AFL great Dani Laidley speaks about 49-year struggle: 'Live in fear'

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Dani Laidley (pictured) speaks at a media opportunity.
Dani Laidley (pictured) has opened up about her journey with gender dysphoria during commentary at the AFL on Friday. (Getty Images)

AFL great Dani Laidley has opened up about the difficult struggle of gender dysphoria in the Triple M commentary box on Friday during the match between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn.

Laidley joined the commentary team and discussed the struggle she faced for 49 years with feeling different on the inside from who she was on the outside.

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The former North Melbourne star said she felt 'embarrassed' throughout her life, but has been grateful of the support she has received from the wider AFL 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,” Laidley said in commentary.

"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.”

Laidley's post-AFL journey came public in 2020.

The former North Melbourne star, who won a premiership with the Kangaroos in 1996 before later going on to coach the side, joined several key club figures for a gathering to celebrate the club eliminating their debt in 2021 in a prominent public appearance.

Dani Laidley explains gender dysphoria

During her time in the commentary box, Laidley took the opportunity to explain her journey and detailed the difficulty of coming to terms with gender dysphoria.

“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 added.

“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 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.

In an eye opening detail, Laidley admitted she had been dealing with gender dysphoria for the majority of her life.

“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," she added.

“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.

Dani Laidley i(pictured) speaks in the Triple M commentary box.
Dani Laidley (pictured) joined the Triple M commentary box during the 2022 AFL Round 15 match between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

“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.”

North Melbourne rallied around Laidley last year, after she was arrested and subsequently ordered to complete a diversion program back in 2020.

Victoria Police were ordered 11 police to pay out thousands of dollars to Laidley after officers leaked photos of her mug shot while she was in custody.

Laidley's return to Arden St for North Melbourne's debt celebration in 2021 was her first true public appearance, in the sense that she actually knew pictures of her at the event would be published.

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