My Experience Being a Human Book

Despite the American life I have built with two children, a husband, and a dog, I will always carry a deep sadness and a sense of loss that I have to live with every day.

Have you heard of the Human Book Project? Neither had I – even though the idea, which has become an international sensation, is Danish. The project has existed since 2000, when a group of young Nordic initiators saw it unfold at the Roskilde Festival.

The idea behind The Human Book project is beautiful in its premis. Human rights cannot solely be enforced through legislation, the general public must also participate in the fight against injustice, oppression, and discrimination through intercultural dialogue. Unjudging and breaking down prejudice is the main idea.

On October 7, the Human Book Project reached the other side of the globe when Folio in Seattle held a two-day event. Don’t judge a book by its cover could not be more apt for the Human Book Project’s mission.

So, how does the project work in real life? In all its simplicity, you borrow a person instead of a book. The “reading” takes place as a dialogue with the human book. The purpose is to break down prejudices and strengthen dialogue through meeting strangers you might have a prejudice against. Examples of human books are: a policemen, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, etc.

The human books in Seattle were a disabled pole dancer, a woman who could see spirits, a stuttering gay professor, an unemployed man, and many more. I was there as a book because I survived the sect Jehovah’s Witness.

Before the event, I was not sure about what questions I would get, whether there was anyone at all who would “check me out.” I decided that I would answer any question and not hold back anything.

So I let it all out, answered every question. Questions about physical and psychological abuse, sexual violence, suicide, and about being a girl trying to navigate in a world dominated by (male) adults with misogynist stone aged mindsets and an eternal threat of risking becoming God’s enemy if you didn’t following their rules.

And then, I told about gaining my freedom – and that the price for my freedom was losing everything: Family, friends, my identity. I told people that despite the life I have been able to build with two children, a husband, and a dog in my American life, I will always carry a deep sadness and a sense of loss that I have to live with every day.

That fact is something people don’t like to hear. In many peoples minds, the story about the evil Jehovah’s Witness men, the rules, the manipulation, the years of loss and the search for a new identity must have a happy ending. Period. No insecurity, no inferiority, no frustration, no longing. There cannot be deep scars on my soul, only small tears are accepted. And certainly, people do not want to hear that I have living family members with their own lives far from mine with whom I have no contact. Much less, they want to hear, that my children have a grandmother, aunts, and cousins with whom they could have a relationship – if things were not the way they are.

The Human Book Project did what it was supposed to do – because I pushed back when one well-meaning person after another told me that I HAD to contact my family. Meanwhile, I was thinking about the purpose of the project: unjudge and face your prejudices, in a dialog between a human book and its “reader,” it goes both ways.

The world is not as simple as many of us would like it to be. I told the well meaning and kind hearted human book borrowers, that not everything in my life is as I wish it was, even though I have the life I want, a life I chose. In my case, there is a price to pay. It’s a realization I’ve spent years arriving at, a realization my “readers” were not immediately willing to accept. And that is exactly what makes the Human Book Project so important.


Menneskebiblioteket går i kødet på fordomme

På trods af det liv, jeg har fået stablet på benene med to unger, mand og hund i min amerikanske tilværelse, vil jeg altid bære en dyb sorg og et savn, jeg må leve med hver dag.

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