The purpose of a warning label is to alert us to a potential hazard contained inside the packaging. Nuts, gluten, milk, all sorts of simple ingredients can cause pain and even death. So we mark the box in the hope that people will read it and avoid what could hurt them. It’s the right thing to do because it protects people using our product from harm, and on the flip side protects us from being sued if they don’t read the label.
Luckily for me my food allergy is one that doesn’t need labelling because it’s oysters. They’re not an addition to many processed foods so the chances of me eating something and having my throat close up are pretty minimal. I tend not to go to seafood restaurants incase of cross contamination but other than that I am lucky. Unless, that is, I kiss the wrong person. It’s actually happened to me. Gorgeous man kissing me at a party only to watch me fall to the floor and get shot up by a less cute ambulance man. It was definitely a passion killer. All he had done was eat a canape and the miniscule residue on his lips meant that the kiss was memorable for all the wrong reasons. C’est la vie. If James had worn a label warning that he might contain oysters then who knows where the evening may have gone. At least after he brushed his teeth that is.
So labels are a good thing right? They warn us if something might hurt us. They stop us from closing down a producer because we misused the product and allow people who don’t suffer the same way as us to still enjoy the product. In the end it’s a win win situation so long as everyone reads the warning label. It’s also a contract “I will not eat this because it has peanuts and in doing so will not stop others from enjoying it who can.” Oh that humans came with labels so that we could tell if we were allergic to them or not.
But wait! Humans do come with labels. Everyday in every way we apply them to each other. Broad labels like “Faggot” and “Christian”, “Top” and “Vanilla”, “Pervert” and “Holy” that have no validity and yet we cling to them. We are constantly finding warning labels that try to define individual human experiences as a collective label. Even terms like “gay” and “straight” have no validity because they take the wealth of individual struggle and success, every aspect of them that is unique and chops it all off so that the individual conforms to the stereotype. A straight man can be feminine and soft and loving just as a gay man can prefer to drink beer and burp and know how to use an electric drill. The labels have been drip fed to us and with each generation the struggle is to break them apart and refine what we mean by them. Some remain warnings, others transform from warnings to brand names, some just aren’t needed any more.
When we use labels wrongly, when we apply them to others as a means of controlling them then we become like the person with the peanut allergy who insists on eating PB&J sandwiches because it’s their right and then closes down the factory when they swell up. We see the warning that we might not like something and instead of walking away we engage it because we can. We see another group clearly labelled and because we don’t like it we feel that we should destroy it for everyone. How arrogant is that?
We all do it and I confess I can be as guilty as everyone else. I’m not perfect but I do try to look for the individual warnings not the group ones. Not every heterosexual is a homophobe, a religious nut, and a closed minded republican just as I as a homosexual am not a limp wristed bottom who is a vacuous hedonist and has no idea of which end of a chainsaw is which. Those labels are not me just as the ones I can apply to others as a group aren’t.
So I have learned to look for the individual’s labels. Like the labels on a food can they will tell me what is inviting in there and what might just cause my throat to close up. In doing so I recognize that it’s my duty not to try and remove things from other people’s life, but rather to distance the people from my life that cause pain. In doing so I take responsibility for my beliefs and who I am, rather than destroying what challenges my prejudices. I don’t have a problem with other people enjoying oysters or being homophobic, all I ask is that I shouldn’t have to eat the oysters and am able to live my life the way I choose. But a label that warns me when not to kiss you would be nice…….