In 2007, at the age of sixty, Betsy Warland finds herself single and without a sense of family. On an impulse, she decides to travel to London to celebrate her birthday, where she experiences an odd compulsion to see an exhibit on the invention of military camouflage. Within the first five minutes of her visit, her lifelong feeling of being aberrant reveals its source: she had never learned the art of camouflage.
This marked the beginning of Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity and Ideas. Taking the name Oscar, she embarks on an intimate, nine-year quest by telling her story as “a person of between.” As Oscar, she is able to make sense of her self and the culture that shaped her. She traces this experience of in-betweenness from her childhood in the rural Midwest, through to her first queer kiss in 1978, divorce, coming out, writing life. In 1984, she and her lover wrote lesbian erotic love poetry collections in dialogue with one another, the first and only tandem collections on this subject in English Canada. After the two split, she experienced years of unacknowledged exclusion from a community in which she thought she belonged.
In the process of writing Oscar’s story, Warland considers our culture’s rigid, even violent demarcations as she becomes at ease with never knowing what gender she will be addressed as: “In Oscar’s daily life, when encountering someone, it goes like this: some address her as a male; some address her as a female; some begin with one and then switch (sometimes apologetically) to the other; some identify Oscar as lesbian and their faces harden, or open into a momentary glance of arousal; some know they don’t know and openly scrutinize; some decide female but stare perplexedly at her now-sans-breast chest; some are bemused by or drawn to or relate to her androgyny; and for some none of this matters.”
A contemporary Orlando, Oscar of Between extends beyond the author’s personal narrative, pushing the boundaries of form, and by doing so, invents new ways to see ourselves.