Content Warning: Domestic abuse, suicide mention
Despite his quiet nature and shy smile, anyone who spends more than 5 minutes with Tom will discover an extraordinarily bright young man whose easy wit can lift the mood of the entire room. If you ever have the privilege to dig beneath the surface, however, you will also come to understand that he is a tenacious and deeply thoughtful, genuine person who has known more than his fair share of heartache and hopelessness.
Originally from England, Tom arrived in Wollongong in October of 2019. The opportunity to move to the other side of the world came rather unexpectedly. Unsure of what to do with himself after completing his Master’s degree in English, Tom decided to take a chance and follow his father to Australia.
After being connected with Green Connect in November 2019, Tom was excited to start volunteering on the farm but was faced with a dilemma on his registration forms. Something that we all take for granted, like filling in your first name on a form, can be a distressing and daunting task when you are transgender. Having come out around the same time as his arrival to this country, Tom was understandably nervous about being known as his deadname at Green Connect. His family members had not reacted in a supportive manner when he came out, and Tom expected a similar reaction from us. However, one simple question, “What do YOU want to be called?,” changed everything.
“I was immediately accepted by everyone.”, he says, adding that “It didn’t matter that I didn’t pass as male, everyone just knew me as Tom from then on...it wasn’t an issue.”
After briefly volunteering at the farm, and having no luck finding paid work, Tom was offered a position as the online retail assistant for Green Connect. His job is to take old, rare, or collectible books, toys and other items that have been donated to the op shop, research them and list them for sale online at a reasonable price.
“Everyone wants [job applicants with] experience, but Green Connect is the only place that wants to give you experience. All you need is the desire to work and they will give you a chance.” We talk for a while about how there are not any similar opportunities to volunteer at a working farm in the UK, and that he has enjoyed the chance to expand his knowledge of recycling. “I thought I was into recycling before… but I have learnt so much here.”
The mood in the room turns more serious, and Tom adds that “Everyone at Green Connect has been nothing but supportive.“ He explains that he felt an immediate sense of trust in the support staff and was able to discuss his personal situation with them. Through this, he was able to gain a better understanding and plan for the best way to move forward. He was referred to external support services by Green Connect but says he never felt that he was being treated like a ‘client’ by the GC staff.
Speaking candidly about his life before coming to Green Connect, Tom shares that he was very socially isolated and suicidal, and that, if it were not for the support he has gotten, he would not be here today. He explains that coming to Green Connect was “a breath of fresh air” after existing in a state of loneliness and fear, of being controlled, gaslighted and abused. He is grateful, he says, having found nothing but genuine love, acceptance, and support from his adoptive family at Green Connect.
“It’s been such a tough year, not just for me, but everyone, really. It’s been a bit easier because of Green Connect, and I’m not sure how I will every repay the GC team.”
Tom’s story is unique at Green Connect, but he has found the same love, support, and genuine acceptance that we offer everyone who walks through our doors.
By Jessie Holloway
Photo/s by Emily Craig
*Tom has declined to have his photo taken for this article.