Former North Melbourne star and coach Dani Laidley has opened up on struggling with gender dysphoria for 49 years of her life.
The 1996 premiership winner revealed she went through her entire AFL career struggling with feeling different on the inside to who she was on the outside.
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Laidley made her radio return for the first time since 2014 when she joined the Triple M commentary box on Friday night. The team asked a few footy questions before asking about the support she has received from the football community.
“It’s been a tough road to here but I’ve just been really overwhelmed just by the support of the wider AFL community,” she said. “You live in fear and shame and embarrassment for years and then to come out like it did, it was 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. ”
Laidley’s journey became public in 2020 and she has since been embraced by AFL circles, including celebrating with the Kangaroos last year when the club revealed it was debt-free.
Laidley revealed she lived a compartmentalized life up until recently, hiding who she really is.
“Gender dysphoria is the medical condition for people who their gender identity is not congruent with how they feel on the inside (to) what is on the outside,” she said.
“It again is different from our sex, that is the bits that we were born with. And then you have your sexual preference, who you’re attracted to. I’m a girls girl and my lovely Donna will be listening down in the stands.
“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. ”
Laidley also revealed that she had been dealing with gender dysphoria most of her life.
“My first recollection is about six years of age, way, way back,” Laidley said. “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.
“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 .
“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.
“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.”
Laidley is continuing to tell her story as well.
Her autobiography is due to be released by Harper Collins in August while a documentary on her life is due to be produced by Eddie McGuire’s JAM TV company.
Asked if Laidley wanted to have another crack at AFL coaching, she said: “I’m not ready yet.”
But she did say she was enjoying reconnecting with the AFL community and showing who she really is, as well as being a 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 , ”She said.
“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 revealed AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said to her: “Days, 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 organization to say that is amazing,” Laidley said.