Danielle Laidley talks about overcoming AFL’s fear, shame and alpha male world

Danielle Laidley talks about overcoming AFL’s fear, shame and alpha male world

Danielle Laidley talks about overcoming AFL’s fear, shame and alpha male world

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“My upbringing was tough,” says Danielle Laidley. “Reviewing was therapeutic, but emotionally painful at times.

“But now I look back and think, ‘Would I change something?’ I do not believe. She helped me to become the person I am today ”.

Laidley’s father drank. If he played bad, he called her pussy. If she played well, she was a poser. She, at 12, she was thrown out of the house. “I can’t afford you,” she said. “You will have to go.”

His “other self”, he writes in his book Don’t Look Away, was “like a Siamese twin that I just couldn’t absorb.” In the beginning, dressing in women’s clothing and wearing makeup brought peace. But then came the self-loathing, the alienation, the fear. It was the 1980s. There was no internet. Nobody talked about gender dysphoria, and certainly not in football teams.

Laidley, then known by her birth name Dean, learned from looking at other women. She kept her miniskirts and nail polish in the shed. In every interaction there was the terrifying prospect of being discovered. “You live in fear, shame and embarrassment for so many years,” she tells Guardian Australia.

Related: Detective disputes allegations related to leaking custody photos of former AFL coach Dani Laidley

She was a mother and state footballer at 19. She ran a fledgling sporting goods store, selling aerobics equipment, cricket bats, and T-Ball stands. She was a sharp, ruthless and fearless footballer. She liked to hurt people.

“I have lived by following the mantra, ‘Kill or be killed,'” he says. “He was so far from the person I really was. In a way, playing that way was a way to keep my two worlds from colliding. “

Cruel from injury, she moved to North Melbourne, a club always in danger of failure, a club drowning in alcohol, a team that revolves around its sunny superstar Wayne Carey and coached by the toughest of bastards, Denis Pagan. She was the man of the match in one of the best games ever played, the 1994 preliminary final, even though North lost by one goal to Geelong. Her nose was cut off and she panicked: how could she wear makeup? That night, she celebrated with the trans community. She got home at noon, she went back to her other life.

I wish I didn’t have to hide

He eventually won a premiership when North beat Sydney in 1996, but there was still a void. He didn’t solve anything. She says she was “institutionalized” by football. She moved on to coaching, where she was well versed in reading patterns and identifying trends. She was a brilliant tactic, but moody and unknowable. Her players called her The Bible because she was so difficult to read.

“I wish I could tell you,” he remembers thinking. “I wish I didn’t have to hide.” She was thin, she did not sleep, did not deal with the Melbourne aquarium and struggled with her gender dysphoria. “Sometimes, the industry, and the media in particular, forget that we are human,” she says.

When the football retired, his two lives, his two selves, were on a collision course. There was a realization that this was not a psychological affliction but a medical condition. There was help. There was hope. But first there was the bottom. There was drug addiction and incarceration. In 2020 she was arrested, caught with 0.43 g of methamphetamine and charged with a stalking count. She pleaded guilty and was bound by a bond of good conduct, with no recorded conviction in relation to drugs.

The most heartbreaking passage in his book concerns the time spent in a psychiatric ward. At night, the patients howled.

“I join the screams,” he writes. “Just another mad wolf howling at the moon. Join the chorus and sing it in full.

Through all the pain, ignorance and betrayal, there is humor and there is hope. There are moments of decency, of humanity, of welcome. Some of the most touching and surprising come from former teammates. In the 1990s, there were alpha males on every line in North Melbourne. Now they gather around their former teammate. Sometimes they don’t know where to look or what to say. But there are. They take her away from cameras, conduct wellness checks, write references, and include her in their contacts. Everyone says the same thing: they’ve never seen her so happy, or talk so much.

“The men I played with and the children I coached, their support was unconditional. Their attitude is “Just be yourself, we want you here, the world is a better place with you inside ‘”, she writes.

Pagan, who now sells houses and trains thoroughbreds, filed a court appeal mentioning Laidley “continually putting his body in front of a furious Tony Lockett.”

For so long, that’s how we framed the idea of ​​courage in football. That was how respect was earned and how the characters were judged. True courage, Laidley says, was claiming its true self.

“If I share what it’s been like to walk in my shoes for 55 years,” he writes. “All the blood, the guts, the shit and the vomit, the mistakes and the shame, the hugs, the tears and the punches in the air, could lead to the acceptance of others like me. It might help someone else keep walking.

  • In Australia, the Lifeline Crisis Support Service is 13 11 14. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international help lines for suicides can be found at befrienders.org

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