Former North Melbourne coach Danielle Laidley has broken her silence to reveal gut-wrenching details about her 50-year battle with gender dysphoria.
Speaking in a candid interview with Channel 9’s 60 Minutes, the 55-year-old West Australian detailed the difficulties she faced while transitioning to a transgender woman.
Despite the gender she was assigned at birth – she was known to millions of Aussie sports fans as player and coach Dean Laidley – she understood for five decades she was female.
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But Laidley desperately tried to keep her secret from friends, family and the wider footy community — she represented West Coast and North Melbourne for 11 seasons, winning a premiership with the Kangaroos in 1996.
Laidley confessed that if she had opened up to her mother about her gender dysphoria, “she would’ve probably put me in the loony bin”.
But the former football great is adamant she is still the same person — she has just changed her name.
“Life hasn’t been easy, I’ve found it tough the whole way through,” she said.
“There used to be a skinny kid, bloke running around a footy field like a maniac.
“But that was a part of the mask, to cover up.
“I wouldn’t let people get close to me.
“I thought I was coping really well, but obviously that wasn’t the case.”
In her gripping and frank memoir Don’t Look Away: A Memoir of Identity & Acceptance, which comes out this week, Laidley details her ice addiction and attempt to take her own life in 2020 after an eight-day drug binge.
“The disease of addiction is in my family from way back; a lot of self-harm, alcohol,” she said.
“(It) started for me when I became a workaholic. And then, the gambling, the drinking and then finally, the drugs happened when I left the AFL. And it’s something I’m really ashamed and embarrassed for. So, you get this shame and embarrassment from my gender dysphoria, then you get it from being branded a cross-dresser, being branded an ice head.
“That is still for me, the most shameful part. And I struggle to deal with that because I only know where that sat in the story.”
And when asked about her relationship with her three adult children, Laidley broke down in tears.
“All I can say is, in God’s time, we’ll be a family again,” she responded.
“They have endured enough, and one day, hopefully, we’re sitting back here in a few years’ time and we’re all in a great place.
“But yeah, it leaves a huge hole in my heart.
“They’ve been my life … I love them with all my heart.”
In May 2020, Laidley was arrested wearing a dress and a blonde wig, and was charged with stalking and breaching a family violence order, among a series of other offences.
While she was in custody, police officers took photos of her in her wig and dress, sharing them on social media.
The photos quickly circulated, with TV, radio and print media broadcasting her struggles with substance abuse.
“People … saw me coaching as a gruff, angry senior coach. And then I deliberately went off the radar and was starting to emotionally transition. Then all of a sudden, I pop up … with those disgusting photos,” she said.
“The photos were an invasion of privacy … I hate the words ‘come out’, why do I have to do that? I was living a quiet life. Yeah, I got lost, went off the rails for the first time in my life. And it was very embarrassing for me. The coming out, was taken away.”
However, Laidley took comfort in the overwhelming support she received from ex-teammates and the football community after going public about her gender.
She’s still learning to love herself.
“I’m in a great place,” she said.
“There’s a real calmness about my life. And it’s very stable for the first time in a long time.
“I know there’s going to be a few punches in the nose because the first person in any change in society usually ends up bloody and marred.
“And if that has to be me for the next generation, I’m the one. And I’m happy with that.”
— with NCA NewsWire