CW: some inaccurate information (see update below), child abuse mention, discussion of genital terminology
Two notes before beginning:
Instead of the overly Latin and slightly nauseating word “penis”, I have chosen to instead to use something a bit more whimsical and fun in this piece, namely “johnson”. For etymologically obvious reasons, this term does not pertain very well to the transfeminine penis, more colloquially known as “girldick” – but alas, for those who can only see a dick as chromosomally shaped mounds of flesh, blood, and other fluids, it might as well be a johnson for all they're concerned, no matter the precise context.
With respect to people who read this who may be just a touch “gender-critical” themselves, I already know how and why I disagree with you about this. I think your views on gender are a combination of boring, outdated, and too amenable to authoritarianism that's either rightist or might as well be rightist (never mind all the left-wing and/or anarchist bona fides certain people may harp on about); I'm not interested in wasting my time discussing it. To the extent you want some spaces to remain “cis women only”, I hardly even care, but I don't see it being very difficult for all of y'all to do that. You have such spaces and you will, in all likelihood, continue to have such spaces. They just may not be the only spaces anymore.
So! At the time of writing, the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article on the “Wi Spa controversy” reads as follows:
On June 24, 2021, a woman posted a video to Instagram in which she angrily confronted staff at Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, about the apparent presence of a nude individual with a [johnson], most commonly believed to be a trans woman, in the women's section of the spa. The video went viral, attracting significant attention from [trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and right-wing] media, which led to protests and counter-protests on July 3 and 17 over the alleged access. Some media initially questioned whether the alleged incident had been a hoax.
The article goes on, stating that on August 30, someone “commonly reported to be a transgender woman” was arrested in connection to the original reported incident. There is at least one real person involved at the centre of all this, in other words – and things are still very much shaking out for her. I have not followed this story closely, and I don't even know how many details are easily available, but I suspect that she is in pre-trial lock-up at this time.
As an anarchist, I think that sucks. Furthermore, I think that all prisons should be burned to the ground; I'm into that shit. I am also open to the idea that this person genuinely sucks too, because I do not know what happened. My gut reaction, as a partisan in the culture war, is that this is (as some have claimed, because there was initially no evidence at all to suggest otherwise) a hoax, and that now some uninvolved trans woman is dealing with a lot of shit as a consequence. But I don't know – and hey, maybe that person has done some things I don't think are cool, at Wi Spa or elsewhere.
An aside: evidently, she was not arrested because she is necessarily known to have been at Wi Spa – although perhaps some witness testimony will come out in whatever court-and-media circus emerges from this some months hence. Her history of “indecent exposure” dating from about 2003, documented by the judicial system, is what flagged her as a possible suspect. She has apparently also been designated by the state as a “registered sex offender” since 2006, presumably for related reasons.
This woman, and the original incident in the Wi Spa women's changing room (be it a complete fabrication or not), is not really important, though. What is important is that there were, just outside of Wi Spa's location in Los Angeles, large rallies and counterrallies between rightists, on the one hand (including in some cases fascists, parafascists, as well as several people who are completely out of touch with reality), and on the other hand, a coalition of anti-fascist activists, e.g. various leftists, maybe some anarchists, the odd, essentially liberal concerned citizen, and so on. These events, on July 3, July 17, and possibly on other days since, were all overseen by the police.
What happened at Wi Spa was part of a larger story as soon as that went viral. It was, in fact, for at least a brief moment, The Story for both the “gender-critical” and anti-fascist commentariats, in the United States at least. This is what led to the rallies, which I am sure would have had various negative effects if left unopposed (difficulty for staff just working a job at Wi Spa, difficulty for many customers but certainly customers who are trans or might look trans, a sense of victory for the anti-trans side and/or their buddies the Nazis and the “Western chauvinists”), and so then there was also counteraction (widely framed as “antifa”), with all of its inherent risk for the side that, on other days of the week and/or with every breath, also happens to oppose the police, the colonial state, capitalism (of all kinds), the American flag, etc.
There were real stakes for both coalitions, in other words – both the rightist, TERF/“gender-critical”, religious conservative, and -adjacent coalition “opposing gender ideology” et al., as well as the trans, anti-fascist, liberal-progressive-secular, and -adjacent coalition that stands for “trans and queer liberation”, “LGBT rights”, etc., to one's tastes.
As an insurrectionary anarchist – which means, in the North American context today, a tradition within anarchism largely informed by people who had some close connection to struggles in Italy or in the Italian diaspora in the past, from Malatesta and Galleani about a hundred years ago, to the forebears of those forebears, and also to the lives of anarchists still living today like Bonanno, Weir, and others who got caught up in the biggest event for anarchists of the whole 1990s, which has been significantly degree identified with individualist currents as well in North America, also bringing names like Novatore especially to the fore – I inherit a tradition that, in its more modern, local, and generally English-language iterations, is extremely ambivalent about and wary of coalitional politics, insofar as it knows well that coalition partners, on the whole, aren't gonna fuck with what we think, aren't gonna put resistance to authority at the centre of their analysis and practice, and are pretty likely to betray us and/or disappoint us eventually.
All that said, there is a social-insurrectionary current too, which doesn't forget that it's not just insurrectionary anarchists or any other conspiratorial “elite” that makes the revolution – it's everyone, together. At least where I live, the individualist and the social-insurrectionary currents still exist in an uneasy tension, together sustaining (with difficulty) a form of anarchism that isn't just contemporary Blanquism lazily described as such.
Thus, in the spirit of realizing the perennial social-insurrectionary fantasy, of diverse demographics coming together, vanquishing various threats, and creating space for joyous novelty (also identified, by some, as “anarchy”), I wish to bring to the fore that there is also some stake in this for anyone who wants to “normalize nudity” in society at large.
The original controversy stems from the fact that a johnson visible to others for a brief moment in the women's changing room at Wi Spa on June 24 of this year; and if that was not the case, we can still concede that such a thing could happen, certainly has happened somewhere at some point, that it is in fact a logical consequence of a limited trans liberation taking place within the parameters of an otherwise unchanged society (i.e. a society that has commercial spas, which have bigendered changing rooms, and so on). And, either you're cool with that, or not.
Personally, I am cool with it, and not even on behalf of some especial militancy in favour of trans lib. It's more like, as a nudist, it is hard for me to understand what the big deal is about a loose johnson or a loose anything. “Don't look if it makes you uncomfortable” is my position, in more or less any setting, including in changing rooms, locker rooms, etc., to your preference.
Furthermore, I don't really believe that the specific “sanctity” of any space should be the most important principle in any ethical conundrum or social question, nor do I think it is acceptable or a good idea to accommodate ungrounded panic about sexual predators and pedophiles, especially if trans women and other groups are also being identified as the avatars of this threat. I suspect the rare event of a loose johnson in a women's locker room will be uncomfortable for some (though I would expect the discomfort to be more acute among isolated pre-op trans women than among cis women and girls who are in the company of other cis women and girls), but life is uncomfortable for everyone sometimes. Alas! Would that it were not, for everyone!
In men's changing rooms, there has also been a sort of drift towards less tolerance of loose johnsons in public view, which long predates more recent hysteria animated by the gains of pro-trans social movements. For example, where I live, local authorities have, in recent years, mandated that nudity is not to be tolerated in changing rooms for public pools, whether to change from a street outfit into swimclothes or to take a shower beforehand or after.
Although the policy applies across the board, the rhetorical focus was on the men's changing rooms, and the arguments were the same as those with respect to the Wi Spa controversy. Some people are uncomfortable with nudity, first off; it was implied that the people who were doing the complaining were mostly non-white immigrants, so when the policy was announced, both a potential “left” opposition to the policy was undermined for fear of association with racism, while a scapegoat was offered up by local authorities to magnetize the animus of any potential “right” opposition to the policy. A skillful maneuver.
There are also children present in men's changing rooms, just like in women's changing rooms. Apparently this matters because there is an epidemic of child sex trafficking happening at the public pools where parents and older siblings take young kids to cool off in the summer (fact check: there is not). What's really happening is that 6-year-olds are seeing normal human bodies in the locker room, and then potentially asking questions of their fathers and older brothers that can cause these men, young and old, quite a bit of discomfort and confusion. If we accept that the policy was adopted for exactly the same reasons as local authorities said it was, then the decision making doesn't give much credit to these men (among whom I suspect there are plenty of white “locals”, incidentally). Nor does a narrative that assumes crowds of cis women are uniquely threatened by the odd trans woman in a women's changing room (including the even rarer type of trans woman who is a bit large or a bit rude).
Even in the very limited number of spaces where public nudity has heretofore been considered acceptable because it is, in fact, quite practical – like, me being me, the nudist blog guy, I'd obviously prefer both the pool and poolside facilities to be comprehensively nudity-optional, but that's just not what's up – there is a push to keep “private parts” covered to an even greater point of impracticality than what was, mere decades earlier, still quite common in North America. And like, I think it should be as easy as possible, for everyone, for people to change their outfits when that is something they need to do just to enjoy their lives.
There may be more than one solution to this, none of which is likely to work for everyone, but a trans-inclusive policy with respect to bigendered changing rooms seems significantly better than simply ignoring the specific needs, experiences, or desires of trans women writ large in order to satisfy a bigoted sentiment among, for the most part, cis people, both women and men.
But, that's not what's going. The principal reason is a sort of anti-sexual hysteria, meaning confused and/or politically reactionary efforts to solve real sexuality problems that either lack strategic sense or, otherwise, are animated by paranoia and violent fantasy vis-à-vis identified enemy groups such as trans people.
This sort of thing never affects just one group of people. It has ripple effects. Certainly it has gotten mixed into the QAnon and -adjacent stuff at this point, e.g. ideological currents presently animating most incidents of fatality-inducing stochastic terror in the United States.
Among naturist spaces on the internet, the only one I am aware of that has any space at all for present-day political discourse is the r/naturism subreddit. At the time of writing, there is a wiki page “dedicated to resources to help the Black Lives Matter movement” as well as links to a “Belarus Solidarity Fund” and a “Hayastan All Armenian Fund” on the sidebar, presumably related to the ongoing situation in Belarus and last year's war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don't want to be too mean or critical, but I find this sort of thing a bit confusing. It is clear to me that one or more of the subreddit's admins care about things beyond the concerns of nudism-naturism, that they want to help with apparently urgent matters like social uprisings, wars, and dictatorial crackdowns on dissent, and that they think the users of r/naturism – who mostly post blog articles about “nakations” or their own experiences as nudists or other very much subcultural and individual concerns – should also give at least some amount of a fuck. And, that's great, but there is not much of an explicit argument being made to explain why anyone should care (apart from already agreeing with some cliché principles of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, internationalism, etc.), what any users of r/naturism are supposed to do about that, and why any of the suggestions of places to donate or things to keep in mind might actually be helpful, fit into a larger strategy, etc.
With respect to the Wi Spa situation, it's different. First of all, it is presumably a place that many SoCal nudists already know of, or that they may even frequent occasionally. Second, the original controversy is about an exposed “private part”, a linguistic and philosophical construction that is a perennial bugbear for would-be nudists. There is, in other words, some space for nudists to participate in the social eruption around the controversy – just one beat in the pulse of a larger, more diffuse cultural conflict across the whole anglosphere and beyond – as nudists (or perhaps more accurately, as partisans of nudism, i.e. it may not be useful to participate actually naked) and in solidarity.
In so doing, they could link struggles and also sharpen ideas about, in this case, issues of apparel and nudity more broadly. Out of that, there is a possibility for something beyond mere defense of reason and decency in a space where it is threatened (which is, frankly, a straightforwardly conservative goal, whether it is articulated by defenders or opponents of trans lib). Instead, the Crucible of Politics and the Arena of History could do as they have done before, forging new affinities which might lead, in turn, to new architectures (both physical and sociocultural) and new understandings of the world that do not subordinate exuberance and personal freedom to tradition, paranoia, and/or negative stereotypes about certain kinds of people. And I genuinely think that, apart from what nudists can do for the right side in this struggle as people like any other (e.g. we can throw down, provide first aid, donate money, etc.), there is also something uniquely useful we can contribute to this specific struggle that emerges from a nudist political sensibility (e.g. the argument that no one should rightly care too much about a hanging johnson being in potential sight range every now and then).
An effort to create a more actively solidarious culture among nudists (or among any other group of people, of course) shouldn't be directed first toward “issues” that are simply serious, be they geopolitical issues (“Belarus”, “Hong Kong”, “Venezuela”, etc.) or social justice issues (like trans lib or whatever). The primary focus instead should be to identify situations where nudists could understand that they have some skin in the game, as it were – situations such as those around the Wi Spa stuff this past summer, as well as the larger backdrop of both a widespread social precariousness and a multiplicity of rightist factions that want to seize power, exterminate the human avatars of perceived “corruption” (which presumably includes a lot of nudists), and generally make the world worse for everyone.
The Wi Spa situation has been on my mind since it happened in 2021, but not long before that, in the context of nationalist campaigns to punish people for wearing certain kinds of apparel associated with non-Christian religions in places like France, Québec, Austria, and elsewhere, I have also thought that it would have been great if some organized association of nudists could have intervened strategically in the discourse (i.e. in podcasts, in writing, in which there are no distracting representations of naked people, so that the ideas can take centre stage).
“From burqini to naked,” their slogan could have read. “We believe that what others wear is none of your business.”
As an anarchist who has participated in black blocs before, I would have appreciated even symbolic and rhetorical efforts at solidarity from nudists in the face of previous years' (and obviously pre-2020) efforts in various places to demonize and specifically criminalize face masks and other types of sensible apparel for street fighting in the context of political demonstrations and/or just in general. (Probably a bit spicy for the vast majority of nudists on the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum, sadly.)
It is important to note that solidarity is the only means by which any sort of anti-systemic social movement has ever achieved its objectives – and it's generally pretty useful for social movements that are significantly less anti-systemic, too. Nudism-naturism (the dominant “philosophy of nudism”, e.g. a set of ideas about how to understand humans' relationships to nudity, apparel, and other aspects of their lives, as well as to how imagine better ones), nudism-comfortism (a different philosophy informed by anarchism, articulated here), and any kind of anarchist and/or radical egalitarian politics seem pretty much destined to remain positions of the small minority for the foreseeable future. The experiences of minorities of various kinds, too, will remain obscure to most people, especially while there is an ongoing, well-supported campaign in the anglosphere countries (and beyond) to remove purported “gender ideology” (a bogeyman evil that overlaps with other evils in a suspicious rightist's mind) from existence, perhaps alongside those who promote it and those who embody it.
We (nudists, anarchists, people who are both) can make our own spaces, and we can take our own spaces. Unless we have money, though, we will need to develop other skills, including social skills. We need to know, and have a good and trusting relationship, with as many of our neighbours as we can – and sometimes, with people who are further away, too. We need to show our friends, or the people we wouldn't mind having as friends, that we will have their backs if they're dealing with a crisis. And then, maybe they'll help us out, both when we need help due to a crisis of some kind, or because we have aspirations of our own that we want to realize, that we hope others can help us realize.
(Update, October 2, 2021: a comment on @news led me to type a name into my search engine, which brought me to this article, by Andy Ngo, in the New York Post. I do not like Ngo or the Post, but the article provided new information that I expect is accurate. For instance, what happened on August 30 is that the Los Angeles police issued a warrant for a suspect in the Wi Spa “indecent exposure” case; no one was arrested on that day. The individual named in the warrant then spoke to Ngo for his September 2 article, and announced that she would turn herself into police afterwards. I got these facts wrong. In the Post article, the sought-after individual also admits to having been present at Wi Spa on June 24, meaning that, at the very least, the initial incident was not a hoax. I do not think these facts invalidate the overall thrust of my argument – I stated that the person at this centre of this story could very well be a person who I would think sucks, and that it's not about her – but I do regret using an evidently inadequate Wikipedia article for most of my research.)
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