Joe uses his platforms to forward his modeling career, share his experiences traveling, and express his prowess as a photographer. Plus, his TikToks are funny, relatable examples of what it's like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community today.
Before we dive into it, however, we have some things to clear up. We asked Joe if people had any common misconceptions about him, and he says that people tend to think he’s super short. He tells us that this is not the case at all—believe it or not, Joe is actually 6 feet tall! Betrayed by his camera angles, Joe is delighted anytime someone is surprised by his stature when they recognize him in public. A short king Joe is not!
Joe Polito was born and raised in Toronto as part of an old-fashioned Italian family. Growing up, he attended Catholic schools and believed he had to uphold a certain type of masculinity, so he played sports, dated girls, and had a lot of guy friends. Over time, he began to realize there was something different in his relationships with the girls he was supposed to like, compared to how people around him dated. He finally knew he was gay when he developed a massive crush on his high school best friend—which, as we all know, is a staple of a closeted gay upbringing.
I create my content for the younger version of myself who was still in the closet.
Joe was around nineteen when he came out. He first told his best-friend-turned-crush, then a cousin, then his whole immediate family over dinner one evening. While his family is super supportive now, the news came as a massive shock to them at the time. It was up to Joe to educate his family on the LGBTQ+ issues that they knew nothing about.
A lot of kids experience the same thing when they come out to their families. Not only do some people—especially older generations—not know about queer issues or people, they also don’t realize how much there is to know. They don’t know they’re missing the details, so the responsibility falls to the kids to educate them.
In situations like this, Joe’s words of wisdom are: “Patience is key.” Coming out can be tricky—family is sometimes especially difficult, but if they’re willing to work with you and learn, that’s a big step in the right direction. Education is the most important thing—it’s what has gotten us to this point as a community. Be patient and tell them who you are. If they want to listen, they will.
Did you experience any confusion or denial about your identity?
Not a lot of people know this about me, but I was a huge basketball competitor and played a lot of sports during high school. As you can imagine, going to a Catholic elementary and high school was extremely challenging, on top of the sport team environment. Knowing that I was gay, and then hearing all of this talk referring to 'gays' in a negative connotation was hard. I also felt the need to uphold this 'masculine standard,' which was really difficult, especially when I was younger and just trying to figure everything out. It took a lot of growing up for me to realize that it's fully okay to come out and to just be yourself. There are so many other people that are going through the same thing, and knowing that just made me feel like I wasn't alone.
Was it difficult for you to let your guard down while you were closeted?
Yes, especially when it came to upholding that masculine standard. At points, I maybe over-masculated myself to better fit in. I didn't want anyone to think that I had the slightest bit of femininity in me, because maybe they'd think I was gay. I would watch what I said and everything because I was just so afraid of someone calling me out. I definitely was on guard with how I expressed myself. But after coming out, all of that went out the window. Today, I can just be whoever I want because I'm free now, and it's really a liberating experience that just feels right.
We also talked about how coming out helped Joe build confidence while playing with gender and fashion. Studying abroad in Europe allowed him to really explore who he was and what made him feel the most confident. During that time, he started doing photoshoots and getting into modeling, which eventually turned into a successful career in social media.
Joe’s TikTok account currently has over 325k followers, and his Instagram isn't far behind at 145k. He uses his platforms to document his life and experiences—sharing his life with others is a joy that he’s harbored since he was young, inspiring him to get his first camera when he was around ten or eleven years old. He was influenced by YouTubers like Tyler Oakley and Joey Graceffa, who provided a large portion of the queer representation available on the internet at the time. Joe says he could see himself creating content online as his career forever, and he’s even considering getting into YouTube so that he can create longer, more substantial videos.
“I create content for the younger version of myself who was still in the closet,” Joe says of his work on TikTok. Representation is very important, and having so many people actively participating in creating that representation is changing the landscape of the internet for the better. Still, some people will never understand how much it means to see someone like you being themself. Joe does what he does so that a younger generation of queer kids don’t have to suffer in isolation the way he did growing up.
We asked Joe for some parting words of inspiration, and he implores you all to remember that you’re not alone. If you ever feel that way, there’s a whole community of people who will support you. He also advises people to try “prioritizing what makes you the most happy, not living up to other people’s standards.” It’s definitely easier said than done, but I think this is great advice.
You can find more of Joe Polito on TikTok & Instagram (@journeybyjoe). He’ll have information coming soon about his upcoming merch release and, if you're interested in traveling, he’s hosting a group trip to Bali this summer through TrovaTrip. You can find more info on his socials about this very exciting opportunity. Joe’s content is lighthearted, fun, and inspirational, and he is one of many creators we admire for providing much-needed representation for the LGBTQ+ community.