Metro Weekly

In Presidential Politics, Maybe Age is Just a Number

Based on the stellar track record of his administration, President Joe Biden obviously knows what he's doing.

President Biden, Photo: Gage Skidmore

On my last day of junior high, my stepfather, my mother and I packed up the cars and drove south from Northern Virginia to Pasco County, Florida. The cultural adjustments were significant in both number and magnitude. For example, when we moved into Embassy Hills, I was 14 and easily the youngest person on our flat Florida block of single-story stucco homes. I believe my mother, at 52, was the youngest adult.

Prior to Pasco, my experience with very old adults had been limited mostly to senior relatives at family gatherings. My stepfather’s retirement, however, put me squarely in their world. Early bird dinners, senior discounts, and mall walkers became fixtures in my new life.

Those memories have slowly ambled to the fore, possibly with walkers and canes, as age is now a hot topic. The 2024 presidential election campaign has begun, and everyone seems to be griping that President Biden, at 81, is just too old. Donald Trump seems a healthy and vibrant 77?

Seven years ago, Trump opted to project an image of the G7’s weakest leader, awaiting a golf-cart chariot to carry him less than a half-mile as his powerful peers walked that short Sicilian stroll. Meanwhile, Biden rides a bike for pleasure. (Yes, we all know he’s fallen off his bike. Young people don’t fall off bikes?)

Yet a February NBC News poll shows 62 percent of voters having major concerns about Biden’s age, with only 34 percent feeling similarly about Trump, who looks like a heart attack about to happen. In this poll, more respondents cared about Biden’s age than Trump’s mountain of criminal liability! Would it help if Biden dyed his skin orange and coifed his hair cornsilk-style?

Plenty of us are thinking about age. The Washington Post advice columnist Karla L. Miller certainly is. Reading a piece she wrote in January about long-term unemployment, there were a couple of jarring bits she included thanks to Ofer Sharone, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Sharone cites a 2018 study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute showing that 56 percent of workers between age 50 and retirement will suffer at least one ‘involuntary job separation’; of those, only 10 percent will again earn a salary comparable with what they were making,” Miller wrote. More than half? That surprised me.

“Sharone says, ‘being over 50 — regardless of education and skills — is the best predictor of getting trapped in long-term unemployment.'” Well, that just depressed me.

During my senior year of high school, one evening at my Florida mall job, I spotted an older gentleman who stood out. As you rightly imagine, I spotted plenty of old folks at Gulf View Square Mall, every day, all day. But this guy was special. I guessed he was a tourist, possibly European. His silver hair was perfectly combed, he had a handsome wooden cane, and a nice cardigan. No plastic visor, no Velcro shoes, no elastic pants. I made him my role model. He was the dignified old man I hoped to become. Dressing my age, with an air of irony and dignity. It was pleasant to imagine my golden years then, when they were so far away.

A sort of ageism stung me far before the golden years. When I was 26 or 27, I was writing for Just Out, a Portland, Ore., LGBTQ newspaper. Ahead of “Peacock in the Park,” a glorious summertime drag and variety event that was held in the hills above the city in a parkland amphitheater, I did a phone interview with one of the drag headliners. At the actual festival, enjoying a picnic with pals on a rare cloudless Portland afternoon, the Prosecco got the better of me. (Warning: If you’re pale to the point of transparent, don’t drink cheap booze in direct sunlight. You’re welcome.)

On the long trek back from the alley of portable toilets, very buzzed, I stumbled upon the dressing tent in which all the talent was preparing. Surely the drag queen I interviewed was inside. Wouldn’t it be nice to pop in and introduce myself? Of course!

“Uhm, no. Entertainers only,” advised the slight wisp of a security boy at the tent flap. I was stunned, realizing at that moment that I’d been exploiting twink privilege, the many little advantages — and easy entries — of gay youth, possibly since I was 17 or so. And it had just expired.

As my career advanced, I wrote plenty of stories about LGBTQ seniors. There were anecdotes aplenty about ageism, older people feeling isolated if not downright shunned. Although my twink privilege died decades ago, at 54 I’ve got to admit my own Queer community has actually been a wonderfully affirming community in which to age. Granted, a kid once sneered at me as I briefly blocked his view of the screen at Trade while Drag Race was on, but that’s been the worst of it.

That’s not to say I haven’t felt ageism in the wider world. Maybe I’ve been guilty of it myself. Internalized homophobia is a well-known phenomenon, so why not internalized ageism?

But it’s not an issue when I think of Biden. Or even Trump. Based on the stellar track record of his administration, Biden obviously knows what he’s doing. And while I think Trump is evil, his age hasn’t prevented him from becoming a masterful con man without equal. For better or worse, they seem to know what they’re doing.

Age, and the trappings of elderliness, shouldn’t be a disqualifier.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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