I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to come back here, but I guess it is like riding a bike: Fall off, climb back on again. I am not sure that if your legs are broken it is even possible, but, given time, even with broken but mending legs, it is said to be the best medicine. Right now I probably need this medicine. I am doing this with my heart in my mouth.
When is the right time to respond? Is it too soon? Is it too late? Will I be accused of starting it up again?
Just over a week ago I made a hideous mistake based on a completely knee-jerk reaction about a goat that I perceived was in distress. Coupled with my reaction was an idiotic post I made on a Facebook group that I am part of, asking for help. After I saw what had happened, and how the thing had spiralled down into hideous, racist, Islamophobic assumptions by idiots commenting on my post, I rushed to make a very public apology, so fast I even messed that up, and then apologised again, and then again. The family who I hurt accepted, and then later questioned and rejected my apology.
I will be very surprised if you, my readers, have not seen the resulting fallout from #goatgate, on social media, in the newspapers and on the radio. I was made fun of, threatened, trolled, called names. I was sent private messages of the most filthy abuse. My blog was targeted, my apology rejected, my personal details distributed, screen grabs (not including my apology) shared, my work threatened, my name ridiculed, my past discredited, my politics rejected. I was made fun of by South Africa’s comedians, I was given lessons in what I should have done, I was threatened and silenced and warned that my actions were indefensible. I was vilified by actresses in the industry; some who know me and some who don’t.
Three articles featured prominently on IOL, M&G and Cape Times. These were shared like holiday sweets on Facebook and Twitter. One of the articles was written by a Facebook friend. Not once was I asked for my side of the story, or even to comment. With all my contact information totally accessible to anyone (for abuse), I was not contacted by the ‘journalists’ even though I was quoted by them, when they lifted what I had written on Facebook. The only media outlet that made contact with me was Radio Islam who asked if I would come onto their morning show to give my side of the story. Of course I said yes. They were the only ones ever who asked.
Alongside the deep shame and humiliation I felt about this horrible thing was the powerless sense of my silence. I understood the temperature of the room and realised that anything I said was fuel to the fire and I had to keep quiet, get off social media and only invest in one-on-one interactions. It was clear that my apology didn’t support the narrative and was mostly left out of any further portrayals of me, the racist, hater, whitesplainer. Two people asked to meet with me, to hear what I had to say, of the hundreds who sent messages of abuse and name calling. Two people who were very offended by what I had done; one publicly and one privately schooling me and putting me in my place. These meetings have not happened yet.
The fallout has extended further into my world of work. I have always understood that I have a public profile that lends itself to controversy. I don’t do myself any favours by writing about theatre, here on meganshead and for Weekend Special. I saw two plays last week and couldn’t write about them. I knew that people would be looking at the ‘who’ of the review instead of the ‘what’, and that everybody would suffer.
When I think about it with a bit of distance the one thing that is funny is that I am always desperate for publicity for my work. I struggle to get media attention for my plays; always begging friends and colleagues for airtime and press. I haven’t been on the radio talking about my plays in years. I have to rely on my own small publicity machine on social media for any exposure. But all over all media, Megan Furniss – well known theatre maker, actress, director, famous in South African theatre circles, made headlines.
I still feel sick about this. I still feel silenced and ashamed. I still wish I could turn back the clock and take it all back. And yet, I know, in a world more gentle, and kind, my real concern for an animal in distress (regardless of it being part of a petting zoo at a children’s birthday party) would have been just that. Me. Super sensitive about an animal tied to a pole.