Former AFL great Danielle Laidley has opened up about the difficulty of keeping a huge part of her life a secret as she transitioned to a woman.
In a tell-all interview with 60 Minutes airing on Sunday night, the 55-year-old gave an insight into her gender dysphoria and how she’s found love and happiness as a woman.
‘Life hasn’t been easy. I’ve found it tough the whole way through,’ she told the program.
‘Now I can be myself with everyone.’
60 Minutes reporter, Sarah Abo, who interviewed Laidley, said much of the world had grown up with who they knew as ‘tough as nails’ footballer Dean Laidley.
‘She left everything out on the field, and that’s the part that I think is difficult. People don’t quite understand how someone so tough in this macho world of the AFL can suddenly now be a woman,’ Abo told The Today Show host Ally Langdon on Friday.
Dani Laidley with childhood sweetheart Donna Leckie. Laidley has opened up about her transition to a woman in a tell-all interview with 60 Minutes
‘The way that Danielle tackles that is that she used the football field as an outlet.
‘All that pent-up frustration and all that confusion, and that inability to identify what she was experiencing, she just powered that into her incredible career as a football and premiership player and then as a coach.’
Abo said some of Laidley’s relationships with friends and family had changed since the transition.
‘It is difficult for those who have grown up with, I suppose, Dean Laidley, the father figure in their life. It is a bit difficult now to try and sort of come to terms with this new person.
‘Overall, the acceptance from the broader community and certainly from the AFL community and certainly from the AFL community, has been incredible. They have embraced Danielle for who she is,’ she explained.
The news of her transition first came to light after Victorian police officers leaked photos of Laidley.
She was arrested in 2020 for stalking and breaching a family violence order, which resulted in an 18-month good behaviour bond without a conviction or fine.
Dani Laidley was born Dean James Laidley and exceeded both a player and a coach at AFL level
The officers who took her into custody leaked a photo of her wearing a wig and make-up onto social media, and it soon went viral.
Abo said the time was ‘absolutely horrific’ for Laidley and something she ‘didn’t see coming’.
‘She says during the interview ”I think I had rocks in my head thinking I would just be able to transition quietly and have a really quiet life and that people would accept me for who I am”,’ the reporter said.
‘That coming out was completely taken out of her hands in the most grotesque way.
‘We remember the images leaked by the police that night she was arrested and charged. She has made mistakes and Danni is the first to admit. That period when it was completely taken out of her hands and the worse part was her family had to endure during that period because it played out so publicly,’ Abo explained.
When asked if Laidley was happy, Abo said she was ‘very happy’ and has found love with her childhood sweetheart Donna Leckie.
Addressing the leaked photos herself, Laidley said they were ‘an invasion of privacy’.
Laidley said she’s been called everything from a ‘cross-dresser’ to an ‘ice-head’ by ignorant footy supporters
Victoria Police’s internal discipline board ordered 11 officers, ranging in rank from constable to sergeant, to pay up to $3,000 to Laidley out of their own pockets.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton formally apologised to Laidley after the photos went viral, saying he was ‘appalled’ by the officer’s behaviour.
Laidley was born Dean James Laidey and played 151 AFL games for West Coast Eagles and North Melbourne before carving out a 149-game coaching career with the Kangaroos.
While it was only five years ago that Laidley got a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria and only 2020 when the transition process began, it’s something Laidley has carried with her for a long time.
The footy legend opened up on her transition to becoming a woman and the lack of acceptance from the broader Australian community
‘My first recollection is about six years of age, way, way back,’ Laidley told Triple M in June.
‘Now I am 55, so what is that, 49 years, god.
‘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.’
Laidley explained what it was like living with gender dysphoria and how it involved more complicated emotions than just feelings of confused gender identity.
‘Gender dysphoria is the medical condition for people who know their gender identity is not congruent with how they feel on the inside (to) what is on the outside,’ she said.
‘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.’
Today Laidley has become a target for internet trolls and there are members of her family who have not totally accepted the change but she still feels it was all worth it.
‘Absolutely, I am absolutely at peace. It has taken 55 years to get here,’ she said.
‘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.’
Today Laidley has become a target for internet trolls and there are members of her family who have not totally accepted the change but she still feels it was all worth it