Former AFL coach Dani Laidley has revealed that she battled years of “fear, shame and embarrassment”, but now was “absolutely at peace” after coming out and being a role model for the transgender community. 

Laidely opened up about her struggles with gender dysphoria for most of her life during her chat on radio in the Triple M commentary box last month. 

“You live in fear and shame and embarrassment for years and then to come out like it did, it’s been really tough on my family, but now, to a person, it’s been great. They accept me for who I am, the person I am now, and hopefully there’s a lot of life to live,” said Laidley. 

The former North Melbourne player and coach explained her diagnosis to listeners. “Gender dysphoria is the medical condition for people whose gender identity is not congruent with how they feel on the inside (to) what is on the outside,” said Laidley. 

“It again is different from our sex, that is the bits that we’re born with. And then you have your sexual preference, who you’re attracted to. I’m a girl’s girl and my lovely Donna will be listening down in the stands,” said Laidley about her childhood sweetheart and partner Donna Leckie. 

“That’s gender dysphoria, it causes a great deal of white noise 24/7 and overtakes your thinking and overtakes your ability to live life normally. So to play and to coach and to have a young family and to do all of those things. To be honest I don’t know how I got here, but I am, and I am very glad.”

Struggled Her Entire Life

Laidley revealed that she had been struggling with her gender dysphoria her entire life. 

“My first recollection is about six years of age, way, way back. Now I am 55, so what is that, 49 years, God. It was a long time ago and I carried it through my youth and teenage years and then I played footy, played cricket and things like that, and nearly gave them all away.

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“Then luckily made the state schoolboys back in Perth and thought, ‘Well, I am pretty good and let’s just see where this goes’.”

“It was really difficult to know that I felt so different on the inside to what was on the outside and then, given that I started playing league footy when I was in high school, to have this persona, and some called me the Junkyard Dog back in the day, it was so far removed from the person I really was and that was very difficult and it took its toll.”

“I felt like I was walking around with a boat anchor on my head for many, many years, but I was too scared, ashamed, embarrassed to go and find out about it, but I knew there was something different about how I was feeling.”

Coming Out In 2020

Laidley came out in 2020, when her lawyer informed a Melbourne court that she had transitioned and identifies as a woman. Laidley, at the time was facing charges of stalking, which she pleaded guilty to in November 2020. 

“Absolutely, I am absolutely at peace. It has taken 55 years to get here. As much as there has been a hell of a lot that has been written and said, and I have not had much, zero, opportunity to say anything because of different reasons, before everything became very public I had been living as myself and I was very happy with that,” said Laidley.

The former AFL coach said not everyone in her family was supportive.  “Some of my family is still finding it a little difficult but we are working on that and that will take some time but we’ll work through that.”

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Overwhelmed By Support From The AFL Community

Laidley said she was overwhelmed with the support of the AFL community.  She revealed that AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan had told her: “Dani, our game’s for everyone and we’ll help you be the person you want to be now and along your journey. If we can help break down any barriers in regards to that because our game is for everyone.”

“For the CEO of this organisation to say that is amazing,” she said adding that she wanted to be role model for the transgender community. 

“The further I live my life and the more people who come up and get in touch, and just from me being my authentic self and living in peace, it has given people more hope and acceptance and as a transgender community that is all we want,” said Laidley. 

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“We just want to be supported and not judged. And if that has to be me, I am happy to do that for this generation of transgender community and the generations that will come after me.”

Laidley’s autobiography is due to be released by Harper Collins in August 2022.

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