Hi, my name is Remy Wilbanks. I am from Chicago, Illinois.
My story kind of starts out with my mom falling down a flight of stairs, aand she had me prematurely at one pound, five ounces back in 1990. I was in the hospital, I think, for like three months. My mother also was in the hospital for almost as long. And I remember… the story is is that her leg was hoisted up in some type of gurney and that we were separated.
You know, I had a rough life, you know, coming up, always being smaller than all the rest of the kids. I was always, like, super short. I was super delayed, and every milestone that a child would have, I was super delayed.
My mom was a single mom. So it was… it was super tough for us growing up. She did the best that she could. One thing that I would say that really shaped me was the early ways that I was communicated with. In my house. I was called the R-word. So for me back then, the R-word, you know, when kids used it, it was… it was a negative term to call anyone.
It was followed with, you know, things like I wasn’t attractive. I was ugly. I didn’t look right. And I was always reminded of that. I was always reminded that I looked different. I truly attributed it to being kind of the run of the litter and being told by, you know, the… the caretakers in my life that that was the fact, that if I wasn’t the R-word, maybe I would be attractive or maybe I would be intelligent. It was reinforced daily. It wasn’t something that was just every now and then this was my name. This was who I was. And I accept – I deeply accepted it and – for many years, until I became a freshman in high school,
I got into biology class and I realized – I was sitting at the table and it was like a long lab table. I had one friend across from me that knew. I had another friend that I knew that was next to me, but I didn’t know this girl. The only thing I knew about the girl that sat kind of diagonal from me was that she was a big time bully. So when she talked to me, I was really freaked out. I’m like, Why is she talking to me?
And she’s like, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
And I’m like, “Sure.”
And she’s like, “You are really, really cute.”
And I’m like, “Really?”
And she’s like, “Why are you shocked?
I’m like, “Because, my whole life, you know, I was told the very opposite.”
And she’s like, “Who told you that?”
And when I told her it was one of my caretakers, you know, that had told me this my whole life she’s like, “They’re lying.”
She was like, “What else did they tell you?”
And I’m like, “That I’m really not that smart either.”
And she’s like, “I’ve watched you in this class.” She’s like, “You know, more than everybody and it’s biology.” She’s like, “Why would this person tell you this?”
I’m like, “I don’t know. I just… I feel like it’s the truth.”
And she’s like, “No, I’ve actually been watching you. And I’ve been wondering why you… you seem like you kind of stay to yourself.” She’s like, “But you’re real, real, real smart.” And she’s like, “And I just want to tell you that you are really, really fine. And I just want you to know that. And whoever told you that is lying to you. And I think that you should really embrace the fact that you’re like a bombshell.”
My teacher at the time overheard this and I was known to be a very bad kid. I didn’t do anything. I only took the test and I always pass my… my midterms or whatever, but I never actually did the coursework.
And so she’s like, “Is that why you’re so bad?”
And I looked and she – I was annoyed that she was eavesdropping and I’m like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Because I’m like, I’m not… I’m stupid anyway, so, you know, it really doesn’t matter if I do the work or not, because I’m not that… I know that I’m bad and I know that I’m not smart.”
And she’s like, “You actually have the highest test scores. Every time you take the test, you don’t just pass them. That’s why I’m angry with you because you, it’s not that you don’t know how to do the work.” She said, “But is it because somebody is telling you that you’re, that you’re not smart and you deeply believe that?”
And I’m like, “Yeah.” I remember the teacher and his bully looked at each other and they’re kind of, like, in shock that… that maybe somebody actually affected me. And then that’s the first time I think I took inventory, that what I had been told was a complete lie.
And, you know, I just started to push back. I thought that I started to fight after that day and… and fight everything that was told to me. I challenged everything was, you know, wonder – questioning if it was a lie or not.
My last three years of high school, I graduated… graduated at Bloominsure High School with, I think, more credits than my entire class. I became a super workaholic and an overachiever. And that was always… it was almost like I was playing catch-up. And I went and worked in plastic surgery. I went and worked in politics. I went and worked in the animal hospitals. I worked in psychiatry, and now I’m working that Howard Brown and it’s… my whole life mission is to hopefully impact someone else.
I look back at that… that time in my life. And it always helps me to, whenever I meet any… anybody who’s down, out, anybody who’s self-loathing or someone who’s self-deprecating in any way, I always grab them and say, “Who told you that?”
Many of my employees will come to me and say things that they don’t – that are negative that they believe about themselves. And I’m always challenging them and I’m always reminding them of that bully in my life that .. that told me the truth.
So I always tell them challenge anything that doesn’t fit. If it doesn’t fit, if it doesn’t flow with who you are or who you want to be, let it go and rewrite a new story. Tell yourself… say it outloud whatever it is that you do believe in your – about yourself.
I lived so many years of childhood filled with being told a lie, being told that you’re the… the… the ugliest, probably, scum bottom of your shoe. And so now that I have a choice, when I… when I believe as a child, maybe I didn’t have a choice. But as an adult, the way it has impacted me as a queer gay man is to show up with all my beauty and, and make no apologies for it.