?

She concocted that story. When she first described my penis that night, she said it was hanging and swinging to the left. Then she did a news conference a month later when she says for the first and only time that I was slightly erect. I think she was probably coached by her attorney or the detectives to change her story. I caught them doing the same thing to me in West Hollywood. 

You’re referring to your 2019 arrest for allegedly exposing yourself to children at the West Hollywood Aquatics Center?

In West Hollywood! One step away from Santa Monica Boulevard, where there are rainbows and guys sitting in windows with rubber balls sticking in their mouths. You bring your kids over here, and you’re afraid they’re seeing a transgender person? 

Have you considered just changing clothes in a stall or wearing a bathing suit?

It’s not for me to adapt to society at this point. Even if it’s the polite thing to do or you want me to or there’s a controversy or whatever, if nobody else is using a shower curtain or nobody else is using a swimsuit, it’s illegal to try and make me do it. Technically, and from all perspectives, I am female, and everybody agrees with that. We’re all on equal grounds under the law. 

Some might say you’re taking advantage of the good intentions of recent California law. What do you say?

State senator Scott Wiener [D-San Francisco] is out there saying California will be a sanctuary state for places in the country where it is a crime for children to transition. I called Wiener, and I said, “You’re passing transgender laws. How about enforcing them?” Republicans hate this stuff, but are the Democrats really on board with it or do they just want our vote? And even if the feminist lesbians are attacking me, which I know they are, there should be more responsible people in the L.A. County district attorney’s office, starting with George Gascón. 

You’re on the run from the LAPD as well as the Sheriff’s Department. What’s life on the lam been like for you?

Being on the lam doesn’t only affect me. Back when this thing first started, I sold my car to my doctor, and then the police followed this car, dragged my doctor’s elderly father from behind the wheel, with the helicopters and news cameras on him, and held him there handcuffed for hours. He’s clearly an elderly Korean man. I’m a white guy with long, blond hair! So people close to me have also been affected. 

Your mother is in her 80s. How has this affected her?

You get some crazy people walking up to your door. She answered the door for the Daily Mail from London or something. I told my mom not to answer the door anymore.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.