AFL icon Dani Laidley's agonising battle: 'Hasn't been easy'

Dani Laidley is pictured at a North Melbourne AFL game.
AFL icon Dani Laidley has discussed how she hid herself as a child and kept people at arm's length as an adult before her gender transition. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Dani Laidley has opened up about the decades spent hiding herself behind a mask, both as a child and during her career in the AFL before her gender transition.

An AFL veteran both as a player and coach, primarily with North Melbourne, Laidley was unwillingly thrust into the spotlight when, after being arrested outside a former partner's home in 2020, images of her wearing a dress and a wig in police custody were shared by police officers.

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Laidley had been charged with and later pleaded guilty to stalking and breaching a family violence order, however her treatment by Victoria Police was acknowledged as a breach of human rights by chief commissioner Shane Patton, who publicly apologised to her.

The 55-year-old later rekindled her relationship with the Kangaroos, with her former teammates expressing concern and ultimately rallying around her after her transition.

As the dust settles on the eventuful period of her life, Laidley has spoken to 60 Minutes about the decades of pain that led up to her arrest in 2020.

She said the batle of trying to mask who she truly was ultimately led her down a path of self-destruction involving addiction and mental health issues.

“There used to be a skinny kid, bloke running around a footy field like a maniac,” she tells 60 Minutes.

“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.”

Laidley described the actions of Victoria Police officers as an 'invasion of privacy', having reached a confidential settlement with police in the months after the incident.

“Life hasn’t been easy, I’ve found it tough the whole way through,” she said.

“Now I can be myself with everyone.”

Dani Laidley discusses battle with gender dysphoria

Earlier this year, Laidley joined the Triple M commentary team and discussed the struggle she faced for 49 years with feeling different on the inside from who she was on the outside.

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.

"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, 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.

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."

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