Although biologically female, Albert has spent the last 30 years living as a man. He has also been secretly saving money to buy a tobacconist shop to gain some measure of freedom and independence. Recently unemployed Joe Mackins arrives at the hotel and cons his way into a boilerman job. He and a maid there, Helen Dawes, become lovers. He reveals to Albert that he is keeping the same secret about himself, living as a man after escaping an abusive husband.
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Her role is shaken when she must share a bed with a visiting painter, Hubert played by McTeer , and her identity is discovered. What is more confusing to Albert than having her gender known is that Hubert is as well a woman living as a man.
The two form a friendship that cumulates with Hubert suggesting to Albert he ask a woman to marry him so he can have a companion. He chooses the maid Helen Wasikowska who is already embroiled in an affair with the boiler man Johnson. The two scuffle and Albert is hit in the head, tragically dying through internal injury and thus ending the dream of marriage and independence. This story needs to be represented in the archives because it is a commentary on the queer theory of What is visible and What is invisible.
That first move is already laden with symbolic questioning, because why a butler position? Where wait-staff is seen and not heard, it seems to already be a focus on the visible invisibility of queerdom and drag.
Where it is known but it is not acknowledged by mainstream society. There is no more fitting description for the constant conscious struggle of gender-queer in their everyday interactions as the unfamiliarly familiar. Albert is the quantifiable notion of suppression, a woman living as a man working as a butler constantly in fear of losing place and purpose.
She cannot reveal her secret because that is actually all she is. What is most intriguing is that even as he saves to own his own shop and gain a measure of freedom, he no longer wishes to run it as a woman. Instead he wishes to marry and have a companion throughout his drag career. Albert embodies himself, he is a butler for thirty years, she is a man for a lifetime, and he no longer identifies with any other name.
It is uncomfortable, a caricature of a person who does not exist. He does not want to be a woman in the heteronormative definition of the word; he just wants to create a world where there is neither fear nor threat of discovery.
There is parallelism drawn from outside forces and how they hinder and damage Albert—for it is the outside force of head trauma that ends his life. What others do to Albert is constantly at odds with what Albert wishes to do for himself. Society is against what Albert is within. She suffers under the invisibleness of her biological sex, suffers under the weight of maintaining its invisibility, and the visible invisibility of her chosen profession.
Albert lived a quiet, lonesome life, and died a quiet, lonesome death. His life is the theory of what must remain invisible even as the visible creates lasting damage.
The constraints placed upon gender, of what is allowed to be known and what is not, is ultimately what killed her. He needed freedom of movement, and that is not possible in a dress. This entry was posted in Film and tagged Androgynous , Gender , performativity , queer , visibility by Kensi.
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The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs